BHUBANESWAR: After winning all the five by-elections in the state since 2019, the juggernaut of the ruling BJD came to a halt at Dhamnagar on Sunday. The opposition BJP retained the Assembly seat after party candidate Suryabanshi Suraj handed a sound defeat to Abanti Das of the regional outfit which appeared invincible so far.
Overconfidence that it can win the seat no matter who the candidate is, handed BJD the body blow. The situation in Dhamnagar was almost similar to Balasore where it snatched the Assembly seat from the BJP by fielding a greenhorn like Swarup Kumar Das.
Like the proverbial ‘when two people fight, the third wins’, Das was nominated for the bypoll to Balasore - falling vacant after the death of sitting BJP MLA Madan Mohan Dutta - as a consensus candidate when the BJD leadership failed to resolve the fight between former MLA Jiban Pradip Dash and district BJD president Rabindra Jena over candidate selection.
In a similar scenario, the BJD picked chairperson of Tihidi block in Bhadrak district Abanti Das for Dhamnagar by-election to quell the fight between two former MLAs of the party, Rajendra Das and Muktikanta Mandal. However, this decision misfired as Rajendra turned a rebel.
A spirited campaign by BJP, led by Union Minister for Education Dharmendra Pradhan, helped the saffron party consolidate its position as its rode on the sympathy factor of Suryabanshi whose father Bishnu Charan Sethi’s demise had necessitated the bypoll.
Senior BJP leader and former MP Kharbela Swain felt the perception of BJP cadres that they are going to form the next government in the state kept them highly motivated during the entire electioneering process.
If rebel Rajendra was a factor in dividing the BJD votes, the Muslim votes - around 24,000 in the constituency - also was shared which proved costly for the ruling party. The BJP marginally improved its position as evident from the percentage of votes it got last time (48.47 per cent) and this time (49.09 per cent).
“If I am not wrong, many women who are traditionally BJD supporters voted for Suraj out of sympathy,” said Swain who extensively campaigned for the party candidate said.
What also proved costly for the ruling party was a narrative that too much of the Bhadrak party affairs were being run by leaders from leaders Jajpur apart from a lack of coherence among the MLAs from the district.
Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s candid admission that Sethi was a popular leader and his son’s win was on expected lines summed up the mood.