The ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) registered a spectacular victory in the Padampur Assembly seat bypoll in Odisha with party candidate Barsha Singh Bariha trouncing her BJP rival Pradeep Purohit with a staggering margin. The Congress’s nominee Satya Bhusan Sahu lost his deposit in the election.
Barsha, who garnered 1,20,807 votes, won the seat by 42,679 votes as Pradeep secured 78,128 votes.
The Congress veteran and former three-time MLA, Satya Bhusan Sahu managed to get just 3,594 votes. The Congress has lost deposits in five of the seven bypolls held in the state since 2019.
The BJD that had put massive resources into its Padampur campaign increased its vote share to 58 per cent as compared to 41.29 per cent votes it had garnered in the 2019 polls. Despite its crushing defeat, the BJP, the state’s principal Opposition party, got 37.51 per cent vote share, which was 38.45 per cent in 2019. The Congress, which had secured 16.25 per cent votes in the previous election, could manage to get only 1.73 per cent votes this time.
There are indications that a sizeable chunk of the Congress voters might have shifted to the BJD, helping the ruling party to romp home in Padampur, where the winning margin was slim in the last two Assembly polls. Although the Congress had finished third in the seat in both the 2014 and the 2019 polls, the party had then still secured 31,179 and 32,787 votes, respectively.
The bypoll was necessitated following the demise of the sitting BJD MLA Bijaya Ranjan Singh Bariha, with the party giving ticket to his daughter Barsha, a 29-year-old lawyer.
Retaining the seat was crucial for the BJD, especially after the party lost the Dhamnagar bypoll to the BJP last month, which was its first defeat in any by-election since 2008. A resounding triumph in Padampur has come as a booster for the party in the run-up to the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections due in April-May 2024.
The high stakes the BJD placed on the Padampur bypoll could be gauged from the point that Chief Minister and party supremo Naveen Patnaik also hit the campaign trail after a hiatus of three years, addressing three rallies in the remote constituency. Patnaik vowed to fight for the farmers, Kendu leaf workers and poor from “Palli to Delhi (village to the national capital)”, whose numbers account for a significant percentage of voters in Padampur.
During his campaign, Patnaik made various announcements in a bid to reach out to different communities. He also gave his assurances to the local people regarding some of their long-standing demands like the district status as well as railway connectivity for the constituency.
The BJD also deployed more than a dozen ministers and over 40 MLAs among other party functionaries in panchayats across the constituency over the past two weeks to ensure its nominee’s victory.
Fresh off its Dhamnagar win, the BJP had also left no stone unturned to wrest Padampur from the BJD. While Union education minister Dharmendra Pradhan led the party’s campaign in the constituency, two other high-profile Union ministers, Narendra Singh Tomar and Ashwini Vaishnaw, among other senior leaders, also canvassed for Pradeep Purohit.
In his reaction after the BJD’s victory, Patnaik slammed the BJP for targeting Barsha during its campaign.
In a video statement, Patnaik said he decided to physically go to Padampur to campaign for Barsha as he was “hurt” by the way the BJP leaders “humiliated” an educated woman, who lost his father recently.
“Wining or losing in elections is a different matter. But humiliating a woman is condemnable. Not only me, but the entire women community was hurt by such humiliation to a woman. That’s why I decided to personally visit Padampur to stand with Barsha. I want to tell the BJP leaders that if they will continue to humiliate women in the pretext of politics, people of Odisha will never tolerate it,” the CM said.
Patnaik spoke to Barsha and congratulated her over her victory. He also met the BJD leaders and workers, who handled the Padampur campaign, at his residence in Bhubaneswar and thanked them for their “hard work” while urging them to work harder in future.
On her part, Barsha said the people of Padampur have given a “befitting reply” to those who were spreading misinformation against her.
Observers said that the saffron pary’s “negative campaign” that Barsha did not belong to Padampur any more after she got married to a native of Satyabadi in Puri might be among the factors that worked against the party in the bypoll.