Pradeep Panigrahy vs Bhrugu Baxipatra: Prestige battle for BJD, BJP in Berhampur

Bhubaneswar: Battle lines are drawn for the Lok Sabha elections in Odisha with the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) announcing candidates for almost all the constituencies.

While the BJP has fielded its candidates on all the 21 parliamentary seats in the state, the BJD has so far released the names of 20 nominees for the Lok Sabha elections.

Ganjam district’s Berhampur Lok Sabha seat is among the high-profile constituencies in the state which will remain in the focus during the upcoming elections. It is the home turf of Chief Minister and BJD supremo Naveen Patnaik.

The BJD is leaving no stone unturned to retain the seat while an exuberant BJP is putting all the efforts to wrest it from the ruling party.

It is a battle of prestige for both the parties in Berhampur keeping in view the rivalry between BJP candidate Pradeep Kumar Panigrahy, once a top BJD leader in Ganjam, and the ruling party leadership.

The Berhampur Lok Sabha constituency includes Chhatrapur, Gopalpur, Berhamapur, Digapahandi and Chikiti Assembly segments in Ganjam district and Mohana and Paralakhemundi Assembly segments in Gajapati district.

The number of voters in this constituency stands at around 15.67 lakh as per the latest estimate.

Both BJP and BJD have posed their faith in party hoppers for the Berhampur constituency. The BJP has nominated former BJD heavyweight and sitting Gopalpur MLA Pradeep Kumar Panigrahy, while the ruling BJD fielded BJP rebel Bhrugu Baxipatra for the seat.

Baxipatra was nominated just a few hours after he walked out of the BJP.

Baxipatra had fought the Lok Sabha elections in 2019 from the same seat on a BJP ticket but lost to BJD’s Chandra Sekhar Sahu who won by a margin of 94,844 votes. Sahu had secured 4,43,843 (44.83 per cent) votes out of the total 9, 90,087 votes polled.

Once a trusted lieutenant of the BJD supremo, Panigrahy turned a foe after being expelled from the party over the charges of anti-people activities. He had won from the Gopalpur Assembly seat on a BJD ticket in 2019.

Political analysts predict a neck-to-neck fight in Berhampur this time as Panigrahy and Baxipatra will strive hard to capture the seat.

“It is hard to predict the winner this time as the political scenario in the constituency has changed. Panigrahy used to oversee all the party-related affairs of BJD in Ganjam district and his strong support base in the district is still intact despite the allegations of corruption. Panigrahy’s hold may give some advantage to the BJP apart from the party’s craze among the electors this time, especially among younger voters,” said Rajiblochan Mishra, a Berhampur-based senior journalist.

“Similarly, Baxipatra has been visiting various assembly segments under the constituency and has also managed to create a good support base during the past couple of years,” he added.

It will be also interesting to see how Panigrahy manages to gain a foothold in the Paralakhemundi and Mohana segments in Gajapati district where Baxipatra, as a BJP candidate, had secured more votes than his BJD opponent in 2019, Mishra said.

“The current BJD representative of the constituency has failed to address various concerns of the locals, including infrastructural transformation, unemployment, inadequate health services as well as other economic and cultural issues. We will fight on these issues… There are several long-held demands of people in Berhampur, such as the establishment of an airport in Ganjam and complete upgradation of Gopalpur Port, which are yet to be fulfilled,” Panigrahy told IANS.

Similarly, BJD candidate Baxipatra exuded confidence in smooth sailing for the party in the upcoming election. “Our main strength is the development-related work carried out by the BJD in the last 25 years and the clean image of Naveen Patnaik. Ganjam is his home district and the people in the district consider Naveen Patnaik as their own leader and BJD as their own political party,” he said.

“Since losing the last elections in 2019, I have been working for the constituency and standing by the people beyond the party line during their ups and downs in all seven Assembly segments. I am confident that BJD will once again win this Lok Sabha seat due to my continuous hard work and people’s love for Naveen Patnaik and the BJD,” Baxipatra told IANS.

A beleaguered Congress, which is fighting a battle within to thwart the exodus of its leaders, has fallen behind in the race as it has so far declared candidates on only nine Lok Sabha constituencies in the state.

The Congress has named Rashmi Ranjan Patnaik as the party candidate for the Berhampur Lok Sabha constituency. He will try his luck for the first time in electoral politics.

According to experts, very few voters, only in some specific pockets of the urban areas of the constituency, know Ranjan Patnaik and thus his participation would not change the election calculations much in the constituency. However, he may gain some votes in tribal-dominated Mohana and Paralakhemundi Assembly segments in Gajapati district.


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