BHUBANESWAR: With the Election Commission of India (ECI) announcing by-election to Bijepur Assembly constituency on February 24, the political parties are now giving final touches to their strategy to win the electoral battle, which will be a test case before the 2019 general election.
The major political parties, BJD, BJP and Congress have completed the initial round of campaigning in the constituency by organising worker conferences there. Congress is now under pressure to find out a suitable candidate for the by-poll to retain the seat in the face of determined bid by BJD and BJP to win.
Congress had formed a four-member team of observers with Jharsuguda MLA as the chief coordinator and senior leaders Kishore Chandra Patel, Prakash Chandra Debta and Sadhu Charan Nepak as members to interact with different sections of voters and party workers and recommend names of suitable candidates. The committee has already submitted its report to Odisha Pradesh Congress Committee (OPCC) president Prasad Harichandan.
Sources said former minister Ripunath Seth and youth leader Pranay Sahu are the main contenders for Congress ticket. Harichandan said Congress will fight the by-poll unitedly and retain the seat. “A decision will be taken about the candidate at the right time,” he said.
The BJD, however, is confident of a victory in the by-poll. “The BJD is fully prepared and will win the seat,” party spokesperson and Rajya Sabha MP Prasanna Acharya said. Chief minister Naveen Patnaik had announced Rita Sahu, widow of Congress MLA Subal Sahu, as the party’s candidate after the former deserted Congress and joined BJD along with her supporters.
Though former BJD MLA Ashok Panigrahi joined BJP in the presence of two union ministers Dharmendra Pradhan and Jual Oram at Barpali on October 2, 2017, the party is yet to announce its candidate. Oram said the BJP will announce its candidate in the last week of January. The central committee of the party will select the candidate on the basis report from the state committee, he said.
The by-poll was necessitated by the death of Sahu who had won three consecutive elections from the constituency in 2004, 2009 and 2014 on a Congress ticket. While Panigrahi won from the constituency in 2000, former minister Ripunath Seth represented Bijepur in the Assembly in 1995.
Nikunja Bihari Singh of the Janata Dal won from the seat in 1985 and 1990 while Rajib Lochan Hota represented the constituency in 1980. Nityananda Gadatia won in 1997 polls while Gananatha Pradhan of Utkal Congress was victorious in 1974. Tribikram Mallik of Congress (J) while Mohan Nag of Congress won from the constituency in 1961 and 1967 elections.