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Prestige battle for Jay, Naveen in BJD bastion

Vipul kumar
Tuesday, April 30, 2019, 05:26 PM

Monday’s vote will settle a question intriguing Odisha: Can BJP national vice president Baijayant Jay Panda, chief minister Naveen Patnaik’s blue eyed boy turned archenemy, break his new party’s jinx in Kendrapara?

Of the six Odisha Lok Sabha seats that voted on Monday, none commanded as much public interest as Kendrapara, a Biju Janata Dal bastion that the BJP has never won and the Congress won only once, in 1952.

For the past one week, the entire state’s interest had been riveted on the pulsating buildup to the Kendrapara tussle, billed as “Jay Panda vs Naveen Patnaik” although Panda’s actual rival was the actor and BJD nominee Anubhav Mohanty.

“Although Anubhav is the candidate, Naveen has been able to send a strong message that the real battle is between him and Jay Panda,” said Alekh Das, a local businessman.

The BJP’s consistent rise since the panchayat elections of 2017 and the hype over the Balakot air strikes have made the party hopeful of wresting the seat from the BJD.

Panda, who won the seat in 2014 as the BJD nominee, had quit the party last year after a falling out with the chief minister. He joined the BJP this year.

Naveen had not visited Panda’s home after his father Banshidhar Panda, the doyen of Odisha’s industrialists, passed away last year.

Kendrapara has turned into a prestige battle between Panda and Naveen, a chance to settle scores. Naveen, who led the campaign personally, had termed Panda a betrayer.

While Kendrapara registered a 65 per cent turnout by 5pm on Monday, the day’s average turnout across the six Odisha seats was 66 per cent. The figure might go up.

A resident, Sudhakar Patra, said: “The Muslim and Bengali settlers turned up in huge numbers to vote. Their votes will play a key role. The Congress candidate and lawyer Dharanidhar Nayak will put up a serious challenge.”

In 2014, Dharanidhar had emerged the runne rup with 3.92 lakh votes. The BJD had secured 6.01 lakh votes and the BJP, 1.18 lakh.

“For the BJP to win the seat, the Congress votes would need to shift to the BJP in the Lok Sabha election in Kendrapara, which is most unlikely. Besides, the BJP can win only if it is able to dent the BJD’s base,” a local journalist, Chitta Ranjan Das, said.