|in poll mode: Naveen Patnaik
Bhubaneswar, Sept. 1: Aware that the municipal elections would be the litmus test of his government’s popularity before it faces the Assembly polls next year, chief minister Naveen Patnaik has decided to do some campaigning himself from September 5.
Sources in the BJD said Naveen would campaign for 10 days in the 66 urban local bodies going to the polls on September 19. With elections having been deferred in western Odisha following an agitation by lawyers demanding a permanent high court bench in the region, Naveen’s focus would be on establishing his party’s supremacy in the coastal and southern districts.
Sources in the ruling party said the chief minister was worried about the developments in western Odisha where his party’s image has taken a knock in the wake of the agitation.
With his advisors reportedly telling him that anti-government sentiments running high in the area might impact the party’s performance there in the Assembly elections, Naveen is keen to ensure the BJD’s hold over the coast and the southern districts with an impressive performance in the municipal polls.
While Naveen himself is set to jump into the heat and dust of the campaign, the BJD has also constituted a campaign committee for the municipal elections comprising 41 star campaigners. They include a number of MPs, vice-presidents and general secretaries of the party.
A ruling party leader said that in coastal Odisha, the BJD had already succeeded in eating into the Congress base in certain areas.
In Jajpur, which is considered the stronghold of Congress leader and trade union movement veteran Ramchandra Khuntia, five candidates who had been given Congress tickets withdrew their nomination papers at the last moment.
This is certain to ensure the victory of BJD candidates on these seats.
Naveen, on his part, has been meeting party leaders regularly to discuss the urban poll scenario and has warned his MLAs that they would be taken to task if the BJD candidates in their areas lost.
“Efforts are also on to bring about a rapprochement between BJD’s warring factions in Jajpur, Puri, Cuttack and Ganjam districts,” said a senior party leader.
The chief minister, according to sources, has taken a serious view of the withdrawal of nomination by a BJD candidate in ward No. 21 of Berhampur Municipality Corporation.
He has decided to send more observers to Berhampur to ensure that local leaders of the party remain united. The chief minister recently also met BJD leaders from Bhadrak, Balasore and Keonjhar districts asking them to work hard as the results of the municipal elections were bound to have a bearing on its performance in the next Assembly elections.
While the BJD seems to have put its best foot forward, the Congress is struggling to put its act together.
Sources said the party, which is plagued by dissensions, was yet to chalk out its campaign strategy.
The Pradesh Congress Committee is so disorganised at the moment that its new executive committee is yet to be reconstituted.
“We are unable to take advantage of the people’s anger against the Naveen Patnaik government because of our infighting,” conceded a senior Congress leader.
Infighting in the Congress came to the fore recently when the Pradesh Congress Committee’s disciplinary panel issued a showcause notice to former MP Soumya Ranjan Patnaik for organising a “sankalpa yatra” without the leadership’s permission. The issue is yet to be sorted out.