A Tale of two fathers


The involvement of Suresh Routaray and Bijoy Mahapatra, in advancing their sons’ prospects in public life during the upcoming election, adds an intriguing dimension.

Dynastic politics carries a negative connotation, but it is unfair to solely attribute its promotion to any single party. The allocation of tickets by the three principal parties – the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and the Congress – in Odisha demonstrates the influence of dynastic ties in furthering careers across the political spectrum.

The list of candidates announced by Congress showed there was no hesitation on part of grand old party in fielding father-son and father-daughter duos. Bhakta Charan Das, serving as Chairman of the Congress Campaign Committee, is slated to contest the Assembly election from Narla in Kalahandi district while his son, Sagar Charan Das has been fielded from Bhawanipatna, situated not far from Narla in the same district. Bhujabal Majhi has received the party’s nod as the Lok Sabha candidate for the Nabarangpur Constituency. His daughter, Lipika Majhi, will make electoral debut from Dabugam Assembly seat. Narasingha Mishra has made way, vacating his own Balangir assembly seat, for his son Samarendra Mishra’s candidature.

Former State BJP President and sitting Kalahandi MP Basant Panda has also vacated his traditional Nuapada Assembly seat for his son Abhinandan Kumar Panda. In neighbouring Balangir district, the BJP has again reposed faith on husband-wife – Kanak Bardhan Singhdeo and Sangeeta Kumari Singh Deo. While Sangeeta is Lok Sabha candidate for saffron party, her husband will contest from Patnagarh Assembly constituency.

The dynastic ties determining candidature is more pronounced in BJD. Party supreme Naveen Patnaik is accused of promoting dynastic politics. Sunil Mohanty and Biplab Patro, sons of departed late BJD ministers Maheswar Mohanty and Surjya Narayan Patro, have been fielded from Puri and Digapahandi Assembly seats respectively. Minister Usha Devi has made way, vacating her own Chikiti assembly seat, for her son’s candidature. Chinmayananda Srirup Deb will fight on a BJD ticket. Ankit Pratap Jena, son of former Minister Pratap Jena, will also make political debut this time from Mahanga Assembly seat.

The BJD has repeated candidature of Koushalya Hikaka, wife of former party MP Jhina Hikaka for Koraput Lok Sabha constituency. Pritiranjan Ghadei, Kalikesh Singhdeo, Debiranjan Tripathy, Dipali Das, and Souvic Biswal, whose fathers were once veteran BJD leaders, have already established themselves in the party.

However, the story of 2 fathers is highly discussed in Odisha politics. Their sons are making debut in electoral politics this year. Sons of Suresh Chandra Routray and Bijoy Mohapatra, noted critics of Naveen Patnaik, are contesting elections on Biju Janata Dal (BJD) tickets; which has raised eyebrows of the political observers.

In response to the show cause notice issued by Odisha Pradesh Congress Committee (OPCC), Suresh Chandra Routray, six-time veteran Congress MLA, on April 8, replied that he has neither campaigned for any other party nor intends to do so in the future. He was asked to explain his reported announcement of campaigning for his son Manmath Routray fielded by the BJD from Bhubaneswar Lok Sabha constituency. Routray’s assertion came a day after his interaction with people in a city park, where he appealed to them to support his son.

The response from the veteran Congress leader highlights his internal conflict — being a father striving for his son’s victory from a different party, despite his own opposition to it over the past two decades.

Not too far from Bhubaneswar, in the Marshaghai block of Kendrapara district, Bijoy Mohapatra, a four-time MLA and former Minister, was seen being honoured by Biju Janata Dal leaders. This was a strange sight for those who observe Odisha politics closely.

Bijoy Mohapatra, highly respected as an exponent of political engineering, had become one of the fiercest critics of Naveen Patnaik and the Biju Janata Dal since he was ‘unceremoniously’ prevented from contesting Assembly elections in 2000. Since then, he has led Opposition against the BJD, raising corruption allegations both as an individual and as part of the Bharatiya Janata Party and other political entities he has been associated with.

However, as the 2024 elections approach, the veteran politician’s public presence seems to reflect more of a paternal role than the fierce politician he was known as. His son, Arabinda Mohapatra, is contesting the election on a BJD ticket from the Patkura Assembly constituency.

The veteran Congress leader Suresh Chandra Routray, in his reply said he was ready to face any disciplinary action by Congress leadership; if he was found campaigning for any political party other than Congress. “I have been going to different social and cultural events for past 50 years. But nowhere I have delivered any political speech,” he said. However, senior Routray was seen openly canvassing in support for his son, Manmath. If Congress party expels the veteran leader, it may help him to openly canvass in favour of his son.

Manmath Routray, a qualified pilot, is pitted against Aparajita Sarangi, the former bureaucrat turned BJP’s national spokesperson, who had won Bhubaneswar Lok Sabha seat in 2019. This electoral battle is expected to be closely contested, with the involvement and backing of Suresh Routray, the incumbent Congress MLA representing the Jatani Assembly constituency, being deemed crucial for his son’s debut clash. It is noteworthy that the Jatani Assembly constituency falls within the jurisdiction of the Bhubaneswar LS seat.

On the contrary, Bijoy Mohapatra, the BJP leader who has been inactive in party affairs, has remained a behind-the-scene poll strategist for his son’s maiden outing in election. His public appearance is more measured and reticent as he appears to be stuck in feeling of ‘betrayal’ he had been nursing since 2000. Then senior Mohapatra, one of prime movers behind formation of BJD, was prevented from contesting Assembly election when Naveen issued party ticket to another as the party candidate. Both father and son duo, however, have publicly said the 2000 incident has been forgotten.

Amidst the trend of promoting the next generation of politicians (sons and daughters) and other members of the family across the country, the involvement of these two seasoned politicians in advancing their sons’ prospects in public life during the upcoming election adds an intriguing dimension.