Pratap’s bid to retain Balasore LS seat faces strong challenge from Lekhasri, Srikant

However, what came as a surprise to everyone was the nomination of Lekhasri from Balasore by the BJD.
Image used for representational purposes only
Image used for representational purposes only

BHUBANESWAR: The lotus has been a late bloomer in Balasore Parliamentary constituency. It made inroads into the constituency, that was a Congress stronghold with a sizeable Communist voters, only in 1998 after it entered an electoral alliance with the BJD.

Senior BJP leader Kharabela Swain won three elections consecutively with handsome margins from 1998 to 2004 but the lost the 2009 election after the BJP-BJD alliance collapsed. The Lok Sabha seat again went to the Congress and its candidate Srikant Jena relegated Swain to the third position. Srikant went on to become a minister in the second term of UPA government led by Manmohan Singh. Former Communist veteran Arun Dey had given a tough fight to Jena and came second.

However, Srikant faced a crushing defeat in 2014 election at the hands of BJD’s Rabindra Kumar Jena, whose winning margin was more than 1.5 lakh votes. The BJP had nominated former Nilagiri MLA Pratap Chandra Sarangi from the Lok Sabha and he came second.

Pratap turned the wind in favour of the saffron party by wresting the seat from Rabindra in 2019. He went on to become a minister in the Modi cabinet but was dropped in the subsequent reshuffle.

The Parliamentary constituency is all set for a triangular fight between Sarangi, Srikant Jena of Congress and Lekhasri Samantsinghar of BJD. This election, Rabindra’s chances of getting renomination from the BJD diminished when his wife Subasini became a contender for Assembly election and has been fielded from Basta. Srikant’s candidature from the seat, on the other hand, had become clear after his re-entry into Congress which had expelled him for anti-party activities.

However, what came as a surprise to everyone was the nomination of Lekhasri from Balasore by the BJD. A frontline leader of the BJP and a vocal critic of the BJD, she had joined the ruling party only a few days before being fielded from Balasore. She was disgruntled after being denied the saffron party nomination from Kandhamal Lok Sabha seat. The party was reportedly keen to field her from Nilagiri Assembly seat but she wasn’t interested and preferred to quit BJP and join BJD.

In 2019, the BJD had won four of the seven Assembly segments under Balasore Lok Sabha seat while the BJP had retained three. The BJP lost the Balasore Assembly seat in a by-election. The BJP MLA from Nilagiri Sukanta Nayak has also switched over to BJD just after announcement of election dates.

With changing political equations, the Parliamentary constituency promises an intense battle of ballots. While Pratap will bank on the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to see him through, the BJD has a strong organisational base and a firebrand Lekhasri as its candidate. The Congress has also got a boost with a formidable Srikant in the race.

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The New Indian Express