In Balasore, ex-union mins battle while turncoat candidate banks on women votes - Hindustan Times
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In Balasore, ex-union mins battle while turncoat candidate banks on women votes

ByDebabrata Mohanty
May 27, 2024 01:34 PM IST

Pratap Sarangi, former union minister is the BJP candidate, ex-union minister Shrikant Jena Congress candidate while Lekhashree Samantsinghar is BJD candidate

Odisha’s Balasore constituency is set to witness a three-way electoral battle between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Congress and Biju Janata Dal (BJD) as the final seventh phase of the ongoing Lok Sabha polls takes place on Saturday.

Balasore constituency is set to go to polls on Saturday. (Representative file photo) PREMIUM
Balasore constituency is set to go to polls on Saturday. (Representative file photo)

While Pratap Sarangi, former union minister is the BJP candidate, another former union minister Shrikant Jena is the Congress candidate while former zoology professor and woman leader Lekhashree Samantsinghar is the BJD candidate.

Lekhasri, former Odisha BJP’s vice-president, had quit the party to join BJD on April 7.

Locals have however termed the battle for Balasore between “Nana” and “Jena”.

BJP candidate and former union MSME and dairy minister Sarangi is popularly known as ‘Nana’ while Congress candidate Jena, who served as parliamentary affairs minister in IK Gujaral ministry in 1996 as well as chemical and fertiliser minister in former PM Dr Manmohan Singh cabinet in 2009.

“Though the 2019 election was mainly between BJD and BJP, 2024 is chiefly between Pratap Sarangi and Shrikant Jena as the BJD candidate Samantsinghar is seen more as an outsider. Besides, her induction to BJD came very late. In absence of any particular issue, it is going to be a tough fight,” said Prakash Mohapatra, a homoeopathic practitioner in Balasore.

In 2019, Sarangi had defeated BJD’s Rabindra Kumar Jena by just about 11,000 votes, the closest Lok Sabha battle in the constituency’s history since 1991, when Congress candidate Kartikeswar Patra defeated Samarendra Kundu of Janata Dal by a little over 13,000 votes.

A first-time Member of Parliament (MP) from Odisha, Sarangi, now 69, was inducted in PM Narendra Modi-led cabinet as a minister of state (MoS) for animal husbandry, dairy and fisheries in 2019, two years after the prime minister addressed him as BJP’s oldest sainik in Odisha.

Sukanta Sahoo, a retired state government employee, has flagged the lack of development in Balasore municipality area as well as lack of jobs.

“Sarangi was minister for MSME and fisheries for two years, but he could not do much. Youth in the area mostly migrate for jobs. There are less opportunities for self employment,” said Sahoo.

Also Read:LS polls: Congress fields ex-Union minister Srikant Jena from Odisha’s Balasore

Manas Behera, an engineering graduate from a local college, echoed similar sentiments, adding that getting jobs in any of the local industries has become very difficult.

“No one in my village has got any jobs in these units in the last five years. I worked in an IT firm in Bangalore for a year but came back during Covid. I am planning to go again as I could not find a good job in any IT company in Bhubaneswar,” said Behera.

Parshuram Behera, a person from the Dalit community in Aladia village, said he had to pay 20,000 for the PMAY (Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana) allocation.

“Over the last five years, every government scheme in the district is riddled with corruption. Unless we pay local panchayat or block officials there is no way we can get any government benefits,” said Behera.

While lack of jobs, corruption, inflation remain key topics of discussion, Debasish Chatterjee, who works as an accountant, feels PM Modi’s image remains on the ascent especially in Balasore this time around.

“BJP does not have any leader who can match up to Naveen Patnaik. While his popularity has been declining due to old age and bureaucratic stranglehold in the state, Modi’s graph is on rise and people in the constituency see him as a strong leader,” said Chatterjee.

Another trader Biswaranjan Patnaik, praised PM Modi.

“Everyone benefits from PM Kisan Scheme and the 5kg free rice scheme which helped many people during Covid. People see him as a clean man and he would be a big factor when voters like me go to vote,” said Patnaik.

Meanwhile, Jena, who returned to Congress after being expelled from the party in 2019, feels Modi factor won’t work in Balasore this time.

“People are not blind. They are seeing how inflation and unemployment have risen. A large section of poor people are finding it difficult to run their household. Has Modi kept any of his promises made to people? On one hand, the popularity of Naveen Patnaik has declined and Modi’s popularity has also taken a hit too. In this election, the tide is turning against the government and Balasore will show the way. The Congress vote share will rise significantly compared to the last two elections,” said Jena.

The former union minister is confident that his work in the constituency between 2009 and 2014, won’t go unnoticed.

“People still remember me for the work, (setting up an extension centre of AIIMS as well as strengthening the national highway) that I did in five years,” he said exuding confidence.

Krushnagopal Panda, a pisciculture businessman, said despite the decline of Congress in the last ten years, the party still has good number of supporters in northern Balasore.

“People are stressed over rising GST and tax rates. Inflation has broken their back and many people who voted for BJP in last two elections, may come back to Congress as they are fed up with both BJP and BJD,” said Panda.

Samantsinghar, the BJD candidate, said women voters of the constituency would rally behind BJD like they have done in last two previous elections, as Odisha CM Patnaik has done a lot for the women through SHG (self help groups).

“Naveen Patnaik gave 33% of tickets in Lok Sabha polls to women candidates and I am sure of getting most of the women votes. Though Sarangi was MP for five years and minister in MSME for two years, he could not do anything for upskilling the local youths,” she alleged.

Refuting her allegations, Sarangi said the PMGSY (Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana) roads constructed across the constituency and development of railway infrastructure during his tenure will help him.

“We lost two years due to Covid. Despite that, I have tried to do a lot as I am accessible to my people throughout the year unlike my predecessors. Besides, the popularity of Modi would ensure my win,” said Sarangi.

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