With Baijayant Panda's Loss in Odisha’s Kendrapara, The Naveen Patnaik Brand Gets Cast in Stone
Popularly known as “Jay Panda”, the BJP candidate lost to BJD’s actor-turned-Rajya Sabha member Anubhav Mohanty by a margin of 1,52,584 votes.
While BJP are busy figuring out what went wrong, BJD leaders firmly believe that the people of Kendrapara punished Jay Panda for “betraying Naveenbabu”.
Bhubaneswar: There are two deep-rooted beliefs among leaders and workers of Odisha’s ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD), which made a clean sweep for a record fifth under its chief CM Naveen Patnaik. First, the party and its government will never face any anti-incumbency as long as Patnaik is at the helm and secondly, whoever revolts against Patnaik is doomed to a political wilderness.
BJD’s stunning victory in the Assembly polls, in which the party won 112 of the state’s 147 Assembly seats, proved the party’s first maxim with elan. For many in the party, industrial-tuned-politician Baijayant Panda’s defeat to the BJD candidate in the prestigious Kendrapara Lok Sabha constituency proved the second maxim.
The four-term MP, who used to be a close aide and confidant of Patnaik, was the BJP candidate in Kendrapara this time. He had won this coastal constituency on a BJD ticket both in 2009 and 2014. Prior to that, the regional party had nominated him to the Rajya Sabha for two terms in 2000 and 2006.
After this, Panda assumed a critical stand against the party, which led to his suspension and eventual resignation. Then in March, he joined the BJP and became the saffron party’s candidate in a constituency, where he was so far known to have a massive following.
But Panda, who is popularly known as “Jay Panda”, lost to BJD’s actor-turned-Rajya Sabha member Anubhav Mohanty by a margin of 1,52,584 votes. Mohanty won the seat with 6,28,939 votes while Panda got 4,76,355 votes. In the last general elections, Panda had won by securing 6,01,574 votes.
Few in the BJP had anticipated Panda’s defeat in his former constituency. His popularity had apparently increased after he joined the BJP. Following his move, he was appointed the saffron party’s national vice-president and spokesperson. The media seemed to love him, lapping up his praises for the BJP-led central government and his tirades against Odisha’s 19-year-old BJD rule. Panda, who owns a prominent Odia news channel, has also been popular on Twitter garnering 47.6 lakh followers.
While Panda and BJP’s strategists are busy figuring out what went wrong, BJD leaders firmly believe that the people of Kendrapara punished him for “betraying Naveenbabu”.
The electoral battle for Kendrapara was the most keenly watched one in Odisha. A victory for Panda would have shattered the BJD’s belief that none of the party’s regional leaders can win the polls without Patnaik’s blessings.
A victory for Panda would have had a massive impact on the politics in the state. It would have instantly proved Panda to be a formidable foe to Patnaik while fuelling a turf battle within the BJP between Panda and four-term MP and Union minister Dharmendra Pradhan.
While BJP’s top national leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party chief Amit Shah, were among those who campaigned for Panda, what worked in favour of Mohanty in Kendrapara seems to be his constant reminder to voters that they will be casting their ballot to Patnaik when voting for him.
Patnaik and several of his ministers had also campaigned for the matinee idol in the coastal constituency that has earlier sent stalwarts like Biju Patnaik (Patnaik’s father), Rabi Ray and Surendra Nath Dwivedy to the Lok Sabha. The battle for Kendrapara was, in fact, a proxy war between Panda and Naveen Patnaik, which the latter won.
Panda’s failure to win the polls as Naveen Patnaik’s friend-turned-foe just reinforced the belief among the Odia people that whoever gains from being close to the BJD supremo and then revolts and parts ways will fall by the roadside in politics. This is what happened earlier with BJD’s founder-member Bijoy Mohapatra, bureaucrat-turned-politician Pyari Mohan Mohapatra and former minister Damodar Rout. Panda failed to be an exception, but tomorrow is another day.
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