With the bypolls to the Bijepur Assembly seat in Odisha around the corner, the BJP and Congress are staring at open factional fights among party leaders.
The bypoll was necessitated as Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, who won from two constituencies in the April Assembly polls, decided to vacate Bijepur and retain his Hinjili seat.
A Congress bastion till 2018, BJD won the seat after the death of then MLA Subal Sahu. The BJD fielded Subal’s wife Rita Sahu as its candidate, and she defeated BJP’s Ashok Panigrahi.
BJP has said that the voters of Bijepur will punish BJD for Naveen’s vacating the seat. Union minister Dharmendra Pradhan campaigned in Bijepur on Friday, with top western Odisha leaders like MPs Basanta Panda, Suresh Pujari, and K V Singh Deo accompanying him.
“Who was elected from here?” asked Pradhan referring to the CM. “You could have left Hinjili and represented Bijepur. Was it wrong for people here to trust you?”
However, a factional fight is threatening the party’s strategy – BJP’s Panigrahi openly expressed his dissatisfaction after the party nominated Sanath Gadtia as its candidate. “The party is ignoring me and is not giving me any responsibility. The same happened in (the Assembly polls in April). I don’t think the party trusts me. I am confused.”
He also pointed at Damodar Rout, a veteran BJD leader who joined BJP and later claimed he was not given much attention after the Assembly elections.
The Congress is caught in the same trap – its leader Ripunath Seth, who was reportedly lobbying for himself or his son to be the party’s Bijepur candidate, lashed out at eventual nominee Dilip Panda. “I will campaign for Congress. Who is Dilip Panda? We will speak for the party,” he said.
State Congress president Niranjan Patnaik tried to pacify all those involved, telling the media, “This (Seth’s statement) is interpreted wrongly. Media is wrongly propagating news. Responsibilities have been distributed zone wise, but Ripunath Seth cannot be confined to any zone.”