It’s Modi vs Naveen in Odisha

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The anti-incumbency factor is likely to play a major role in deciding the fate of BJD heavyweights in the ongoing election.

The popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik will be put to test as eleven Lok Sabha and 77 Assembly seats in Odisha go to the polls in the third and fourth phase of polling on 25th May and 1st June respectively. In the 2019 general election, the ruling BJD captured four Lok Sabha and 34 Assembly seats out of six Lok Sabha and 42 Assembly seats facing election on 25th May. The BJP won two Lok Sabha and six Assembly seats, while the Congress secured two Assembly seats.

The electioneering for the third phase of elections in Odisha has witnessed a high-profile campaign with a dozen BJP star campaigners, including Prime Minister Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, BJP President JP Nadda, and the Chief Ministers of Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Rajasthan. With their slogan of a double-engine government and Odia pride (Asmita), the BJP aims to make inroads in the politically sensitive coastal districts, which have been a bastion of the ruling Biju Janata Dal for the last two decades. On the other hand, the ruling BJD campaign, mostly spearheaded by party supremo and Chief Minister Patnaik and his trusted bureaucrat-turned-politician VK Pandian has focused on the series of freebies announced prior to the election for all sections of people, the most significant being free electricity to 90 percent of the state’s population starting in July to retain its supremacy.

Political pundits, however, say the ruling BJD will find it tough to repeat its 2019 performance in the wake of an aggressive campaign by the BJP, which has accused Naveen Patnaik of outsourcing his government to vested and corrupt bureaucrats, pushing the state back 50 years during the last 25 years of ruling. Additionally, the anti-incumbency factor is likely to play a major role in deciding the fate of several BJD heavyweights, including two ministers, six former ministers, and several sitting MLAs. A little over 94.41 lakh voters, including 40.30 lakh male voters, 39.31 lakh female voters, and 850 transgenders, will decide the fate of 64 Lok Sabha candidates and 383 Assembly candidates. The six Lok Sabha seats going to polls on 25th May are Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, Dhenkanal, and Puri (all in coastal Odisha), Sambalpur in western Odisha, and Keonjhar, the only ST parliamentary constituency in northern Odisha. In addition to these six Lok Sabha seats, polling will be held in 42 Assembly seats falling under these parliamentary constituencies, spread over 10 of the 30 districts in the state.

All six LS seats will witness a tough fight between the ruling BJD and the opposition BJP, with stalwarts like Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, six-time Lok Sabha MP Bhartruhari Mahtab, BJP national spokesperson Dr. Sambit Patra, and BJP sitting Bhubaneswar MP Aparajita Sarangi from the BJP. BJD stalwarts like its Organizational Secretary Pranab Prakash Das, former Mumbai Police Commissioner Arup Patnaik, and former Director of Human Resources of Aditya Birla Group, Santrupta Mishra – who resigned from his job to join the BJD, are also in the fray, alongside Odisha Chhatra Congress President Sayed Yashir Nawaz.

According to the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) of Odisha, Nikunja Kumar Dhal, polling will be held in 10,551 booths, of which 20 percent are declared as critical, 2,000 polling stations as model booths, and 1,500 booths exclusively managed by women personnel. Dhal said webcasting has been done in 60 percent of the total booths, and 121 Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF), the highest number of forces, have been deployed in this phase of the election. Odisha DGP Arun Sharangi said about 106 platoons of Odisha police forces have been deployed in this phase of election in the state. He claimed that for the first-time polling was held peacefully in the last two phases of elections on May 13 and May 20 in 11 naxal-affected districts without any violence from the Red rebels.

The presence of a large number of candidates, including turncoats, in the majority of the Assembly seats, is likely to upset the poll calculations for the ruling BJD, which virtually dominated the 2019 Assembly election. In the Sambalpur Lok Sabha seat, the real battle for ballots will be between Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, entering the electoral fray after a 15-year gap, and three-time BJD MLA and party’s organizational secretary Pranab Prakash Das. Pradhan won the Deogarh Lok Sabha seat in the 2004 elections and the Pallahara Assembly seat in the 2000 Assembly election. He contested the last Assembly election from the Pallahara Assembly seat in 2009, where he lost to the BJD’s Rabi Narayan Pani.

On the other hand, BJD’s Pranab Parakash Das is entering the Lok Sabha fray for the first time in his 15-year political career, having previously been elected thrice consecutively from the Jajpur Assembly seat. The ruling BJD has pitted him against Pradhan in the Sambalpur Lok Sabha seat to give a tough fight and upset his winning possibilities.

In the Cuttack Lok Sabha seat, six-time MP Bhartruhari Mahtab, who resigned from the BJD and joined the BJP, is seeking re-election and is pitted against BJD’s debutant, Santrupta Mishra, the richest candidate in the fray with total assets of Rs. 482 crores, who resigned as the Director of Human Resources of Aditya Birla Group to join the BJD and take on Mahtab.

In the Puri Lok Sabha seat, BJP spokesperson Dr. Sambit Patra, who was defeated by a slender margin by BJD’s Pinaki Mishra in the 2019 election, will face former Mumbai commissioner Arup Patnaik of the BJD, who lost the Bhubaneswar Lok Sabha seat to BJP’s Aparajita Sarangi in the 2019 election. The ruling BJD has dropped four sitting MPs and fielded new candidates, while the BJP has dropped its Sambalpur sitting MP Nitesh Gang Deb and Bargarh sitting MP Suresh Pujari and fielded Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, shifting Pujari to contest the Brajrajnagar Assembly seat. Gang Dev is not contesting election this time. In the Bhubaneswar Lok Sabha seat, BJP’s sitting MP Aparajita Sarangi will take on BJD’s Manmath Routray, a debutant and son of expelled Congress leader Suresh Chandra Routray, who quit his pilot job and entered politics, joining the Biju Janata Dal amid the announcement of elections in the state.

The Lok Sabha election in Sambalpur, Bhubaneswar and Cuttack has attracted attention of the national media and it will decide the might of Modi vs Naveen in 2024.

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