State Or Centre: Can Dharmendra Pradhan Walk The Political Tightrope In 2024?

Bhubaneswar: With elections less than a year away, all eyes are on Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan’s political moves. More so because he is apparently faced with dilemma at multiple levels.

Will he focus on national politics or Odisha politics? Will he contest for Lok Sabha or Vidhan Sabha? Which constituency will he vie for? Will his wife Mridula also enter the electoral fray?

Though Dharmendra has already gone on record that he would be fighting the 2024 polls, it is still unclear whether he would prefer to go to Parliament or state Assembly. He was once elected to Vidhan Sabha in 2000 from Pallahara and once to Lok Sabha in 2004 from Deogarh (he lost the 2009 polls and skipped the next two). But that was when BJP had an alliance with BJD and delimitation of constituencies had not been effected. The political realities today are very different.

Going by discussions in BJP circles, Dharmendra, who is currently a Rajya Sabha member from Madhya Pradesh, would file his nominations for a Lok Sabha seat in Odisha. While Dhenkanal could be his first choice considering that it is his native place, he is also said to be weighing the option of Sambalpur. Although Dharmendra is believed to have a better personal connect with the constituents of Dhenkanal, spread over Dhenkanal and Angul districts, the BJD has a stronger support base in the region. In 2019, the BJP lost in all seven Assembly segments comprising Dhenkanal LS constituency, which is represented by BJD’s Mahesh Sahu (who ostensibly quit BJP and joined BJD due to his not so good relationship with Dharmendra). Comparatively, the BJP won in three (Rengali, Sambalpur and Deogarh) of the seven Assembly seats forming Sambalpur LS constituency, from where BJP’s Nitesh Gangadev won in 2019. Leader of Opposition Jayanarayan Mishra represents Sambalpur Assembly seat.

In this kind of a scenario it could prove perplexing for Dharmendra to pick his constituency. If he sticks to Dhenkanal he could face a tougher battle. If he goes to Sambalpur, it might send the message that he was not confident enough and his ‘son of Dhenkanal’ image could get a battering.

Sources in the know said Dharmendra’s wife, who has been doing social work under Vikas Foundation Trust banner, has in recent weeks moved beyond Dhenkanal parliamentary constituency and made a foray into Sambalpur parliamentary constituency. This possibly has prompted the ruling BJD to step up its activities in Dhenkanal, Angul and Sambalpur with the party’s powerful general secretary (organisation) Pranab Prakash Das appointed as observer of these three districts alongside

What could prove to be further challenging for Dharmendra is to strike a balance between his responsibilities in the Union government as well as national BJP and his aspirations in Odisha. As minister of education and skill development and entrepreneurship and party’s crisis manager, Dharmendra enjoys an enviable status in the Modi dispensation as well as the saffron party. Last year he was party in-charge for the all-important Uttar Pradesh elections because of which he could not campaign for BJP in the panchayat and urban polls in Odisha. Currently, the party has tasked him with polls in Karnataka, a state he handled as pravari a decade ago. And, going by discussions in political circles, compared to BJP’s prospects in Odisha the party has higher probability of retaining power at the Centre and Dharmendra has a strong chance of either bagging a big portfolio or a big position in the party.

However, if his national assignments take precedence over his commitments in Odisha then his poster boy of state BJP tag could
suffer. As such since Sunil Bansal’s entry into Odisha BJP as its national general secretary in-charge the dynamics within the saffron brigade has perceptibly changed in recent months. With Manmohan Samal unexpectedly becoming the state unit president in March and getting into the reckoning to occupy the numero uno slot in the event of BJP coming to office in Odisha, Dharmendra’s task is cut out if he wishes to retain the ‘more equal than others’ status in the party.

Considering the possibility of BJP faring well in the state polls, party circles are abuzz with speculation that Dharmendra might
convince party bosses to field Mridula in the Vidhan Sabha elections, either from Pallahara or Talcher. Hailing from a political family and with her experience in students’ politics as an ABVP leader, Mridula is said to be no novice and has the potential to keep a seat ready for her husband in case such an eventuality arises.

While matters are still in the realm of political speculation, it’s for Dharmendra to solve well ahead of 2024 the ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ in the political puzzle. It certainly is easier said than done, and might require him to take a tough call

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