The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Friendly fights leg-up for Cong

Bhubaneswar, Sept. 21: The rudderless state Congress was the biggest gainer of the “friendly contests” between the Biju Janata Dal and the BJP, bleeding the coalition partners and costing them dear during Friday’s municipal elections.

The Orissa Congress won 502 of the 1,624 wards across 96 civic bodies that went to the polls.

The Naveen Patnaik-led BJD bagged 530 wards and the BJP came in a distant third with 334 wards.

The remaining wards were bagged by Independents and smaller parties like the Orissa Gana Parishad and the Janata Dal (S).

Results showed that the BJD was in a majority in 23 civic bodies as against 19 for the Congress.

The BJP was ahead in only six municipal bodies.

Having failed to arrive at a pre-election arrangement, the “friendly contests” between the BJD and the BJP only splintered the anti-Congress vote.

During campaigning, BJP cabinet minister Sameer Dey had criticised Patnaik, even suggesting that the chief minister could be replaced after the elections.

The BJD and its partner fared well in coastal and southern Orissa, while the Congress put up a good showing in the western districts and parts of southern Orissa.

“We won despite the use of money and muscle power by the ruling coalition,” state Congress chief Sarat Patnaik said.

The BJD gained control of local bodies in Athgarh, Puri, Jagatsinghpur, Sonepur, Hinjili, Chikiti, Purushottampur and Khallikote.

It also triumphed in Bhanjanagar, Belaguntha, Barpali, Digapahandi, Biramitrapur, Balangir, Choudwar, Bargarh, Padampur and Jharsuguda.

The BJP won in Dhenkanal, Sambalpur, Nimapara, Tarabha, Ganjam and Rambha.

The Congress assumed control of municipal bodies in Banki, Barbil, Joda, Umerkote, Bhawanipatna, Junagarh, Gopalpur, Buguda, Surada, Chhatrapur, Kabisuryanagar and Titlagarh.

Neither coalition partner could win a majority on their own in the prestigious Bhubaneswar municipal corporation. Despite a high-voltage campaign by Naveen and BJP leaders in 47 wards, the BJD bagged only 18 wards and the BJP 13.

Senior BJP leader and state revenue minister Biswa Bhusan Harichandan suffered a setback with his son Pruthviraj losing in ward no. 29. Harichandan, an MLA from Bhubaneswar, had projected his son as a prospective mayor.

Sources in both parties say they are ready for a post-poll coalition in those civic bodies where no party has won a clear majority. They privately admit that the Congress will gain if they continue to fight among themselves.

The BJD also received a setback in the Cuttack municipal corporation where it could win only nine wards as against the BJP’s 16. The Congress won 14 wards.

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