No electoral battle is being watched more keenly in Odisha than the one between BJP national vice president Baijayant Jay Panda and Ollywood superstar Anubhav Mohanty in the Kendrapara Lok Sabha seat.
Kendrapara has always been special and there are several reasons for it. The constituency, in the heart of the Odisha coast, is known to be an anti-Congress bastion and has seen some epic battles and elected stalwarts Biju Patnaik, Rabi Ray and Surendra Nath Dwivedy in the past.
A second reason for interest in Kendrapara is that it is known as Biju Babu’s ‘karma bhoomi’ and is extremely important for the party founded in his name. But this time, there is a third factor that has lent this particular election an additional dose of importance. Pitted against the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) candidate is a man who represented the constituency in the last two Lok Sabha polls as a BJD man.
Often dismissed by his detractors as a ‘Twitter Tiger’, Jay Panda is fighting what is unquestionably the toughest political battle of his career. He understands that this election will decide whether that derisive tag is well-deserved; if he is really a cipher without Naveen Patnaik on his side or if he would play a bigger role in the state politics in the years to come.
Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik realises that a Jay’s win would turn out to be a huge personal embarrassment for him even if he manages to romp home to power for the fifth successive term. The BJD supremo has himself raised the stakes by accusing Jay, in an interview to Srinivasan Jain of NDTV, of floating stories about his health and eyeing his chair.
Little wonder then that both sides are pulling out all stops to foil the designs of the other. One of the first things Jay did after joining the BJP – and becoming its national vice president and spokesperson two days later – was to persuade old warhorse Bijoy Mohapatra, who had resigned from the party in November after sulking for a long time, to return to the fold and contest from his home constituency Patkura, part of the Kendrapara parliamentary seat.
The move was important, not just because of Mohapatra’s sphere of influence in the area but also because no one has suffered more politically at the hands of Patnaik than this man. After ditching him at the very last minute in the 2000 elections, Patnaik has gone to extraordinary lengths in every subsequent election to ensure that Mohapatra is not elected to the Assembly.
Unfortunately for Bijoy, fate has intervened yet again to prevent his entry into the Assembly. The BJD candidate in Patkura, Ved Prakash Agarwal, passed away after a long illness on Saturday morning, necessitating countermanding of the Assembly poll in the constituency.
Kendrapara – or for that matter the whole of coastal Odisha – has never really been a BJP stronghold. Despite its reputation as the ‘graveyard’ of the party, the Congress has always been the principal challenger to the dominance of various formations of the erstwhile Janata Parivar here. Even in the last elections, the saffron party had polled just 1, 18, 707 votes, far behind the Congress (3, 92,466) and the BJD (6, 01, 574). While the Congress candidate remains the same (Dharanidhar Nayak), the winning BJD candidate in 2014 is now the BJP candidate against Anubhav Mohanty, the nominee of his former party.
It is no small achievement for Jay Panda to have put himself in position where he is being seen as the main challenger to the BJD. In a last ditch effort to tilt the scales in his favour, Jay has managed to convince Prime Minister Narendra Modi to address a rally in Kendrapara on April 23.
On his part, BJD candidate Mohanty is really sweating it out on the dusty roads of Kendarapra in the harsh April sun, far away from the comforts of a shooting set. But he has a whole army of BJD foot soldiers tasked with defeating the ‘renegade’, to bank upon. Notwithstanding the fact that it has been a BJD bastion with five of the seven Assembly segments in its kitty, and no one is taking any chances.
Curiously though, the Congress could well hold the key to who emerges winner in the end. If the Congress could retain the votes it got the last time (nearly four lakh), who knows it may break the hoodoo and emerge winner itself! If it loses a substantial part of votes it secured the last time, as looks likely, most of these votes could well go the BJP way. And that would really set the cat among the pigeons.
Come May 23, the result in Kendrapara would certainly be the most keenly awaited, clinically dissected and hotly debated of all electoral battles in Odisha.