Naveen Patnaik’s home turf awaits a feisty ‘battle of turncoats’

In Berhampur, both the BJP and BJD candidates have switched loyalties and are fighting against their former parties; BJD hopes to hold on to Patnaik bastion while BJP is counting on Mr. Modi’s popularity

April 27, 2024 07:06 pm | Updated April 30, 2024 11:28 am IST - BHUBANESWAR

As Pradeep Panigrahy, the BJP’s candidate from the Berhampur Lok Sabha seat, drives down to his constituency from Odisha’s capital Bhubaneswar on Friday, he cannot shake off a sense of nervousness. The impending scrutiny of his nomination papers looms large, and he fears that any minor error could cost him his candidature.

As Pradeep Panigrahy, the BJP’s candidate from the Berhampur Lok Sabha seat, drives down to his constituency from Odisha’s capital Bhubaneswar on Friday, he cannot shake off a sense of nervousness. The impending scrutiny of his nomination papers looms large, and he fears that any minor error could cost him his candidature. | Photo Credit: Biswaranjan Rout

As Pradeep Panigrahy, the BJP’s candidate from the Berhampur Lok Sabha seat, drives down to his constituency from Odisha’s capital Bhubaneswar on Friday, he cannot shake off a sense of nervousness. The impending scrutiny of his nomination papers looms large, and he fears that any minor error could cost him his candidature.

Mr. Panigrahy insists that his apprehension is not unfounded, given that he is challenging the Biju Janata Dal in its stronghold. The regional party is extremely sensitive to any potential upsets in this constituency. Berhampur falls within Ganjam, the home district of Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, adding another layer of significance to the contest.

Switched loyalties

As Odisha’s scorching daytime temperatures continue to rise, life slows to a standstill, and political campaigning feels the heat. Bhrugu Baxipatra, the BJD candidate in Berhampur, faces a daunting task in the coming weeks. His transition from the BJP to the BJD saw him swiftly nominated as the regional party’s candidate for Berhampur, thrusting him into a whirlwind of unfamiliar faces and campaign dynamics in the middle of poll season.

Also read: Lok Sabha elections 2024 LIVE Updates- April 30

Nevertheless, Mr. Baxipatra finds solace in the strength of the BJD, which has secured victory in the constituency for the past three consecutive terms. “Although I was new to the BJD, the assimilation process was remarkably smooth. I didn’t expect such seamless integration. Berhampur is like a bastion for the BJD, with a deeply rooted organisational structure,” he remarked.

“Being the home district of the Odisha CM, the overwhelming support and affection from the people, coupled with organisational backing, are unparalleled,” said the BJD candidate.

Role-reversal

Berhampur, considered the gateway to southern Odisha, is an important trading centre. It was once the citadel of the Congress and was represented by the late former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao in 1996. Since 1962, the Congress has held the seat a record 11 times, but is increasingly becoming a non-player.

What makes the contest interesting is that it is a role-reversal for both candidates, who are fighting against the parties they were long associated with, and where they had held important positions. While BJP candidate Mr. Panigrahy was once a key member of the BJD’s core group, a three-time BJD MLA from Gopalpur, and a former Higher Education Minister in the Naveen Patnaik-led government, BJD candidate Mr. Baxipatra had risen through the ranks of the BJP and was previously the vice president of the State BJP.

Insider knowledge

Mr. Panigrahy is widely regarded as a significant acquisition for the State BJP, bringing with him a wealth of organisational expertise, particularly in the Ganjam district. Having served as the former district president of the BJD, he enjoys an extensive reach and insider knowledge of the regional party’s election strategies.

He was expelled from the BJD in November 2020 for alleged anti-people activities and was later arrested by the State Crime Branch over allegations of involvement in a cash-for-jobs scam. After walking out of jail, he kept working to secure his political grip in the district and the BJP has provided him with a new platform.

“The transition from a regional party to national party is a huge opportunity for me and it is a switch from political narrowness to the ideologically stronger BJP. My work becomes easier as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s appeal among voters is tremendous. The regional party is struggling to keep its house in order. The leadership crisis will cost the BJD this election,” asserted Mr. Panigrahy.

Trump card

Mr. Baxipatra, on the other hand, claims that the election is moving towards a one-sided fight; he says he sees no significant challenge, given the BJD government’s successful implementation of the Biju Swasthya Kalyan Yojna, the wholehearted support of women’s self-help groups, and spectacular infrastructure development. He says that support for the Odisha CM in the constituency is his biggest trump card.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, then-BJP candidate Mr. Baxipatra had polled 3,48,999 votes in Berhampur and lost to the BJD’s Chandra Sekhar Sahu by 94,844 votes. The region is going to the polls on May 13.

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