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For Orissa, it's the Patnaik versus Patnaik once again

It is Patnaik versus Patnaik again in Orissa. For this tribal state with over 25 million voters, there is no alternative but the Patnaiks.
PTI | By Indo-Asian News Service, Bhubaneswar
PUBLISHED ON APR 10, 2004 01:32 PM IST

It is Patnaik versus Patnaik once again in Orissa.

For this tribal state with over 25 million voters, there is no alternative other than choosing one of the Patnaiks.

Orissa will elect 21 Lok Sabha and 147 assembly members April 20 and 26.

Two of the main contenders for power are Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and veteran Congress leader Janaki Ballav Patnaik, also the state's longest serving chief minister.

Naveen Patnaik is heading the coalition of the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and the Bharatiya Janata Partry (BJP) while Janaki heads the main opposition Congress party.

The battle of the Patnaiks is not new to Orissa. It has been a two-decade-long bout.

Since 1980, the state has witnessed a battle between the non-Congress camp of Biju Patnaik - Naveen Patnaik's father -- and J.B. Patnaik, except on three occasions -- the 1990 and 1999 assembly and 1991 parliamentary elections.

After Biju Patnaik's death in 1997, his youngest son Naveen took up the cudgels though he has had to take help from the BJP unlike his father who fought alone.

Naveen Patnaik, 58, an urbane bachelor who has always lived outside his home state, successfully hitched his political fortunes to the name of his father.

After his first electoral victory in the 1998 election from Aska constituency, he bagged a berth in the Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's cabinet as minister for steel and mines. Since then he has not looked back.

Showing unexpected political flair, he split the Janata Dal to form his own Biju Janata Dal and hooked up with the BJP.

The BJD-BJP alliance he headed won 19 of 21 seats in the 1999 parliamentary poll. In the assembly elections the next year, the BJD won 68 and the BJP won 38 seats, sweeping the 147-member assembly. Biju Patnaik became chief minister.

The single star of his party, the younger Patnaik is banking heavily on his image as a crusader against corruption that he has tried to build in the past four and a half years.

"I have spared none - be it a top administrative officer, minister or speaker," he has told many gatherings during his campaign for the coming parliamentary elections.

After a year of as chief minister he dropped three ministers -- Nalini Kanta Mohanty, Kamala Das and Prashant Nanda on charges of corruption.

He denied the party ticket to assembly speaker Sarat Kumar Kar on a similar charge.

He booked several administrative officers on corruption charges and allowed the police to take action against the state's top real estate developers and businessmen charged with various crimes.

"People will defeat J.B. Patnaik and his Congress party which has turned into a corruption company. He has done nothing except encourage corruption and take in people who we rejected for their corrupt ways," Biju Patnaik said of his namesake.

"He has promoted the politics of nepotism".

J.B. Patnaik, 78, is unfazed by the chief minister's diatribe.

"What is so special about this allegation?" he queried. "His father kept accusing us just like this and even initiated action against us, but all charges of corruption were quashed in courts".

J.B. Patnaik said the state government had failed to create jobs and had become bankrupt.

"There have been no developmental works and criminal activities have gone up. That is why most of his own people deserted him," he alleged.

As for the electorate, it is watching the two Patnaiks.

"They keep accusing each other and perhaps the charges are true, but we do not really have any alternative to choose from", said Monohar Patra, a 50-year-old voter who has witnessed the Patnaiks' face-off for decades.

This is the first time since 1971 that Orissa will see simultaneous polling for the parliamentary seats as well as the state assembly.

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