Winning Puri is a matter of pride for Odisha parties

Despite his ‘slip of tongue’, the BJP’s Sambit Patra hopes to secure a maiden victory for the party in Puri. He is up against former Mumbai Police Commissioner Arup Patnaik who is banking on the BJD’s strong cadre base

Updated - May 23, 2024 01:41 am IST

Published - May 22, 2024 07:53 pm IST - BHUBANESWAR

Prime Minister Narendra Modi holds a roadshow in support of Sambit Patra, the BJP candidate from the Puri Lok Sabha constituency

Prime Minister Narendra Modi holds a roadshow in support of Sambit Patra, the BJP candidate from the Puri Lok Sabha constituency | Photo Credit: ANI

A full-page newspaper advertisement caught the attention of readers in Odisha on the morning of May 22. It featured an unconditional apology from Sambit Patra, the BJP candidate from the Puri Lok Sabha seat, who expressed deep regret for his ‘inadvertent’ slip of tongue when he called Lord Jagannath a devotee of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Such a public apology from a politician is rare. But Mr. Patra’s situation highlights the deep cultural and spiritual importance of Puri in Odisha. It is believed that whoever wins Puri becomes an ambassador of the State and its identity.

Also read | Jagannath temple takes centre stage in Odisha poll discourse as voting crosses halfway mark

Both the BJP and the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), engaged in a direct contest for this prestigious seat, have nominated candidates who are well-known beyond Odisha. Mr. Patra has been a prominent spokesperson for the BJP, a regular on TV debates over the years. The BJD’s Arup Patnaik is a former Mumbai Police Commissioner renowned for his effective crime management during his tenure in Mumbai.

The BJP has never won Puri that comprises seven Assembly seats carved out of Puri, Khordha and Nayagarh districts. In 2019, Mr. Patra lost the seat by less than 12,000 votes to the BJD’s Pinaki Misra. Despite not being a local, the party has given him another opportunity to contest. Mr. Patra has been actively engaging with the constituency, frequently visiting and maintaining a close contact with voters.

The massive roadshow held by Mr. Modi on May 20 has boosted Mr. Patra’s campaign. The BJP may also gain from the BJD swapping the Brahmagiri and Satyabadi Assembly constituencies between two of its leaders. Umakant Samantray, the Satyabadi MLA since 2014, had intended to run again but has been moved to Brahmagiri. Sanjay Das Burma, an experienced BJD politician and former Brahmagiri MLA, has been fielded from Satyabadi. Since all these changes were made just before the elections, these may create difficulties for the BJD to mobilise grassroots-level workers, said political observers. However, BJD sources said the latest party entrant, former Satyabadi MLA Rama Ranjan Baliarsingh from the BJP, would neutralise the disadvantage.

Mr. Patnaik hails from the Delanga area of Puri. The former IPS officer made an unsuccessful debut in electoral politics when he contested the Bhubaneswar seat in 2019. But the BJD candidate seems to have made a fresh start and his campaign has been bolstered by the BJD’s strong cadre base. Mr. Patnaik keeps a low profile and campaigns with the party’s Assembly candidates. He is relying heavily on the performance of the BJD candidates for the Assembly polls whose fates too will be decided simultaneously. If the BJD wins a majority of Assembly seats in the Puri Lok Sabha seat, Mr. Patnaik could sail through.

The prospects of the Congress, which has a sizeable support base in Puri, were hit when Sucharita Mohanty, initially chosen by the party, withdrew her candidature citing shortage of funds for her campaign. The Congress was forced to replace her with Jay Narayan Patnaik at the last moment, hampering the groundwork required to fight a Lok Sabha election.

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