BHUBANESWAR: With two years remaining for the 2014 Assembly elections, the upcoming three-tier panchayat polls have morphed into a mid-term appraisal of the Naveen Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal (BJD) government. The five-phase elections will be held from February 11 through 19, and will put in place 854 Zilla Parishad (ZP) members, 6,236 sarpanches, 6,235 panchayat samiti members and 87,551 ward members for gram panchayats.
For the chief minister, the panchayat polls are the stepping stone to a fourth consecutive term. That the BJD is taking the polls very seriously can be gauged from the fact that Naveen was closeted with his chief advisor, Rajya Sabha MP Pyarimohan Mohapatra, for three days to decide on tickets for the 854 ZP seats which will be contested on party symbols.
Despite in-house resentment over the power enjoyed by Pyarimohan, he remains the main BJD strategist. Even though BJD ministers, MLAs and senior partymen were asked to recommend ZP candidates in their constituencies, it he who vetted the list before Naveen took the final decision. The BJD leadership is, however, quite confident of a good show. “We will have victory march in 50,000 villages,” Naveen has said. Pyarimohan is confident of a BJD victory in 450 to 600 ZP seats.
The stakes are equally high for the Congress and BJP. The grand old party is going to the polls under the leadership of former minister Niranjan Patnaik who was appointed president of the Odisha Pradesh Congress Committee (OPCC) only a few months ago. While Patnaik will lead the all-Odisha campaign, regional leaders are likely to dominate their areas.
While it is a fight between the family of former chief minister Giridhar Gamang and former MLA Taraprasad Bahinipati in Koraput district, a war between Leader of the Opposition Bhupinder Singh and former Union minister Bhakta Charan Das is on in Kalahandi.
The prognosis for the Congress scene is more or less the same in all districts. In Sundargarh district a proxy war is on between the followers of former chief minister and Congress MP Hemananda Biswal and former minister Kishore Chandra Patel. The party does not have much of a chance in the coastal district where the BJD is quite dominant, but former working president Lalatendu Bidyadhar Mohapatra is working overtime so his followers win and his sphere of influence widens.
The BJP is the third player in the show with state president Jual Oram playing the lead role. But he is facing a rebellion in his own backyard, Bonai sub-division in Sundargarh district, where suspended party MLA Bhimsen Choudhury has fielded a number of candidates against the official candidates. The BJD and Congress have fielded candidates in all the 854 ZP seats, but the BJP will fight only for 821 seats.
Naveen does not want to leave anything to chance. He is going to hit the campaign trail with public meetings at district headquarters and other important places. The Biju Yuva Janata Dal (BYJD), the youth wing of the regional party, has decided to launch an aggressive campaign on the issue of denial of special category state status to Odisha.