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Ex-cricketer queers pitch for sculptor

Bhubaneswar, Jan. 27: The spectre of horse-trading is looming over the election to the Rajya Sabha as ace sculptor Raghunath Mohapatra has decided to contest the poll even though the Congress announced Indian Premier League chairman and former party MP Ranjib Biswal as its candidate for the fourth seat.

Mohapatra said: “There is no question of retreating from the battlefield. God will protect my dignity. I will file my nomination paper as an Independent candidate tomorrow.”

Election will be held for four seats. The BJD is certain to win three seats for which it declared names of panchayati raj minister Kalpataru Das, textile and handloom minister Sarojini Hembram and former minister A.U. Singh Deo today on its own strength. No other party has the clear majority to send the fourth candidate to the Upper House.

The BJD, which has 108 MLAs, can win three seats and has 18 surplus votes. It is short of 12 votes to win the fourth seat as 30 first preferential votes are required to send a candidate to the Rajya Sabha.

What adds more twist to the election is that the BJP, which wants to keep the BJD in a good humour ahead of the general elections, has decided to support the candidature of Mohapatra, whose name was floated by none other than BJD supremo Naveen Patnaik.

With the support of six members from the BJP, the BJD will require another six votes to push Mohapatra to the Rajya Sabha. The Congress has 27 MLAs and will have to arrange another four votes to ensure Biswal’s win.

Three Independent legislators — Braja Kishore Pradhan, George Tirkey and Jitu Patnaik — are supporting the Congress and will play a decisive role in the coming polls. Of the other two Independents, Pratap Sarangi is with the BJP and Rajendra Sahoo supports the ruling party.

“Let’s wait till the voting time. We will manage to arrange another six votes,” said a senior minister.

The situation has fuelled the speculation of a repetition of the controversial 2010 Rajya Sabha elections when two Congress MLAs and one BJP legislator defied their party whips facilitating the victory of the third BJD candidate for whom the ruling party did not have the required number of first preference votes.

The Congress, which was on the backfoot after Naveen announced support for Mohapatra, has played a smart game. “Ranjib has a large following among the youths. He is a popular cricketer and his contribution in promoting cricket is immense. At this stage, the BJD has to think twice before indulging in any sort of horse trading,” said Pradesh Congress Committee chief Jayadev Jena.

Sources said the BJD was also worried that indulging in any sort of horse-trading ahead of the election would certainly soil its image.

While selecting his party nominees, Naveen tried to soothe the feelings of his Doon School mate A.U. Singh Deo, who had to resign from the ministry following a liquor tragedy, by picking him for the Rajya Sabha. Though a commission of inquiry was ordered into the liquor tragedy, no one knows the outcome of the report.

Sources said Naveen decided to send him to the Upper House after he had expressed his unwillingness to contest the coming general elections. His election to the Rajya Sabha will pave way for his younger son Arkesh to the Assembly. Singh Deo had organised a rally a fortnight ago, taking with him two of his sons Kalikesh and Arkesh.

Similarly, Naveen rewarded Kalpataru Das for his unflinching loyalty and floor management in the Assembly. “It also gives an opportunity to Naveen to make an adjustment of seats in Jajpur, which is politically sensitive with a number of stalwarts, including former finance minister Prafulla Ghadei representing the district.” said an insider.

By picking up Sarojini Hembram, the BJD has succeeded in showing its concern for the tribal community.


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