On last day of campaign, Naveen Patnaik, Baijayant Panda sweat it out in Kendrapara
In the 2019 polls, the constituency has gained maximum interest as a proxy war is being fought between chief minister Naveen Patnaik and his bete noire Panda, though officially the BJD candidate is Odia film star Anubhav Mohanty.Updated: Apr 28, 2019 17:08 IST
As a merciless sun beat down on the streets of Marsaghai town in coastal Kendrapara, four-time MP and BJP’s national vice-president Baijayant Panda stepped out of an SUV and firmly held an old man who had folded his hands. A few seconds later, Panda turned around to pat the cheeks of a kid sitting on a motorcycle much to the amusement of his parents.
One of his followers suggested: “Let’s take rest under shade. It’s too hot today.” Panda gently brushed him aside and said: “Campaigning cannot be done sitting in SUVs. It has to be done amid the heat and dust.”
Hundreds of candidates sweated it out during the campaigning for the fourth and final phase of elections to 6 Lok Sabha constituencies and 41 assembly constituencies in Odisha. The maximum heat and dust is being generated in the Kendrapara Lok Sabha constituency that has always stood for the Janata Party and subsequently the Biju Janata Dal candidates 1980 onwards.
In the 2019 polls, the constituency has gained maximum interest as a proxy war is being fought between chief minister Naveen Patnaik and his bete noire Panda, though officially the BJD candidate is Odia film star Anubhav Mohanty, also the current Rajya Sabha MP. Panda, the current BJP candidate from Kendrapara was the BJD MP from Kendrapara between 2009 and 2018 till he was suspended from the party. Though Congress has put up lawyer Dharanidhar Nayak as its candidate, he does not seem to be in the race.
In the last 19 years of Odisha politics, anyone who has fallen foul of the BJD supremo has never flourished again. From BJD’s founder-member Bijoy Mohapatra to bureaucrat-turned-politican Pyari Mohan Mohapatra to former minister Damodar Rout almost everyone have perished in the political sweepstakes the moment they went against the chief minister. Panda, who was suspended and later resigned from BJD last year after a bitter fallout with Patnaik, is however not ready to go out without giving a good fight.
“This is no longer the 19th or 20th century where you have pocket boroughs. This is no longer a time where you can take people for granted. You can’t think of the people as your father’s property. People are not buildings or vehicles that you own,” said Panda sipping tea with his followers at Marshaghai market, while referring to the chief minister’s remarks that the women voters of Kendrapara would make BJD victorious.
On Saturday, the last day of the campaigning, Panda’s vehicle came to a halt in a busy village square where he would jump out, walk to the crowd, chat with them for several minutes before dashing back to the vehicle and to the next village leaving behind a trail of dust. Chief Minister Patnaik on the other hand, went around several villages in the constituency in a specially-designed campaign bus invoking Odia Swabhiman (Odia self respect) and recounting how the place was karmabhoomi of his late father Biju Patnaik.
The fight between Panda and Patnaik is so intense that the latter has addressed more than 2 dozen big public meetings in the constituency in the last one week and even spent a night in the district on Friday. At least, 50 BJD MLAs and several ministers are camping in the district since the last several days with work apportioned to each of them.
Though most of Patnaik’s speeches last for just about 3-4 minutes, the target is Panda and how the industrialist-turned-politician was more concerned about his company IMFA than the interest of the state.
On Saturday, the last day of the campaign, Patnaik made several pit stops campaigning in his specially-designed bus in Kendrapara while criticizing Panda for “betraying the state and spreading rumours about his health”.
In interior villages of Kendrapara, many see Panda as someone who always kept in touch with his constituency unlike previous MPs. “He was here just two months ago to attend post-death ceremonies of a person of our village. He is always there with us. If someone’s house catches fire, he is there on ground and provides help. I pray to God that he wins again,” said Mohanty as fellow villager Arakhita Das nodded. “He hardly behaves like a politician and is ready to help people in need.” In Nuapalli village of Patkura assembly constituency, young farmer Sarbeswar Behera said he saw Panda as someone above party considerations. “Whenever we have gone to him seeking help, he does check our party background,” said Behera.
In other villages of the constituency, the voice of resentment over growing corruption at the grassroot level may help Panda. “There is too much corruption on the ground and we have to pay bribes for every small thing. A change is needed,” said small-time businessman Pradyumna Routray.
Though there seems to be considerable support for Panda, in several constituencies, the women voters seem to be solidly behind BJD due to image of the chief minister and BJD’s social welfare schemes. Latika Prusty, member of a woman self help group in Badkul village under Mahakalpada block of Kendrapara said she would root for the BJD candidate in the Lok Sabha poll though she has got gas connection under Ujjwala Yojana.
“Budha (Naveen Patnaik) is a good man and he has helped me a lot by granting old age pension,” he said. Similarly, in Madana village under Salipur assembly constituency, widow Sabita Sahoo said she can never think of betraying Patnaik. “He is a lucky mascot for me. He gave us food, roof over my head and sewing machines. How can I not be grateful to him,” Sahoo said.
As the campaign drew to a close at 5 pm and the chief minister flew back to the state capital, Kendrapara was abuzz with rumours of backroom deals going on in both BJD and BJP camps. “There are so many MLAs of BJD here, but we did not see many of them campaigning here. So what are they doing here? You will see they will be very active after sunset,” alleged Panda, adding that in a level-playing field, no one can stop him.
“You saw a magistrate being beaten by a BJD candidate in Puri. I have asked for central reserve forces in remote polling booths of Kendrapara.” BJD leaders on the other hand alleged that Panda had made secret deals with a few Congress candidates in a few assembly constituencies for getting the share of the party’s votes in his kitty.
Mohammad Jani, a political analyst of Kendrapara district, said the Kendrapara verdict would affect Odisha politics one way or the other. “If Panda wins he can pitch himself as a credible alternative to Naveen Patnaik. At the same time he will also bust the myth that anyone who falls out with the chief minister can never rise.”