Bhubaneswar, Feb. 6: The Congress received a jolt with two Independent MLAs joining the BJD as its associate members on the eve of the elections to four Rajya Sabha seats from the state.
The two legislators — Braja Kishore Pradhan from Talcher and Jitu Patnaik from Champua — have been associating with the Congress in the Assembly for the last four years and had backed the Congress nominee in the 2010 Rajya Sabha elections.
Patnaik and Pradhan today met BJD president Naveen Patnaik and assured their support to the BJD-backed Independent candidate 70-year-old ace-sculptor Raghunath Mohapatra.
Elections will be held for four Rajya Sabha seats tomorrow. While the ruling party is expected to win in three seats through first preference votes, it does not have the required number for the fourth seat.
The three party official candidates are panchayati raj minister Kalpataru Das, textiles and handloom minister Sarojini Hembram and former minister A.U. Singh Deo.
The ruling party is backing Mohapatra and the Congress, which has 27 MLAs, has pitted former cricketer Ranjib Biswal for the fourth seat.
The BJP, which has six legislators in the 147-member State Assembly, and is in a position to tilt the balance is yet to make up its mind.
The Congress cried foul after the two Independent MLAs joined the BJD. Its candidate Biswal formally lodged a complaint with the Election Commission accusing the ruling party of encouraging horse trading. A party delegation met the special election observer for Odisha Anil Kumar Jha here and lodged the protest.
All the three major political parties — the BJD, the Congress and the BJP Ė have issued whips to their party members to be present tomorrow and vote according to the party lines. The current session being the last sitting of the Assembly, party whips, for all practical purposes, have lost their relevance.
Violation of a party whip attracts suspension or expulsion from the party’s legislature party. But, the member concerned does not lose his membership. Now that the Assembly elections are round the corner, political experts do not rule out the possibility of people changing sides.
In a bid to ensure that MLAs voted along party lines, the three parties have appointed their polling agents. “The legislators can show their ballot papers to their respective party agents, if they wish to. There is nothing wrong or illegal about it. This practice has been introduced since 2009.” said an official associated with the poll process.
BJD has appointed Pravat Biswal and Bikram Arukh as its party nominees. Prasad Harichandan will be representing the Congress party. BJP has nominated Karendra Majhi for the purpose.
The BJP appeared to be in a dilemma. Of its seven MLAs, Bhimsen Choudhury has been suspended from the party and the latter has categorically stated that he would not abide by the party’s whip.
BJP sources said that its six members, including associate member Pratap Sarangi, are opposed to having any kind of tacit understanding with the BJD. By supporting Mohapatra, the party will give a wrong signal to the electorate in the election year. The central leadership is said to be in favour of backing Mohapatra in an apparent bid to keep Naveen in good humour for a post-poll arrangement.
BJP’s central party in-charge of the state Arun Singh has confabulated with the MLAs. “We will announce our decision tomorrow morning,” said BJP state unit president KV Singh Deo. Late in the night, BJP lodged a complaint with the police and the EC observer that their MLA Manoj Pradhan was missing.