Congress candidate Ranjib Biswal outside Assembly after winning the fourth Rajya Sabha seat defeating Raghunath Mohapatra on Friday and (from top right) AU Singh Deo, Kalpataru Das and Sarojini Hembram. Picture by Sanjib Mukherjee
Bhubaneswar, Feb. 7: Poor poll management saw the BJD-supported Independent candidate conceding victory to the Congress even though the ruling party comfortably managed to win the three other Rajya Sabha seats in the state today.
The defeat of the 70-year-old sculptor, Raghunath Mohapatra, a Padma Vibhushan awardee, came as a jolt to the ruling party, despite its leaders trying to put up a brave face. With Mohapatra managing just 20 first-preference votes, his much younger rival, Indian Premier League (IPL) chairman Ranjib Biswal romped home with 29 votes.
The strength of the Assembly being 147, each winning candidate initially required 30 first-preference votes for an outright victory, but the equations changed with one vote being rejected and a BJP MLA abstaining. Things became worse for Mohapatra with the three official candidates of the ruling party — panchayati raj minister Kalpataru Das, textiles and handloom minister Sarojini Hembram and former minister and sitting MLA A.U. Singh Deo getting more than the required number of first-preference votes.
While Das got 32 votes, 33 ballots were cast in favour of Singh Deo and Sarojini polled a total of 31 first-preference votes. This effectively reduced the number of first-preference ballots for Mohapatra, who had expected 18 surplus votes of the BJD, which has a strength of 108 MLAs and the support of three Independents, apart from the votes of BJP MLAs, who took a last minute decision to plump in his favour.
The BJD had left no stone unturned to ensure Mohapatra’s victory having roped in the support of Independent MLAs, Braja Kishore Pradhan (Talcher) and Jitu Patnaik (Champua) apart from CPI legislator Adikand Sethi and Khurda MLA Rajendra Sahu.
There was nerve-wracking tension in the BJD camp as BJP MLAs were the last to arrive for voting having decided to favour Mohapatra after prolonged deliberations. However, in the end only four BJP MLAs and one associate party member Pratap Sarangi cast their ballots for Mohapatra following a decision of the party’s high command, which is apparently keen to keep chief minister Naveen Patnaik in good humour ahead of the Assembly and Lok Sabha polls. The state unit of the BJP was not in favour of supporting the BJD-backed candidate for obvious political reasons.
While suspended BJP MLA Bhimsen Chaudhary voted against party line in favour of Biswal, another party MLA, Manoj Pradhan, who was convicted in connection with 2008 Kandhamal riots a few years ago, abstained from voting.
However, managed properly, Mohapatra could still have made it. But, as a senior BJD leader conceded: “There was complete chaos in the party and no one knew for sure how many would vote for whom.”
Sources said that of the 20 first-preference votes for Mohapatra, he got 11 from the BJD, five from the BJP, three from the Independent MLAs — Jitu Patnaik and Braja Kishore Pradhan and Rajendra Sahu. The lone CPI MLA, Adikand Sethi, also voted for him. There was high drama on the Assembly premises as the BJD’s Berhampur MLA Ramesh Chandra Chaou Patnaik was brought to the voting room from a local private hospital in an ambulance on oxygen support. Congress MLA Basudeb Majhi came on a wheel chair.
The Congress, generally a divided house in the state, put up a show of unity with its 27 MLAs voting for Biswal, who had also the support of suspended BJP MLA Bhimsen Choudhury and Bitramitrapur’s Independent MLA Geoge Tirkey. With BJP MLA Manoj Pradhan abstaining, Biswal sailed through. “I fought horse traders to secure the victory. This is the victory of the Congress party,” Biswal said.
While Naveen congratulated his party’s winning candidates, Union minister Srikant Jena hailed Biswal’s victory. “The nexus between the BJP and the BJD now stands exposed. This is the beginning of downfall of Naveen Patnaik,” said Jena. State BJP president K.V. Singh Deo said: “Naveen is known for his back-stabbing. This time he has back-stabbed Mohapatra.”
See Pages 4 and 10