Parties in Poll-Bound Odisha Battle Disaffection Over Ticket Distribution

Parties, including the BJD, BJP and Congress, gearing up for campaigning in Odisha are facing a wave of resentment which could potentially harm their electoral prospects.

Bhubaneswar: Major parties in Odisha, where the Lok Sabha and assembly polls are being held simultaneously, appear to be in turmoil with ticket distribution sparking trouble among their ranks.

Signs of rebellion are clear in the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), with chief minister and party supremo Naveen Patnaik, who is seeking a record fifth term in office, denying tickets to as many as seven sitting MPs and 18 sitting MLAs so far.

Three of these MPs – Balabhadra Majhi (Nabarangpur), Pratyusha Rajeshwari Singh (Kandhmal) and Arka Kesari Deo (Kalahandi) – have resigned. The first two joined the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP). The BJP has made Balabhadra its candidate from Nabarangpur, pitting him against BJD’s Ramesh Majhi.

In the Kandhmal Lok Sabha seat that was held by Pratyusha, the BJD has made an interesting gambit by fielding educationist-turned-politician, Rajya Sabha member Achyut Samant – the founder of the state’s first private university which also runs a special school for disadvantaged tribal children. With Kandhmal having a sizeable tribal population, the party hopes to cash in on his good work in tribal education.

While in Aska, which has been vacant since the demise of BJD MP Ladu Kishore Swain, the party has fielded 68-year-old Pramila Bisoi, a simple village woman credited with launching the self-help group (SHG) movement in the state. In Kalahandi, Arka Kesari has been replaced with another royal and former minister, Pushpendra Singhdeo.

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“The changes have been made after due consideration. The performance of MPs has been taken into account and also the need to bring new faces to the fore in politics,” said BJD secretary Bijay Nayak, who asserted that the resignation of a few MPs and MLAs would not have any impact on the prospects of the party.

But there is no denying that there are murmurs of discontent within the party. It is the BJP which has gained the most from the desertions in the BJD. The saffron party, which had earlier given tickets to BJD discards like former Kendrapara MP Baijayant Panda and former minister Damodar Rout, has now fielded some more of these deserters from the ruling party.

Apart from Balabhadra Majhi, who will contest the Nabarangpur Lok Sabha seat, the saffron party has made rebel BJD leader, Kusum Tete, its candidate for the Sundergarh assembly seat. Kusum resigned from the ruling party after it announced Congress turncoat and former MLA Jogesh Singh as its candidate for the seat.

Resentment in the BJD ranks was equally strong in Jharsuguda, where the party has fielded former Congress MLA Naba Kishore Das. This has upset the supporters of the local BJD stalwart and former speaker Kishore Mohanty who has, however, been placated with a ticket from the neighbouring Brajarajnagar seat.

Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik. Credit: PTI/Files

Of the five sitting BJD MLAs who have resigned so far, at least three (MLAs from Daspalla, Nilgiri and Aska) have already joined the BJP in the hope of landing tickets. This has, however, not stopped Patnaik from making large-scale changes while selecting party candidates. In the second list of candidates announced by him, he dropped four sitting MLAs – Prafulla Pangi (Pottangi), Balabhadra Majhi (Lanjigarh) Manas Madkami (Malkangiri) and Jogendra Behera (Loisingha).

Political analyst Anand Mishra described the changes being made by Patnaik as a mature political move. “He realises that his government has been in power in the state for nearly 20 years. This is too long a period for some acts of omission and commission to have taken place. Besides, there is something called ‘fatigue factor’ in politics. Hence, a change is necessary and new faces are bound to appeal to voters,” said Mishra.

BJD sources, on the other hand, said they were not bothered about the “rebellion” within the party as none of the leaders who quit have the ability to win an election on their own. “We have been winning elections because of Naveen Patnaik. He is our mascot. In this election, too, it is his image that will get us votes. So why bother about these things,” said a senior party leader.

Congress and BJP also hit by rebellion

Four Congress MLAs – Jogesh Singh (Sundergarh), Naba Kishore Das (Jharsuguda), Krushna Chandra Sagaria (Koraput) and Prakash Behera (Salipur) – had already resigned, with two of them joining the BJD. The MLA from Bargarh, Sadhu Nepak quitting recently after being denied a party ticket. He has also joined the BJD. On the other hand, sitting party MLA from G. Udaygiri, Jacob Pradhan has threatened to contest as an independent after being denied a ticket.

The party, which is yet to declare its full list of candidates, is also witnessing a cold war between Pradesh Congress Committee president Niranjan Patnaik and state Mahila Congress president Sumitra Jena, with the latter unhappy over the representation of women in the allotment of tickets. The party is yet to field a woman candidate from any Lok Sabha constituency in the state.

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Dissent has been rising within the BJP, too, with senior leaders like Subhash Chauhan openly expressing their resentment over distribution of tickets. Chauhan, who lost the Bargarh Lok Sabha seat by a narrow margin in 2014, hit out against the leadership after being denied a ticket. The party has instead fielded its national secretary, Suresh Pujari. Without taking union minister Dharmendra Pradhan’s name, Chauhan made a veiled attack, saying that ticket distribution in the party was being controlled by one person.

In yet another blow to the BJP, its state vice-president and one of the senior-most leaders from the tribal-dominated Mayurbhanj district Raj Kishore Das, recently quit the party and joined the BJD. He too targeted Pradhan saying that the union minister who was not capable of winning even a panchayat or ward election was dreaming of becoming the chief minister of the state.

As parties gear up for campaigning, it remains to be seen if they can overcome this wave of resentment and dissension buffeting their ranks in time or let it destroy their electoral prospects.