Triangular contest on cards in Odisha’s Berhampur Lok Sabha seat

Berhampur: Once a pocket borough of the Congress, Berhampur Lok Sabha constituency, with its seven assembly segments, is poised for a triangular contest in the upcoming polls.

While the Congress seems to be struggling to regain its lost glory, the ruling BJD is leaving no stone unturned to score a hat-trick in the seat in south Odisha.

The BJP, which had demolished the four-decade-long Congress dominance in the seat in 1999 riding on the Kargil euphoria and its alliance with Biju Janata Dal (BJD), is going all out to stage a comeback in the constituency, fuelled by the much-hyped Balakot air strike.

Election in the constituency is slated to be held on April 11. The state is going to simultaneous Lok Sabha and Assembly polls in four phases on April 11, 18, 23 and 29.

The electoral history of Berhampur shows that the Congress never suffered a poll debacle here before 1999.

The grand old party had even waded through the anti-emergency wave in 1977 and emerged a winner in the constituency.

As it turned out to be a safe seat for the party, former prime minister P V Narasimha Rao had not just contested and bagged the seat in 1996, but also retained it, leaving his home turf Nandiyal.

Propelled by its alliance with the BJD and the Kargil victory wave, the BJP snatched this south Odisha seat from the Congress in 1999.

The grand old party, which bounced back and registered a victory in 2004 elections, was pushed to the background twice again in 2009 and 2014, with cinestar and BJD candidate Siddhanta Mahapatra winning two consecutive Lok Sabha polls from the seat.

Though the Naveen-Patnaik-led party bagged the seat in 2014, overcoming the Narendra Modi wave that swept the country, BJP candidate Rama Chandra Panda polled more votes than the party’s assembly nominees in six of the seven segments in Berhampur.

The ruling BJD’s vote share had nosedived in 2014 as compared to 2009 despite its impressive performance in some assembly segments. The vote share of the BJP also increased remarkably in several assembly seats.

In 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJD candidate polled 43.97 per cent votes, while the Congress nominee bagged 39.86 per cent votes, followed by the BJP candidate with 17.34 per cent votes.

Alarmed at this disturbing trend, the Naveen Patnaik- led party sought to take precautions to secure its vote bank.

It received a shot in the arm with the induction of Congress heavyweight and former Union minister Chandra Sekhar Sahu and others into the regional party.

While the BJD has fielded Sahu from the Lok Sabha constituency this time, replacing Mahapatra, the BJP nominated its state unit general secretary Bhrugu Baxipatra.

The Congress, on its part, fielded V Chandrasekhar Naidu, a greenhorn.

Exuding confidence that he will win the seat, Sahu said the clean image and charisma of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and development programmes undertaken by the BJD government will work in his favour.

Baxipatra, on the other hand, contended that the achievements of the BJP-led government at the Centre will ensure his victory in the polls.

“I have been visiting the voters at their homes to tell them about the failures of the BJD government in bringing about development in the state,” he said.

Congress nominee Naidu, a newcomer, claimed that he is banking on the traditional vote bank in the constituency.

“The anti-incumbency factor against the BJD as well as the BJP will give the Congress a fillip in Berhampur,” he said.

According to poll analysts, the current state-of- affairs indicate that the ruling BJD appears to have an edge in the seat, even as the BJP is making all efforts to bolster its poll prospects.

The assembly segments under Berhampur Lok sabha seat are likely to witness straight fight between BJD and BJP, with some seats bracing for a neck-and-neck fight, they said.

The Digapahandi assembly seat is all set to witness an interesting contest marked by glamour and glitz, with the saffron party fielding actor Pinky Pradhan to take on BJD stalwart and state minister S N Patro, the analysts said.

The BJD also appears to be well-placed in assembly segments of Gopalpur, Chikiti, and Paralakhemundi, they said .

The party has fielded state minister and erstwhile royal family member Usha Devi from Chikiti seat and heavyweight Pradeep Panigrahi from Gopalpur.

Similarly, Kalyani Devi, a member of the former princely state, is in the race as BJD nominee from Paralakhemundi.

Her father Gopinath Gajapati was elected to Lok Sabha twice from Berhampur in 1989 and 1991 as a Congress candidate.

Over the next two days, the high-voltage campaign in the constituency is expected to reach a crescendo, with top guns of political parties making large-ditch efforts to woo the voters here.

While BJP president Amit Shah visited the constituency last week, Congress chief Rahul Gandhi is scheduled to address an election rally in Digaphandi on April 9.

BJD supremo Naveen Patnaik, who kicked off his party’s poll campaign in the constituency, is likely to hold road-show and public meetings at Paralakhemundi and Mohana in Gajapati district of the constituency during the second leg of his campaign.