KENDRAPARA: The Lok Sabha constituency where the theory of split voting will be put to test is Kendrapara, which is witnessing one of the most fierce poll battles in the entire country. The high profile contest between BJP national vice-president Baijayant Panda and BJD’s Anubhav Mohanty, the Ollywood star is also a prestige issue for Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, for whom the former BJD MP has emerged the enemy No 1.
On ground too, the contest has divided this constituency into two distinct groups, one rooting for change and the other wanting status quo to prevail, satisfied with things as they are. Bimal Das, a fishermen in Kharinasi village under Mahakalapada Assembly segment, sums up the situation in a very succinct manner. “Five years back, it would have taken a person travelling from Kendrapara to Kharinasi five to six hours because of the pitiable condition of the road. But now, one can reach the village within an hour. The BJD Government has at least solved the communication problem of people of the area. But the country also needs a strong Prime Minister,” he said, hinting at the common refrain now, Narendra Modi for Centre and Naveen Patnaik in Odisha.
Kendrapara’s love for Naveen is undisputed. It has been former Chief Minister Biju Patnaik’s ‘Karmabhoomi’. Many elderly people in the area fondly remember the late leader who was elected thrice from the Lok Sabha constituency in 1977, 1980 and 1984 elections. And the fact that Baijayant ditched his son Naveen and joined the rival camp has also not gone down well with the people.
“Baijayant betrayed Naveen Babu and joined BJP though he was elected twice from here on a BJD ticket. He has not visited us after joining BJP. Naveen babu has given us road and electricity,” said Sanjay Rajnath of Ramnagar panchayat which is predominantly inhabited by Bengali settlers. Ramnagar has 16 wards with 15,000 voters, all Bengali settlers.
Bablu Debnath of Pedchita village, who left college four years back to work as a mechanic in Mumbai, however, wants change. “We (his friends too) have decided to vote for Modi this time,” he said reflecting the mood among the young voters. More than Panda’s personal image, brand Modi is what seems to have brought BJP, which was almost a marginal player in the coastal district in last elections, to a position to challenge the BJD in its bastion.
The narrative of split votes continues elsewhere in the Lok Sabha constituency. Prafulla Nayak of Patharpur in Aul segment and Bharat Chandra Behera at Jamdhara in Patkura talk of a tight contest between the two rivals where Modi factor will play a big role. However, the minority votes in the constituency is likely to go against BJP as hinted by Sheikh Sovan of Jamdhara village. Kendrapara Lok Sabha seat has 70,000 votes of the minority community.
And, Anubhav is no pushover. The road to Kendrapara is littered with posters of his latest film ‘Biju Babu’. The film’s title and that Mohanty is contesting from a seat which has still remained loyal to the legendary leader is too obvious to ignore. And Anubhav has instant connect with the youths because of his movies.
The Congress is also not altogether out of the race. The party has renominated Dharanidhar Nayak who had polled 3.92 lakh votes in 2014 elections. The presence of the grand old party is also visible in Kendrapara, Aul and Rajnagar Assembly segments.
If Congress can keep intact its 2014 base, the fight will be triangular making things difficult for Baijayant. But this seems most unlikely except in Aul and Rajnagar which have sitting Congress MLAs. And a substantial erosion of Congress base will only help Baijayant to create history in Kendrapara. For that, we will have to wait till May 23.