BHUBANESWAR: Attention of political parties has turned to constituencies where elections are scheduled to be held in the second phase on April 18.Unlike the first phase polls, which came to and end on Thursday, the ruling BJD is expected to face tough challenge from the opposition as historically the five Lok Sabha constituencies of Bargarh, Sundargarh, Balangir, Kandhamal and Aska have patches where the support base of Congress and BJP is very strong.
Out of the five Lok Sabha seats, Sundargarh is represented by senior BJP leader and Union Minister Jual Oram while the fight for the Bargarh was a close one in 2014 elections with BJD candidate Pravas Kumar Singh defeating Subhas Chouhan of the saffron party by a margin of more than 11,000 votes.
The fight for Balangir Lok Sabha seat has remained within the royal family with BJP candidate Sangeeta Singhdeo winning it for three consecutive times from 1998 till it was wrested from her by Kalikesh Singhdeo of BJD in 2009. The seat has since remained with Kalikesh and the BJD has renominated him again for 2019 polls. The Kandhamal and Aska Lok Sabha constituencies have turned into BJD bastions in recent elections though the BJP is now making a determined bid to capture the two seats in 2019 polls.
Out of 35 Assembly seats going to polls in this phase, 24 are being held by the ruling BJD. While Congress has six seats in its kitty, BJP had won four and CPM one seat in 2014 polls. While sources in BJD are confident of a better show this time, BJP and Congress also maintained that their seat tally will improve in the second phase.
The second phase has also assumed significance as both the Assembly constituencies, Hinjili and Bijepur, from where Chief Minister and BJD supremo Naveen Patnaik is contesting will go to polls on April 18. Though the Western Odisha districts are considered to be traditional stronghold of BJP and Congress has shown signs of revival in the region following the landslide victory of the party in neighbouring Chhattisgarh, candidature of Naveen from Bijepur seems to have put the opposition political parties on the back foot.
Political observers, however, maintained that despite the optimism in BJD camp over its performance in the second phase, the end results may turn out to be a mixed bag with the three main political parties having a share of seats in both Lok Sabha and Assembly polls.
Meanwhile, the BJD supremo has launched campaigning from Aska Lok Sabha seat where a completely new face and SHG member Pramila Bisoyi has been fielded by the ruling party. She will take on Anita Priyadarshini of BJP and Ramakrushna Panda of CPI.
While Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan launched the BJP campaign for second phase polls at Balangir, president of Odisha Pradesh Congress Committee Niranjan Patnaik campaigned for party candidates at Sanakhemundi in Ganjam district.