Election 2019: Naveen-Baijayant War Begins To Hot Up

Bhubaneswar: Chief Minister and BJD president Naveen Patnaik and former Kendrapara MP and BJP national vice-president Baijayant Panda have entered into a war of words, as electioneering gathers momentum for simultaneous Lok Sabha and Assembly polls in Odisha.

On Wednesday, while announcing the party’s nominee for the Kendrapara Lok Sabha seat, Naveen, in a marked departure from his practice of not taking any potshots at his political rivals, said Anubhav Mohanty will work “only” for the interests of the people and have “nothing to hide in his affidavit” like the earlier one “working for a mining company”.

His friend-turned-foe Baijayant replied: “Didn’t think Naveen would stoop so low.”

Taking to his official Twitter handle, the former parliamentarian said that at least Naveen should be aware of his family’s 60-year-old industry with which late Biju Patnaik was very familiar and dependent, for decades.

The regional party has fielded the Rajya Sabha member and actor to take on the party dissident, thus blowing the conch for a high-voltage battle in Kendrapara, a BJD bastion thrice represented by former Chief Minister Biju Patnaik.

Naveen and Baijayant were considered very close for decades, with the latter entering Rajya Sabha twice, between 2000 and 2009, and Lok Sabha as many times, on a BJD ticket. In 2009, Baijayant resigned from the Rajya Sabha to successfully contest the Kendrapara Lok Sabha seat, which he won again in 2014.

Baijayant became Naveen’s bete noire after the 2014 polls, following a perceived ideological shift when he generously heaped praises on several policy decisions of the Narendra Modi government as a columnist, which did not go down well with the ruling dispensation in Odisha.

An article in a leading Odia daily, in which Baijayant questioned the BJD’s style of functioning while calling for “introspection” in the wake of the BJP’s impressive performance in the panchayat elections in 2017, sounded the death knell for this 17-year-long association.

After a tense standoff with the party leadership, the four-time lawmaker was suspended from the BJD in January 2018 for anti-party activity. He resigned from the party in May 2018 and from the Lok Sabha a month later.

However, his entry into the BJP was delayed for unknown reasons, as the party leadership kept him hanging for almost 8 months. Baijayant finally embraced the lotus party on March 4 and was appointed its national vice-president and spokesperson four days later.

Kendrapara has always been an anti-Congress bastion, with veteran leader Nityananda Kanungo of the grand old party winning it only once in 1952. Thereafter, socialist leader Surendranath Dwibedy won four consecutive elections from the seat on a Praja Socialist Party ticket before various incarnations of the Janata Parivar took over. Former chief minister Biju Patnaik won thrice from Kendrapara, contesting twice as a Janata Party candidate and once as a Bharatiya Lok Dal candidate.

Though the BJP saw a significant jump in its vote share from 18 per cent in the 2014 Assembly polls to 33 per cent in the 2017 rural polls, it does not really have a large support base in the constituency.

With huge resources at his disposal, Baijayant would surely mount an aggressive campaign against Anubhav, having been in touch with his electorate between 2009 and 2019. But the fate of another powerful leader with a solid base in Kendrapara, Bijoy Mohapatra who has failed to make it to the Assembly since being expelled from the BJD before the 2000 election, will be weighing heavy on him, as Naveen is known to go to great lengths to ensure the defeat of those who fall out with him.

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