Himansu Shekhar Rout

In 2019, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) established its political dominance in western Odisha where five Lok Sabha and eight Assembly seats are now under its incumbency. Significantly, the saffron party has reportedly been trying to expand its influence further. Congress won two Assembly seats -Bolangir and Kantabanji in the 2019 election. 

The Biju Janata Dal (BJD) is said to be intending to make inroads into the saffron turf and wipe out Congress so that the party would revitalize its weak organisation in Bolangir. 

To achieve this political goal, the ruling party has fielded its chief Naveen Patnaik in the Kantabanji Assembly seat, it is believed. Patnaik is going to fight elections in two Assembly seats – Hinjili and Kantabanji. Kantabanji is currently represented by Congress leader Santosh Singh Saluja.

Santosh Singh Saluja took a swipe at the ruling party and said, "The BJD lacks candidates. The ruling party is scared of me and has fielded the Chief Minister here.”

He also questioned if the poor people and migrants of Kantabanji would go to Bhubaneswar to meet Naveen Patnaik when his own MLAs and ministers are unable to meet him.

Last time, Naveen Patnaik contested in Hinjili and Bijepur, but after winning both seats, he left Bijepur, drawing flak from the Opposition. Patnaik was accused of breaching the trust of people in Western Odisha by deserting Bijepur.  

In a caustic remark, senior Congress leader and Bolangir legislator, Narasingha Mishra said that Kantabanji will see by-election after six months. 

“The Chief Minister has always adopted a step-motherly attitude towards western Odisha. If he wins the Kantabanji seat, he will leave the seat like Bijepur. Keeping this in view, people will give him a befitting reply in the elections,” Mishra said.  

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However, BJP stalwart Kanak Vardan Singhdeo asserted that Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik will lose the poll in Kantabanji. "The Chief Minister is welcome to fight in Kantabanji. But it will make no difference to the BJP. People see that his promise is of no value as he deserted the Bijepur seat in 2019.”   

However, the BJD is reportedly enthusiastic about their party president contesting from Kantabanji. Veteran BJD leader, AU Singdeo said, "It is a masterstroke. Narasingha Mishra will know the influence of Naveen Patnaik only after the election results are out. People of western Odisha will vote for him.”

(By OdishaTV Bureau)