Odisha Elections 2024: Can Sofia Firdous Help Congress Retain Barabati-Cuttack?

Cuttack: With all new candidates in the fray, Odisha’s Barabati-Cuttack Assembly constituency is poised for a tough three-way contest between BJD, BJP and Congress.

Congress has fielded senior leader Mohammad Moquim’s daughter Sofia Firdous and former Salepur MLA Prakash Chandra Behera is the BJD candidate from the seat. They are pitted against BJP’s Dr Purna Chandra Mohapatra, a gynaecologist-turned-politician. Both Sofia and Purna Chandra are making their debut in electoral battle while Prakash, who was president of BJP’s Cuttack district unit, is contesting the polls under the Conch symbol this time.

Can Moquim’s Princess Save His Fortress

Congress has seen an increase in its vote share in Barabati-Cuttack in the last three elections. In 2009, Congress got only 27,000 votes but by 2019 Moquim registered a win by polling 50,244 votes. The party decided to field Sofia from the seat after Supreme Court refused to stay his conviction in the Odisha Rural Housing and Development Corporation Limited (ORHDC) loan irregularities case.

Though Moquim has won only once, he has a strong support base here which would be helpful for Sofia. While she is contesting and trying to woo young voters, Moquim has taken on the mantle of her chief poll strategist.

Naveen’s Blank Cheque For Cuttack

The BJD sprung a surprise by nominating Prakash as its candidate. He had won from Salepur Assembly segment in 2014 on a Congress ticket. He joined BJP ahead of 2019 elections and contested again from the same constituency but lost to BJD’s Prashant Behera. Prakash is also a new face for the people of Barabati.

Debashish Samantaray had won the seat for BJD twice in 2009 and 2014 from the constituency, but lost to Moquim in the last election by a meagre margin of 2143 votes. He is now a member of Rajya Sabha.

The fight in Cuttack has mostly been between the Congress and BJD, and the regional party also fared well in the last municipal elections.

Development has been at the core of BJD’s manifesto and Prakash too has been seeking votes on its basis. He has been telling people that Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik would give a blank cheque for the development of Cuttack. But will the people of Cuttack accept an outsider?

Will Lotus Bloom Here?

BJP’s Purna Chandra is a renowned gynaecologist and the party also has a good support base in Cuttack. Sameer Dey had won the seat in 1995, 2000, 2004 for the saffron camp but twice while in an alliance with the BJD.

Purna Chandra, who is the vice president of the party’s state unit, was in contention for Cuttack Lok Sabha seat, but was later fielded from Barabati-Cuttack Assembly seat after the incumbent MP Bhartruhari Mahtab switched sides to BJP and became its candidate.

Purna Chandra, however, has the support of senior party leaders. BJP heavyweight Amit Shah held a roadshow in Cuttack to urge people to vote for him. In addition to BJD’s anti-incumbency and the Modi-wave, his popularity among people may also go in his favour.

Minority Votes, A Big Determinant

Muslim voters constitute more than 16 per cent of the total voters in the constituency. And there was a shift in Muslim votes that had consolidated behind the BJD since 2009. In 2014 and 2019, they mostly voted for Moquim but in the municipal elections, BJD got a chunk of these votes. In the 2024 Assembly elections, they are likely to play a crucial role in deciding the winner. Besides the minorities, all three parties have also been trying to woo the Bengalis in the city.

All three candidates actively campaigned and engaged with the people. With campaigning coming to a close, all eyes are now on voters of Barabati and which way they would tilt!


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