Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik drew huge crowds in Kendrapara on Saturday. As the BJD leader emerged multiple times on the roof of his bus, by means of a special lift, to address people, hundreds of BJD flags were seen and the sound of conch shells, the party symbol, filled the air. Youths were seen clicking selfies with Naveen through the glass window of his bus.
According to BJD leaders, Patnaik is on a “personal mission” to defend Kendrapara, the Lok Sabha seat his party has been winning since 1998. This time, former BJD leader and now BJP candidate Baijayant Panda is in the fray against BJD’s Anubhav Mohanty, a Rajya Sabha MP and Odiya film actor.
The BJD campaign pitch is beimaan (dishonest) versus swabhimaan (pride). The BJP meanwhile is referring to Mohanty’s acting background as reel hero versus real hero (Panda).
Earlier, Kendrapara was a bastion for anti-Congress politics in the state since 1957. The seat sent Naveen’s father Biju Patnaik thrice to Parliament in 1977, 1980 and 1984. “Kendrapara is to BJD what Amethi and Rae Bareli are to the Congress. The CM has worked very hard to retain the seat. But not since Pyari Mohapatra has Naveen faced an opponent with massive resources at his disposal,” said a senior BJD leader, referring to Panda.
Pyari Mohan Mohapatra, a former IAS officer and aide to Biju Patnaik, is believed to have helped Naveen in his initial years in politics. Mohapatra, who grew to be very powerful in Odisha, fell out with Naveen in 2012. Mohapatra could not retain his political influence after exiting the BJD.
Naveen is also trying to counter any impact of PM Narendra Modi’s rally in Kendrapara and the popularity of Panda, BJD’s two-time MP from the seat. Panda quit the BJD after a fallout with Naveen and joined BJP.
Panda, who also toured Kendrapara, had K V Singh Deo and Sambit Patra, on the campaign trail. He clicked pictures in small roadside shops, interacted with children, emerged from his car to loud cheers.
“BJD is running goonda raj in Kendrapara. The party is terrorising people,” said Union minister Dharmendra Pradhan in a press conference.
The BJP on Saturday notified the CEO (Odisha) that 97 top leaders of BJD are spread across the constituency. The party has requested for the exit of all such leaders as well as people who are not on the voter list from the constituency. A day earlier, Panda warned on Twitter that BJD may “stage” an egg attack on the CM “to seek sympathy votes”.