The 2009 election gave a severe jolt to the party in its traditional stronghold when the BJD swept the polls in the region alone

Even as the Congress remains divided in Odisha, it is striving hard to regain the lost ground in the southern region of the State, its stronghold for several decades till the 2004 election.

The region comprises the Nabarangpur, Koraput, Berhampur, Aska and Kandhamal constituencies. Even when an anti-Congress wave swept the country in 1977, the party was able to retain all but Kandhamal.

The trend changed in 2004 when the then ruling Biju Janata Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party combine bagged Nabarangpur, Aska and Kandhamal.

The 2009 election gave a severe jolt to the Congress in its traditional stronghold when the BJD swept the polls in the region alone, winning all but Nabarangpur.

While the Congress was able to recapture Nabarangpur in 2009 with young tribal leader Pradip Majhi winning the election, the party lost Koraput for the first time since 1951, with Giridhar Gamang getting defeated by Jayaram Pangi of the BJD.

Without an alliance with the BJD, the BJP failed to win Nabarangpur in 2009.

The Congress and the BJD are the major contenders for the five seats, though the BJP and the Bahujan Samaj Party are also contesting.

Poor strength

The BJP does not have enough strength in the region as is the case in the western region bordering Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand.

Even as Chief Minister and BJD president Naveen Patnaik is working hard to repeat the 2009 performance in the region, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s visit to Koraput and Nabarangpur on Monday is likely to brighten the prospects of the party in all five Lok Sabha constituencies in the region that shares borders with Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

Despite strong resentment among the party cadres against Odisha Pradesh Congress Committee president Jayadev Jena and Union Minister and party’s State campaign committee chief Srikant Jena across the State over ticket distribution, the party is hoping to perform better in the region this time.

The BJP, which had got little time to organise itself in 2009 after the BJD severed ties with it, is striving hard to strengthen its position in the region by banking on the “Modi wave” and fielding good candidates, including Sibashankar Ulaka, son of the former Congress leader Ramachandra Ulaka.

However, an improved performance by the BJP may cause trouble for the BJD and benefit the Congress in the region.