Op-Ed: Why BJD’s Excessive Focus on Patkura?

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: Chief minister, Naveen Patnaik seems to have made the Patkura assembly poll a prestige issue. What else can explain the ruling Biju Janata Dal’s (BJD) excessive focus on a constituency where the party already enjoys a strong base. Patkura, in any case, is part of Kendrapara district which enjoys the reputation of being a BJD bastion.

So what is it that makes Patkura so important for the party that so many ministers and BJD MLAs are camping there? Opposition parties, specially the Congress, have mocked the BJD leadership for its excessive attention to this coastal constituency where the elections had to be postponed following the death of former MLA and BJD candidate, Bed Prakash Agarwal soon after filing his nomination papers.

Initially the Election Commission had appeared reluctant to postpone the polls in the constituency but it later agreed. While the candidates of BJP and Congress remained unchanged the BJD decided to field Agarwal’s wife Savitri obviously in the hope of garnering popular sympathy.

But the party does not seem to be satisfied with the sympathy factor advantage and is pulling out all stops to ensure an outright victory which would not only boost its strength in the state assembly but also chief minister, Naveen Patnaik’s reputation as an invincible leader.

However, the most important reason for Patkura turning into a BJD camp office is the fact that Patnaik is determined to prevent BJP candidate, Bijay Mohapatra’s entry into the state assembly at any cost. Mohapatra is the man in focus and like the chief minister he, too, seems to have made it a prestige battle.

The enmity between Mohapatra and Patnaik goes back to the time when the former used to be one of the most important leaders of BJD and also its political affairs committee chairperson. In contrast Patnaik, though the chief of BJD, was still a greenhorn in politics. As Mohapatra, an ambitious leader, tried to assert himself  Patnaik decided to clip his wings. The party ticket given to Mohapatra to contest from Patkura in 2000 was withdrawn at the last moment with no time left for the veteran to file nomination even as an independent. Eversince he has not been able to enter the state assembly.

The episode still rankles Mohapatra who is among the most bitter critics of Patnaik in the state. An excellent organiser Mohapatra’s campaign in Patkura is being strongly backed by the BJP whose top leaders including union ministers, Dharmendra Pradhan and Pratap Sarangi have canvassed votes for him.

The speculation about the growing friendship between BJP and BJD in the wake of recent elections had initially appeared to cast its shadow on Patkura but both sides dismissed the possibility of  a “ fixed match.” The high voltage campaign itself suggests that they are going all out against each other and there is no scope for a compromise anywhere.

Irrespective of its outcome this battle will add to the political stature of Mohapatra who continues to be the darling of the media despite having been out of the state assembly for last 19 years. The very fact that the state government and the ruling party have been forced to use all their might against him proves that he is a leader with roots among the masses.

(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.)