Cong debuts fresh face in Biju bastion

The coastal Odisha constituency of Kendrapara is witnessing a strong contest between an industrialist-politician and a lawyer.

Sitting Biju Janata Dal (BJD) MP and industrialist Baijayant Panda is facing a prominent lawyer in the state high court and debutant Dharanidhar Nayak of the Congress.

Panda won the prestigious seat in 2009 by defeating Congress heavyweight and prominent cricket administrator Ranjib Biswal by a margin of more than one lakh votes.

The coastal Parliament seat is unique as it did not vote for Congress since independence except for the first general elections in 1952.

It steadfastly rejected Congress even when the state had a pro-Congress wave such as during the 1980 and 1985 elections, when the grand old party won 20 out of 21 LS seats on offer from Odisha.

The credit for turning Kendrapara into an anti-Congress bastion would go to late Biju Patnaik, father of chief minister Naveen (who had named his regional outfit in his father’s name). Such is his enduring presence here that the constituency has acquired the endearing sobriquet “Biju Patnaik seat” over the years. 

“People of Kendrapara still love Biju Patnaik years after his death because of what he did for them, particularly during natural calamities,” said Brajabandhu Mohanty (70), a retired government employee and a resident of Kendrapara town.

“The area is prone to cyclones and we still remember how he helped the people after the 1971 catastrophe which had killed many villagers.

“After Biju, people have extended their love and affection to his son Naveen and have been voting for his party though no major development has taken place in Kendrapara during the last fourteen years of BJD rule,” he added.

Voters have consistently backed BJD candidates ever since the party’s formation in 1997 and despite the party naming three different candidates in four LS polls between 1998 and 2009.

The influence Biju Patnaik is still holding over this constituency is evident from the way the BJD nominee Panda is invoking the late chief minister’s name during his campaign.

“I joined politics because I was inspired by the vision and policies of Biju Babu”, the industrialist-turned-politicians says in his rallies.

Naveen Patnaik also did not forget to refer to his father while lashing out at his old bete noire Bijoy Mohapatra at an election meeting in Kendrapara on Sunday. “The citizens of Kendrapara will not forget and forgive those who had betrayed Biju Babu”, he said, campaigning on behalf of Panda and journalist-turned-politician cum minister Atanu Sabyasachi Nayak, the BJD’s candidate in Mahakalpada assembly seat under Kendrapara.

Mohapatra, a founder member of the BJD who was sacked from the party in 2000 following his differences with Patnaik is contesting from Mahakalpada assembly seat on a BJP ticket. He was a close associate of the late Biju Patnaik and was a cabinet minister when the senior Patnaik was heading the Janata Dal ministry in the state between 1990 and 1995.

Congress has fielded Nayak, a new face, hoping that he would manage to break the jinx. Apart from the failure of the sitting BJD MP to develop the constituency, the senior Orissa High Court advocate is also raising the “local versus outsider” issue during his campaign.

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