Sanjeev Kumar Patro

Bhubaneswar: With only four days left for start of nominations for first phase polling in Odisha, major political parties here have almost finalised candidates for the four Lok Sabha (LS) seats going to polls on April 11, but consultations are underway for assembly seats.

Political circles are abuzz with talk of BJD replacing incumbent MPs in four LS seats to beat anti-incumbency factor. BJD supremo & CM Naveen Patnaik is wary of taking any chance as resurgent BJP and energised Congress have started working out permutations and combinations to avail the anti-incumbency factor to the hilt.

While for Berhampur LS seat, BJD has almost finalised Chandra Sekhar Sahu, name of Kalyani Devi, daughter of former Berhampur MP Gopinath Gajapati,  is being propped by a BJD group opposed to Sahu's candidature for his long Congress association; in Koraput, party is likely to replace incumbent MP Jhina Hikaka with his wife and Kalahandi will see incumbent Junagarh MLA Dibya Shankar Mishra replacing incumbent MP Arka Keshari Deo.

Since CM Naveen Patnaik has earlier made 'winnability' the sole criteria for candidate selection in BJD it becomes clear that the BJD has doubts about over 'winnability' of the incumbent LS MPs. The reason is not far to seek as a glance at the arithmetic in constituencies tells the tale.

What alarmed BJD is, in 2014 the party has peaked in Berhampur LS by garnering around 44 per cent votes; whereas the share of anti-BJD votes stood at a whopping 56 per cent. Of this number, Congress and BJP together chipped away with around 47 per cent votes.

The very fact that riding on Modi wave, the BJP in 2014 increased its vote share to around 17 per cent from around 9 per cent in 2009 in Berhampur LS, must also be worrying the BJD. With Congress virtually weakened and BJP on ascent under Modi charisma, polarisation of anti-BJD votes towards BJP could spell doom for BJD.  Keeping this arithmetic in mind, BJD co-opted veteran Congress leader Chandra Sekhar Sahu last year, who has a hold on over at least around 9 per cent votes on his own.

It is also being speculated that BJP may field a strong candidate in Berhampur LS seat and name of Bhrugu Baxipatra, son of prominent anti-emergency era leader in undivided Koraput district, Harish Baxipatra, is doing the rounds. Significantly, BJP has strong vote share in three assembly constituencies - Mohana, Chattrapur and Goplapur - since 2009, and Bhrugu worked extensively there to strengthen BJP organisation. Moreover, after former deputy speaker in State Assembly, Ram Chandra Panda, party's LS candidate for Berhampur, joined BJD last year, it has become  imperative for BJP to put up a strong face.

Similarly, in Kalahandi LS, after a drubbing by BJP in 2017 rural polls, BJD had made up its mind to drop sitting MP Arka Keshari Deo. Vote share analysis of last elections show BJP on a strong footing in assembly segments like  Khariar, Bhawanipatana and Narla. While Congress is likely to field veteran Bhakta Das, BJP looks set to repeat Pradeep Naik, under whose leadership BJP made clean sweep in 2017 rural polls.

In Nabarangpur, while state Congress Vice-president Pradeep Majhi is set to throw the gauntlet, buoyed by consolidation in Malkangiri, Jharigaon and Chitrakonda in rural polls, BJP may field former BJD minister Dambarudhar Majhi or Balabhadra Majhi, who quit BJD Thursday. BJD is making Ramesh Majhi its face. The going does not seem easy for BJD in Nabarangpur as BJD won seat by a margin of mere 0.5 per cent votes more than Congress in 2014.

In Koraput, BJP is likely to field Sisir Gamang, son of former CM Giridhar Gamang and likely to make Siba Shankar Ulaka, last time BJP Koraput LS candidate, candidate from Rayagada assembly segment. Since top leadership in BJD has switched sides, BJD is likely to replace Kausaliya Hikaka, wife of sitting BJD MP Jhina Hikaka. Congress has no prominent face for Koraput LS,  after Giridhar Gamang switched over to BJP.