Bhubaneswar: Once known as a close confidant of CM and Biju Janata Dal (BJD) supremo Naveen Patnaik, high profile former BJD leader Baijayant Panda faces the toughest battle of his political career during the ongoing elections. Now he has turned out to be the enemy number one for the ruling regional party.
As Baijayant is seeking re-election from the Kendrapara parliamentary constituency on a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ticket after jumping ship to the saffron party last month, BJD has pitted Odia cine star and Rajya Sabha MP Anubhav Mohanty against him.
The election, scheduled to be held in the fourth phase on April 29, has become a prestige issue for both rebel Panda and BJD.
Panda, who was elected to the Lok Sabha twice from Kendrapara in 2009 and 2014 on BJD ticket, will contest the polls for the first time without Biju Patnaik tag, which is considered crucial in the politically sensitive parliamentary seat.
The seat is known as the “karmabhomi” of former Chief Minister late Biju Patnaik, who is the father of four-time Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik.
The Congress has renominated lawyer-turned-politician Dharanidhar Nayak from Kendrapara, hoping that a triangular contest will help in winning the seat, where the party has never won since the first general elections in 1952.
Kendrapara has been a BJD bastion where the BJP’s performance was not so impressive in the last two polls. In 2014, Panda had emerged victorious by securing 6,01,574 votes against Nayak, who had secured 3,92,466 votes. The BJP’s Bishnu Prasad Das had come a distant third with 1,18,707 votes.
Panda joined the saffron party months after quitting the regional party, which had suspended him for anti-party activities.
The Kendrapada Lok Sabha constituency comprises seven Assembly segments — Salipur, Mahanga, Patkura, Kendrapara, Aul, Rajanagar and Mahakalapada.
A total of 16.71 lakh people are eligible to cast their votes in this constituency, including 8.78 lakh men, 7.93 lakh women and 108 belonging to the ‘other’ gender, an election official said.
Both the BJP and the BJD are confident of winning the seat to prove each other wrong.
Adding to Baijayant’s popularity, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has already held a rally in the constituency on April 23 when he directly attacked Naveen Patnaik for the first time during the elections.
Several senior leaders, including Union Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, have also held rallies in the constituency.
Naveen Patnaik, on the other hand, addressed several rallies and held a roadshow in the constituency yesterday. The party has sent dozens of its senior leaders and young brigade to ensure its victory in the prestigious battle.