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In Orissa, it?s melons, mangoes & mornings

When it comes to choosing the best ways to stay cool, fruits win the vote from all quarters.
PTI | By Soumyajit Pattnaik, Bhubaneswar
UPDATED ON APR 16, 2004 09:06 PM IST

It was a familiar sight. BJD president Naveen Patnaik was heading for Bhubaneswar airport in the chief ministerial convoy with all the customary trappings. Nothing unusual about it, except the timing. It was 7 in the morning and Naveen’s campaign chopper, already well-oiled, was purring and ready for take-off. Naveen almost jogged up the steps of the helicopter, which took off before even he was seated comfortably.

The rush is understandable. It’s all because of the heat. The caretaker CM is racing to chase votes and also beat the heat while going about it. He wants to reach his rally site before the scorching rays of the sun keep his people away from him.

It’s a minimum of 42°C in almost all of non-coastal Orissa. Naveen has begun to start early so that he can address a few meetings before the ‘heat wall’ at high noon. “Previously, I used to wake up at 7 am … now it’s 5.”

When you can’t beat them, join them. The CM is not the only one to adapt his campaign schedules to the mercury graph. Long-time rival and bete noire state Congress president JB Patnaik has also taken to rising early. “We are veterans of the 1980 elections which also took place in the heat of May. It’s not a new experience for me to campaign in summer. But we start campaigns early.”

JB, keeping in mind his advanced age, also takes some extra protective measures. “We keep a wet towel on our heads and eat amba chhecha (smashed raw mango with onion) to guard against sunstroke.” When it comes to choosing the best ways to stay cool, fruits win the vote from all quarters. All Congress campaign vehicles are stocked with plenty of watermelons, mangoes and coconuts all the way. Ditto for the Biju Janata Dal. Mangoes, ripe, sour, dry and in syrupy form, are the quintessential favourite.

Leaders from coastal areas, however, do not fear the heat as much as their counterparts from the hinterland. The Congress candidate from Brahmagiri, Lalatendu B. Mohapatra, for instance, says the heat would not cast an ominous shadow on his campaign as his constituency surrounds the pleasant climes of the Chilika Lake. At the other end of the heat-meter is Titlagarh, where campaigning in the daunting 50°C is indeed daunting.

But politicians of all hues believe that the blisters will soon pass. As Damodar Rout puts it, the campaign heat will finally dwarf the summer heat. It’s only a matter of time before the decibels rise and the vote-chase intensifies.

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