BERHAMPUR: EXPECT the unexpected in Berhampur. A politically surcharged region, political battles add new dimensions every day at the Berhampur Assembly segment. Instead of door-to-door campaigning and public meetings, candidates are riding luxury vehicles to their electorate in the segment that goes to polls in the first phase on April 11.
Here, wife of an Independent candidate, currently lodged in Circle Jail, is campaigning for him while rivals have joined forces to ensure the BJD’s win in the segment which has witnessed multi-cornered contests in the past.
While campaigning by candidates of all the three major political parties is on in full swing, Asharani, wife of former mayor of Berhampur Municipal Corporation Siba Shankar Dash, is cynosure of all eyes.
With a string of several criminal cases including land grabbing and arms smuggling pending against him, Dash is cooling his heels in the Circle Jail but it is his better half who is creating the waves on his behalf. To escape the sweltering heat, she has chosen a luxury car with a sun roof to greet the voters.
Dash had joined BJD in 2008 and was Mayor till 2013. In the last election, he quit the ruling party after being denied ticket and joined BJP to unsuccessfully contest from Berhampur. He secured only 25,000 votes. At least 37 cases are pending against him in different police stations of Ganjam district. He went underground for some years but was arrested from New Delhi by a special police team in July 2016 and lodged in jail.
This time around, he was hopeful of a BJP ticket but the party chose Kanhu Pati over him following which Dash filed nomination as an Independent.
Asharani claims that Dash was implicated in false cases due to his rivalry with the BJD. “The city developed under my husband’s tenure as Mayor. From widening of roads to construction of new drains, everything has been done by him,” she claimed and hopes that it would bring in the votes.
On the other hand, BJD’s Ramesh Choupatnaik, a four time MLA, is now campaigning for his one time rival Bikram Panda who he defeated four times in the past. Panda joined the ruling party after quitting Congress. As a reward, BJD supremo Naveen Patnaik fielded him as the party candidate and sent Choupatnaik to the Upper House. Panda and Choupatnaik, who have criticised each other in the last two decades, are now moving in the same luxury vehicle to woo voters.
Apart from Panda who is pitted against Kanhu Charan Pati of the BJP, there are nine more contenders for the segment. While Panda hopes to win the polls banking on the clean image of Naveen, Pati is pinning hope on the popularity of PM Narendra Modi. Congress candidate Lingaraj Choudhury is banking on the party’s traditional vote bank.
However, the candidates’ luxury twist to their campaign trails has not gone down well with locals who feel they should personally reach out to voters instead of campaigning in their customised luxury cars.