CUTTACK: A quadrangular contest among BJD, Congress, BJP and an Independent candidate is on cards in the Athagarh Assembly constituency.While the ruling BJD party has fielded sitting legislator Ranendra Pratap Swain, who is seeking his seventh consecutive term from the seat, the Congress has nominated former Puri MLA Uma Ballav Rath. Brajendra Kumar Ray is the BJP candidate for the seat. Besides, Independent candidate Abhay Barik too is in fray and is poised to split BJD votes in the segment.
Swain has been getting the mandate from the constituency since 1990. Riding high on the popularity of
Chief Minister and BJD supremo Naveen Patnaik, the BJD candidate won the elections uninterruptedly except for two-and-a-half years when he failed to submit the original party ticket with the returning officer during filing of nomination papers in 2009.But when the Supreme Court cancelled the 2009 Assembly elections in Athagarh and ordered a re-poll in 2012, Swain grabbed the seat and has never looked back. However, this time he is facing anti-incumbency and with Barik, a BJD rebel contesting as an Independent candidate, the going is set to get tougher for the firebrand leader.
Barik, a front line young BJD cadre had been challenging Swain and organizing party programmes separately in Athagarh since more than three years. Though Barik had lobbied hard, he failed to get the party ticket following which he decided to contest the polls as an Independent. To make matters worse for Swain, former Athagarh legislator Ramesh Rout has extended his support to Barik who also has the backing of a sector of dissident BJD workers.
The Congress nominee is trying hard to win the seat and has succeeded in strengthening the party organization by uniting all old workers. OPCC president Niranjan Patnaik and AICC working committee member and former MP Rama Chandra Khuntia had campaigned for Rath. Similarly, Ray, an active member of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is trying hard to wrest the seat from BJD. He is trying to woo voters by highlighting the development works of the NDA Government at the Centre.
Political observers however feel that the BJD’s vote division by its rebel may create an opportunity for both Congress and BJP candidates in the Assembly segment.