Bhubaneswar: All eyes are on Sambalpur, which will witness an intense triangular fight, as the state gears up for the third phase of polls to six Lok Sabha and 42 Assembly seats on April 23.
The BJD, BJP and the Congress have fielded new faces in Sambalpur. BJD president and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik picked retired bureaucrat and former works secretary Nalinikanta Pradhan over sitting MP Nagendra Pradhan this time. The BJP has fielded sitting Deogarh MLA Nitesh Gangadev in place of Suresh Pujari and the Congress replaced Amar Pradhan with Sarat Patnaik of Balangir district.
In the 2009 general elections, Amar Pradhan had managed a narrow win of 14,000 votes over BJD’s Rohit Pujari. While Pradhan got 38 per cent of votes, Pujari and BJP candidate Surendra Lath polled 36.23 and 18.85 per cent, respectively.
In 2014, BJD candidate Nagendra Pradhan won the seat, securing 36.43 per cent of votes. BJP candidate Suresh Pujari polled 33.33 per cent of votes while Congress candidate Amar Pradhan was pushed to third position with 24 per cent votes.
Of the seven Assembly seats in Sambalpur, the BJD had won in five and the BJP in two.
While Nagendra took a lead of 46,000 votes over Pujari in Chhendipada, 43,000 in Athamallik and 15,000 in Redhakhol Assembly seats, the latter managed a lead of 38,000 votes over Pradhan in Deogarh, 20,000 in Kuchinda and 15,000 in Sambalpur.
Political analysts are of the view that Pujari lost because of the party’s weak organisational network in Chhendipada and Athamallik.
However, in the past five years the BJP has strengthened its base in these two constituencies. Congress candidate Agasti Behera, who had given a tough fight to the BJD in the 2009 and 2014 Assembly polls in Chhendipada, joined the BJP two years ago. He will also play a crucial role in getting more votes for his party’s Lok Sabha candidate.
In Athamallik, the BJP is again pinning its hopes on Bhagirathi Pradhan, who has strengthened the party at the grassroots.
Going by the present situation, the position of the BJD is almost even in Sambalpur and Rengali. While the BJP is better off in Deogarh and Kuchinda, the BJD has a strong base in Redhakhol.
On the other hand, all is not well for Congress candidate Sarat Patnaik, as party workers and leaders in Sambalpur are strongly opposed to his candidature.
Similarly, the fate the BJD candidate depends on the voters’ mood as he is new to politics and has the least contact with the people. Despite this, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s popularity is likely to brighten his winning prospects, political experts have said.
According to a senior political leader from Sambalpur district, there is 60 per cent farmer population in Athamallik, Chhendipada, Redhakhol and Deogarh Assembly segments. Apart from this, there is a sizable population of Chaulias in Athamallik and Chhendipada constituencies. “The decision of these two communities will largely decide the fate of the candidates,” he said.