BERHAMPUR: Although a triangular contest is expected for the Gopalpur Assembly segment, BJD’s candidate and sitting MLA Pradeep Panigrahy seems to be ahead of his rivals in the run up to the polls.
Pradeep is pitted against BJP’s Bibhuti Bhusan Jena and Congress candidate S Dharmaraj Reddy. The former Minister is considered a close aide of Chief Minister and BJD supremo Naveen Patnaik. Also BJD’s general secretary and the party’s district president, Pradeep, who was appointed the poll observer of BJD for Gajapati district, is believed to have persuaded scores of leaders and workers from BJP and Congress to join the ruling party. No wonder, he has become an eyesore for the other candidates in fray for the polls.
Of the total population of Gopalpur, 65.47 per cent reside in villages while 34.53 per cent are from urban areas. Five wards of Berhampur Municipal Corporation come under the Assembly segment which was formed in 1974. The segment was earlier reserved for Scheduled Caste candidates and represented by Congress till 1985. It later turned into a fort for Janata Dal and BJD. However in the 2004 elections, Congress regained the seat.
In 2009, the segment was classified as unreserved and this paved way for Pradeep to get elected. He was re-elected in 2014 and is seeking a third term. In the last elections, he had defeated his nearest rival Jena of BJP by a margin of over 20,000 votes.
Pradeep and Bibhuti are once again facing each other in the poll arena with Dharmaraj crossing his swords with the two. Bibhuti, a dedicated BJP worker, has a fair number of supporters and is banking on the Modi wave. However, Pradeep has been receiving overwhelming support from people of the constituency and his efforts in strengthening BJD’s base in the area is likely to make the battle for Gopalpur an interesting one.