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Shadow war in urban election

- Parties use legacy and mascots in campaign

Bhubaneswar, Jan. 1: The slogan, “Biju babu amar rahen, Naveen Patnaik zinadabad”, is being hammered into the voters day in and day out as campaign for the Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation poll, which could well be the last in the state before the final battle in 2014, gathers momentum.

The father-son duo appears to be omnipresent, staring down party posters, waving from banners stretched across streets and dominating the campaign songs. “Biju babu dakileni….jago re” (Wake up, Biju babu is calling), the peppy number that was composed months ago to whip up regional passion ahead of the BJD’s Swabhiman Samavesh in June last year is back in circulation.

If the BJD is invoking the Biju legacy and foregrounding the achievements of Naveen Patnaik to win the polls, the Congress, the main Opposition, too, has kept its top central and state leaders in focus. The faces of Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul occupy pride of place on party posters along with state Congress president Jaydev Jena and Union chemicals and fertiliser minister Srikant Jena. Jaydev and Srikant have also been leading the party campaign in the city.

By all appearances, the urban poll in Bhubaneswar has turned into a proxy battle between the political bigwigs of major parties with candidates taking a backseat. Leaders of most parties find it hardly surprising with general elections only months away. “This may be the last election before 2014 Lok Sabha and Assembly polls, and hence, no one can afford to take it lightly. For every party, which fancies its chances in the general elections, this is going to be a litmus test,” said a senior BJD leader conceding that the Bhubaneswar municipal polls were being seen as a referendum on performance of the Naveen Patnaik government.

For the ruling party, which has already captured 68 of the 88 civic bodies in various parts of the state, chief minister Naveen Patnaik remains its lucky mascot and Biju legacy a potent weapon for winning elections. “They are the most revered names in our party. It is because of them that we have been winning elections. It is but natural for us to keep them in the foreground of our campaign here,” said panchayati raj minister Kalpataru Das, who is orchestrating the BJD campaign in Bhubaneswar.

Das argues that Naveen even otherwise is bound to influence the party’s political fortunes in a big way being its president and chief strategist. “He heads both the government and the party. His performance and public image have been our biggest strengths,” he said.

Jaydev mirrored similar sentiments with reference to his party’s top boss, Sonia Gandhi, and Rahul. “No party campaign can be complete without them. In Odisha context, Union minister Srikant Jena is equally important being one of the most important leaders of the party in the state,” said Jaydev.

Former minister and BJP veteran Bishwa Bhushan Harichandan, however, felt that it was both unnecessary and demeaning to invoke national-level leaders to win municipal polls. “These are local elections being fought over local issues. Where is the justification for dragging national leaders into this?” he asked.

The critics of the BJP, though, dismiss this as the loser’s argument.

“They invoked Narendra Modi in west Odisha, but the voters rejected them. They know they will lose again, so they are trying to take the high moral ground. It’s actually sour grapes for them,” said a BJD leader.

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