Column: The Bijepur Battle

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: Major political parties in the state are now gearing up for the upcoming by-poll battle in Bijepur, the assembly seat that has fallen vacant following chief minister, Naveen Patnaik’s decision to retain his traditional Hinjili seat in Ganjam district.

Patnaik’s decision to contest both from Hinjili and Bijepur, the latter being part of Bijepur district, was obviously prompted by the need to strengthen Biju Janata Dal’s (BJD) prospects in western Odisha where the rival BJP was seen as growing. To most political observers it was clear right from day one that Patnaik would win both the seats but keep Hinjili which is part of his home district.

Patnaik’s gamble of contesting from Bijepur did not pay off fully in that the BJD did not do as well in western Odisha as expected. Though party’s performance in the assembly polls was more or less satisfactory it failed to win even a single Lok Sabha seat in the region. All the five seats in this belt went to the BJP with people opting for Narendra Modi as their Prime Minister for the second time.

However, Patnaik having committed himself to nursing Bijepur even after quitting the seat is duty bound to ensure that the projects launched in the constituency in particular and Bargarh district in general are taken care of. For this he not only has to pay personal attention to the constituency but also find a good BJD leader to contest the by-poll from the constituency.

Stakes are high for the BJD in Bijepur because chief minister’s image is on the line. The ruling party would be fighting to retain a seat that was won by Patnaik by an impressive margin. The party now represents the hopes and aspirations of the people of the region which faces several problems including inadequate irrigation facilities. An ambitious irrigation scheme launched by the chief minister in this area is yet to become fully functional.

For the BJP, too, it is going to be a prestige battle in that the party had done well in the constituency in the bye-election that was won by BJD’s Rita Sahu who happens to be the widow of Congress veteran, Subal Sahu who had won the seat thrice in a row as a Congress candidate. Now his entire family is in the BJD. In the last election, too, the saffron party had tried its best in Bijepur though that was far from enough. Most importantly this will be an opportunity for the BJP to prove that the speculation about its tacit understanding with Naveen Patnaik’s party is wrong.

For the Congress, which is down in the dumps in the state having been reduced to a single digit party in the assembly, Bijepur by-poll would be an opportunity to try and put up a united show irrespective of the outcome of the contest. If the Congress leadership is actually keen on reviving the party it cannot afford to waste this opportunity. From that point of view Bijepur is going to be a litmus test for the Congress.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)