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Lok Sabha elections 2019: Jay Panda faces star power in high-profile battle

The road to Kendrapara is littered with posters of Anubhav Mohanty’s latest flick, “Biju Babu”. Although Mohanty claims the film has nothing political about it, the timing of the film’s title and that Mohanty is contesting from an area considered the legendary Biju Patnaik’s ‘karambhumi’ is too obvious to ignore.

lok sabha elections Updated: Apr 25, 2019 08:22 IST
Saubhadra Chatterji
Saubhadra Chatterji
Hindustan Times, Kendrapara
anubhav mohanty,jay panda,BJD
Jay Panda was the BJD MP from 2009 till he resigned in 2018. For the first time, he is contesting in a BJP jersey.(HT Photo )

Scores of youths, mostly on motorbikes, race down the narrow streets of the idyllic Raisunguda village, shattering its tranquillity. Their destination: a half-built residential house where Anubhav Mohanty is having lunch. A few kilometres away on the other side of Kendrapara town, a white chopper is waiting in the middle of a football field. Its pilots are resting under a banyan tree. People know they are near the poll office of Kendrapara’s BJP candidate, Baijayant ‘Jay’ Panda.

If Mohanty, the heart-throb of Odisha, is busy posing for selfies with village girls, Panda’s programme sees at least 30 panchayat-level Biju Janata Dal (BJD) leaders switching over to support him. Welcome to Kendrapara, arguably the seat of Odisha’s most high-profile electoral battle this summer. Panda was the BJD MP from 2009 till he resigned in 2018. For the first time, he is contesting in a BJP jersey. And Mohanty, Odisha’s answer to Ranbir Kapoor, brings with him immense star power in a seat that has stuck with the BJD since 1998. Many experts believe Kendrapara is poised for this year’s toughest contest in the coastal state. “Things will change,” claims a confident Panda at his crowded party office. “Narendra Modi’s track record of the last five years speaks for itself. Many people feel sheepish not having voted for him last time. His image is of a tough leader who takes decisions in national interest.”

The road to Kendrapara is littered with posters of Mohanty’s latest flick, “Biju Babu”. Although Mohanty claims the film has nothing political about it, the timing of the film’s title and that Mohanty is contesting from an area considered the legendary Biju Patnaik’s ‘karambhumi’ is too obvious to ignore. And the actor is playing the “Patnaik” card to the hilt. “People are mostly happy with Sir’s (Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik) work. But there’s a person who thrived in the BJD for more than 22 years but has now switched sides,” says Mohanty, hitting back at Panda. The usual clamour for Naveen Patnaik and Modi is present in Kendrapara, some 57 kms from Bhubaneswar. But unlike many other seats, this constituency will see the big fight between two powerful contestants. Both Panda and Mohanty are young, energetic faces. “Panda boasts of a good performance while Mohanty’s on-screen appeal has an instant connect with the youth,” says former vice-chancellor of Berhampur University, Aditya Prasad Padhi.

And Naveen Patnaik has added further fuel to this fire by directly accusing Panda of spreading lies about his health. “This is a rare departure from Naveen babu’s style of politics. This shows he is willing to make it a personal battle,” said a senior BJD MP, asking not to be named.

Panda clarifies that he has never spread rumours about Naveen’s health and emphasizes that he wants the chief minister to live a long and healthy life. “But both Naveen’s popularity and his party’s popularity have plummeted. BJD’s approval ratings are abysmally low. People are sick and tired of seeing villagers carrying dead bodies every week as there’s no health care or roads. The state refuses to implement the Ayushman Bharat scheme,” he says. He boasts that people had advised him to take a “safe seat” as coastal Odisha is the BJD’s bastion. “But I have taken up the challenge because I have served people here,” says Panda. Mohanty is confident, too. “It will not be a tough contest. He was contesting in the name of Biju Patnaik and Naveen but now he has ditched us and people know it. He is a big industrialist but he failed to bring any industry to Kendrapara. He failed to provide jobs,” Mohanty quips, before hitting the campaign trail.

First Published: Apr 25, 2019 07:44 IST

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