Bhubaneswar: With Odisha’s ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) winning the by-election for Bijepur constituency with the highest-ever margin in the coastal state’s history of Assembly polls, the brand of governance model epitomised by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has come out shining again, giving the Opposition BJP and Congress too many things to worry about.
In this constituency of 2.32 lakh voters in Bargarh district, a backward region known as much for being the state’s rice bowl as the district with the most reported cases of farmer suicides, BJD candidate Rita Sahu won the bypoll by a margin of 97,990 votes. This huge margin even surpassed the 57,122 margin of votes that Patnaik himself had secured in the constituency just six months ago.
The fact that Patnaik had vacated the Bijepur seat to retain his old Assembly seat of Hinjli, thus necessitating this bypoll, had given the Opposition parties much ammunition in the campaigns.
The BJP, which has become the state’s main Opposition party, had mounted an energetic and fractious campaign, accusing Patnaik of betraying Bijepur and the entire western region of Odisha.
The voters of Bijepur evidently rejected calls from BJP leaders such as Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan and party vice-president Baijayanta Panda to “teach BJD and Patnaik a lesson” in this election.
This bypoll being the third election in the constituency in 20 months, voter turnout this time (78.96%) was less than that in the two previous polls — 79.28% in the April polls and 82.17% in the February 2018 bypoll.
However, the results showed that the ruling BJD’s vote share rose by about 14.1 percentage points since the April polls while that of BJP and Congress dipped by about 8.28 and 4.56 percentage points. Sahu got 73.87 per cent of the votes polled (1,35,949), while the BJP’s Sanat Kumar Gartia and Congress’s Dilip Kumar Panda got 20.63 per cent (37,955) and 3.19 per cent (5,871), respectively.
“The bypoll result is yet another loud reminder that the people of Odisha have full faith in Patnaik’s governance model and his commitment for the state’s development. The BJD, they know, is the party that cares about Odisha,” said School and Mass Education Minister Samir Ranjan Dash.
BJP leaders, however, accused the BJD of preventing a free and fair election in Bijepur. “The BJD made unethical uses of the government machinery to influence public opinion in Bijepur and succeeded. Despite the victory, this bypoll has proved the CM’s popularity is on a decline as his candidate secured more votes than he did,” said BJP spokesperson Golak Mohapatra.
Rita Sahu is the widow of Bijepur’s former Congress MLA Subal Sahu, who had won three polls on the trot to represent the constituency from 2004 to 2017. His untimely death in August 2017 had led to the first bypoll in February 2018, in which Rita had won on a BJD ticket.
Patnaik, who has been the state’s chief minister for 19 years in a row, had contested from two Assembly seats — Bijepur and Hinjli — for the first time during the April-May simultaneous polls.
After registering spectacular victories in both, the 73-year-old leader had chosen to retain the Hinjli seat in Ganjam district from where he has won five times so far.
Three days before vacating the Bijepur seat in May, Patnaik had announced a Rs 1,330-crore development package for the constituency’s people. The package included plans to provide pucca houses for 34,000 families, piped water supply to all the households in the next two years and several lift irrigation projects. These promises, made exclusively for Bijepur, seem to have contributed to BJD’s thumping victory in the bypoll.
In the only other Assembly bypoll in Odisha held after the April-May polls, BJD candidate Sabitri Agrawalla had defeated Bijoy Mohapatra of the BJP, Patnaik’s longtime arch rival, by a margin of 17,920 votes in Patkura in July.