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Orissa BJP flock gets dual poll cold feet

Bhubaneswar, Jan. 21: The BJP may be high on confidence to want early polls at the Centre, but its Orissa unit is feeling down and out.

With chief minister Naveen Patnaik announcing simultaneous elections to the Assembly, BJP leaders in the state are developing cold feet over facing the electorate at such “short notice”.

At a party meeting here on Monday, several leaders, including its ministers, opposed the “unilateral announcement” by the Biju Janata Dal chief. Yesterday, a section of its leaders flew to New Delhi to argue against early Assembly elections.

At the meeting, attended by MPs, legislators, state functionaries and two cabinet ministers, the leaders suggested that the party should take all possible measures to stall the move. The last elections in Orissa were held in 2000.

An insider said several legislators were scared of facing the electorate, as many are first-timers and have not managed to do any remarkable development work in their constituencies. The insiders admitted that several BJP ministers are seen as corrupt and might lose if polls are held early.

A senior BJP minister from Cuttack said Patnaik is keen on early elections as he has nothing to show in his favour except his clean image and the drive against corruption. The chief minister also does not want to miss out on cashing in on the perceived wave in favour of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led coalition, he added.

The state BJP leaders are putting forward their reasons to stall early polls. Balasore MP Kharabela Swain is reported to have said that the bid to win more than 300 Lok Sabha seats would be hampered if polls to the Assembly are held simultaneously. The focus and energy of the party would be divided if the polls are held together, he argued.

In another ploy to stall Patnaik’s move, the Orissa leaders want more seats for their party than they contested last time. The BJP had contested 63 seats while the BJD contested 84 in the 147-member House. The BJD won 69 seats while the BJP won 38.

BJP sources, however, said the party’s central leadership would override the protests of the state leaders as it had given permission for holding the polls before schedule at the recent national executive meeting in Hyderabad.

Besides, they pointed out, Patnaik must have consulted the top brass before seeking early polls. The party may also have to be content with as many seats as last time, they added.

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