Himansu Shekhar Rout

Though the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) has been asserting about coming back to power for the sixth time in a row in the 2024 elections, it is most likely to face a tough fight this time in western Odisha, which has emerged as a fort of the Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP).  

As per political observers, two key factors like the BJP wresting power in neighbouring Chhattisgarh and the Ram Temple in Ayodhya are expected to come in handy for the saffron party which may bolster its position further in the 2024 polls.   

In the 2019 elections, the saffron party proved its strength and entrenched itself in western Odisha by winning most of the Lok Saba seats.

The BJP won 8 out of 21 Lok Sabha seats in Odisha. Significantly, of the eight, five seats were from western Odisha including Bargarh (now presented by Suresh Pujari), Bolangir (Sangeeta Kumari Singh Deo), Kalahandi (Basanta Kumar Panda), Sambalpur (Nitesh Ganga Deb) and Sundargarh (Jual Oram). 

However, the BJP has changed three candidates in Bargarh, Sambalpur and Kalahandi Lok Sabha seats this time around. Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan has been fielded in Sambalpur while Malvika Keshari Deo has been given a chance instead of Basant Panda in Kalahandi. Pradeep Purohit will contest in Bargarh instead of Suresh Pujari. 

In the upcoming elections, the change of power from the Congress to the BJP in neighbouring Chhattisgarh is mostly likely to leave an impact on elections in Sundaragarh, Nuapada, Kalahadi and Jharsuguda. The BJP may have an advantage of mobilising its leaders from Chhattisgarh to western Odisha to canvass for its candidates, political observers opine.

Veteran BJP leader Jayanarayan Mishra said, "Our position is very good in seven Assembly constituencies under Sambalpur. We won the Sambalpur seat by over 36,000 votes.” Mishra asserted that the BJP would win the Sambalpur LS seat by a margin of 1 lakh votes.       
Journalist Sandeep Sahu told OTV, "BJP’s position is very strong in Sambalpur. For Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, the party will leave no stone unturned to make him victorious. If BJD fields Pranab Prakash Das against Pradhan, the party will try its best.” 

As per reports, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) is reportedly busy drawing up a game plan for key Lok Sabha seats like Sambalpur and Sundargarh to counter Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan in Sambalpur and veteran leader Jual Oram in Sundargarh. The BJD is reportedly planning to field its organisational secretary Pranab Prakash Das in Sambalpur and hockey legend Dillip Tirkey in Sundargarh. 

In 2019, the BJP won the Sambalpur LS seat along with three Assembly segments - Rairakhole, Rengali and Deogarh. This time, the BJD is reportedly looking at a strong leader in this LS seat who can get the electoral breakthrough. 

BJD leader Rohit Pujari said that Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik will decide who will contest in Sambalpur. “We had discussions about poll preparedness. We are very careful about winning the LS seat and all the seven Assembly segments. We have confidence that we will win all the seats,” he added. 

As for the Sundargarh LS seat, the BJD reportedly held discussions with senior party leaders like Mangala Kisan, Sarada Nayak and Dillip Tirkey. In 2019, the BJP won the Sundargarh LS seat along with Sundargarh Sadar, Talsara and Biramitrapur Assembly seats. 
Out of the seven Assembly seats under the Sundargarh LS segment, the BJD could win only Rourkela and Raghunathpalli Assembly seats.

It is amply clear that the BJD’s base is only confined to two Assembly seats which may not give much advantage to the party in the Lok Sabha polls. But BJD's Raghunathpalli MLA Subrat Tarai asserted, “We were instructed to go to the people and start the groundwork. We (BJD) have done good work this time. The party will break its records this time.”

(By OdishaTV Bureau)