Himansu Shekhar Rout

The Biju Janata Dal(BJD) has left everyone perplexed after it fielded a political greenhorn like Manmath Routray, son of Congress veteran and Jatani legislator Sura Routray, in the prestigious Bhubaneswar Lok Sabha Constituency.

His name was announced on Wednesday, just hours after he joined the ruling party.  This has raised a number of questions.   

Public buzz is back about why the ruling party has pitted a political newbie against an experienced BJP leader like Aparajita Sarangi, even though it was earlier speculated that the BJD was planning to field its general secretary Shreemayee Mishra against Sarangi.

Shreemayee’s candidature as the MP nominee from Bhubaneswar was broadly hinted by Minister Ashok Panda in December 2023 during a padayatra. Panda had said, “We all in the Biju Parivar must ensure Shreemayee’s win from the Bhubaneswar Lok Sabha seat in the days to come.” Over several months, Shreemayee was seen attending meetings and padayatras in various parts of the LS constituency.  

So what prompted a change in the plan of the BJD? Is it the new strategy to counter BJP stalwart like Aparajita Sarangi, who had defeated BJD's Arup Patnaik in 2019 by a margin of over 22,000 votes? 

Political observers say that the BJD had never done such a gambit like granting a Lok Sabha ticket to a leader within hours of joining. 

Expressing surprise, senor journalist Radhamadhab Mishra wondered why BJD veteran, Ashok Panda announced the name of Shreemayee earlier if the party was predetermined not to field her. He asked if the months of hard work done by Shreemayee had gone in vain after Manmath was named in her place.  

Some political pundits also hinted at the possibility that the BJD had been hopeful of an understanding with the BJP and to get the Bhubaneswar constituency as part of the seat sharing. As the BJP went solo in both Assembly and Lok Sabha polls, the BJD might have changed its plan and its candidate for the Bhubaneswar seat.

Also Read | General Elections 2024: BJD Announces first list of Candidates for Assembly, Lok Sabha Seats; Check full list

Many even did not rule out the fact that the BJD might have failed to get positive feedback on Shreemayee from the ground and finally decided to pitch a new face. This is because former Bhubaneswar MP Prasanna Patasani had also hinted about a lack of positive feedback on Shreemayee. A group of BJD wanted the candidature of Shreemayee, but the acceptability of her candidature among the party rank and file remained a question, said sources.

Speaking to the media, BJD’s MP nominee for the Bhubaneswar Lok Sabha seat, Manmath Routray said, "The Chief Minister had not given me any indication that he would surprise me. I was shocked that Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and 5T chairperson VK Pandian surprised me. I was hardly out of the Sankha Bhawan, the news came.”

He added, “My father has done a lot for Khordha and because of his blessings I am here. People of Odisha should honour him.”

As for his rival, BJP’s Aparajita Sarangi, Routray said, "If she has done good things, she should get the fruits of her labour. I represent a team which is fully behind me. The team has confidence in me.  We are a better and efficient team. The BJD will win the Bhubaneswar seat because of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik.”