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Gamangs split over politics

- Hema joins BJD, wants to take on Giridhar in Koraput

Bhubaneswar, March 15: The struggle for power took a new twist today with Hema Gamang, wife of former chief minister Giridhar Gamang, switching loyalties and declaring her readiness to contest against her husband from the Koraput Lok Sabha constituency on a BJD ticket.

The move of 53-year old Hema, who had represented the Koraput Lok Sabha seat once, has caused a great deal of embarrassment to the Congress and her husband, an eight term MP, who had been a central minister several times before becoming the chief minister for a brief period in 1999.

Incidentally, the veteran tribal leader heads the Congress party’s manifesto committee in the state.

An intermediate of arts and a mother of three children, Hema had entered into politics when her husband was shifted to the state politics in 1999 as the chief minister.

Giridhar had vacated the Lok Sabha seat and contested from one of the Assembly seats in Koraput parliamentary constituency. The Congress picked Hema to represent Giridhar’s seat in the Lok Sabha.

The trouble between the power couple began in 2004 when she was denied a party ticket. She wanted to contest the Lok Sabha polls, but the party opted for her husband. At the last minute, a truce was made and she contested from the Gunupur Assembly seat and won. In 2009, she lost the Assembly seat by a narrow margin.

That the desire to run for a parliamentary seat still remains in Hema was proved today when she turned up to meet BJD president and chief minister Naveen Patnaik.

Soon after her meeting with Naveen, she said: “If the BJD offers me the seat, I will certainly contest against my husband.”

Hema slammed the Congress leadership for treating her shabbily, which forced her to quit the party. She, however, was quick to add that her decision to switch loyalties would have no impact on the relationship with her husband.

Seemingly unaware about the development, Giridhar said: “I don’t know why she joined the BJD. You should ask her and the BJD leadership. I will contest the polls even if she is pitted against me. There is nothing personal about it. I am a dedicated Congressman.”

The BJD is yet to announce its candidate for the Koraput seat, which will go to polls on April 10.

For the ruling BJD, it was yet another day of leaders from different parties lining up outside Naveen's residence to join the party. Hema, however, was the prize catch. She was accompanied by BJD MP Jayaram Pangi, who had defeated Giridhar in the last Lok Sabha elections.

The party also managed to rope in Odisha unit JMM president and former MP Sudam Marandi. Soon after Marandi crossed over to its side, the BJD announced that negotiations with the JMM for an alliance was off. The party had been talking to the JMM for a formal poll tie-up. In the evening, Marandi, along with five of his supporters, joined the BJD after meeting Naveen.

The JMM has considerable influence in Mayurbhanj, Sundargarh and Keonjhar districts.

Arun Dey, a veteran politician from Balasore district, is yet another significant leader to join the BJD. He was with the Nationalist Congress Party and his joining the BJD would certainly boost its electoral prospects.

Incidentally, Balasore Lok Sabha seat is being represented by the state’s Congress poll campaign committee chief Srikant Jena.

Noted music director Manmath Kumar Mishra, too, was admitted to the BJD.