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Since 1st March, 1999
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Congress bastion crumbling

Berhampur, April 6: Berhampur constituency, once represented by former Prime Minister P.V. Narsimha Rao, has remained a Congress bastion since Independence.

However, slowly the ruling BJD has been gaining ground in the area and in this election both parties seem to be evenly placed.

As many as nine candidates, including four Independents, are fighting out from this seat, but the main battle is between sitting Congress MP and Union minister of state for rural development Chandrasekhar Sahu and actor-turned BJD leader Siddhant Mohapatra.

While Sahu is cashing upon development projects he has undertaken in his constituency in the past five years, Mohapatra is trying to use the glamour factor and the popularity of chief minister and BJD boss Naveen Patnaik.

Naveen, won from neighbouring Aska riding the sympathy wave after the death of his father Biju Patnaik in 1997. Asa was Naveen’s home in the undivided Ganjam. “People of undivided Ganjam identify with Naveen babu,” said Shanti Patra from Chikitipentha.

Unfazed by the challenge thrown by Siddhant-Naveen duo, Sahu, who is seeking re-election, said: “Politics is not acting. It’s a serious task.” The Congress leader who has been in politics since the Seventies, is claiming to have invested more than Rs 400 crore in projects in his constituency. “I have been trying to do a good job in reel life, now I wish to do the same in real life,” said Siddhant, incidentally also known as Munnabhai. He has more than 20 hit Oriya films, three Bengali and two Tamil films to his credit and has received the state film awards thrice.

BJP candidate MLA Bharat Paik who has a limited support base in Mohana and Ramgiri would supply the third angle.

AICC chief Sonia Gandhi campaigned for Sahu recently, while Naveen and Mohapatra launched their campaign from the region.

During her campaign Sonia tried to strike the emotional chord, by reminding voters of how Berhampur has been a Congress bastion. In 1952, CPI’s Bijoy Chandra Das had won the Berhampur seat (then known as Ganjam), however, the seat was soon wrested by Congress in 1957 and the party had never been vanquished since then.

The then Prime Minister, P.V. Narsimha Rao, had tried his luck in 1996 and had won the prized seat by a margin of 1.6-lakh votes and the Congress had emerged victorious in all subsequent elections. But, the party lost the seat to BJP in 1999. However, it won again in 2004. “It’s no doubt a traditional Congress base. But the base is gradually eroding,” said Jacob Majhi from Mohana.

Congress managed to win only two (Parlakhemundi and Gopalpur) of the total seven Assembly segments, while BJD won three (Berhampur, Mohana and Chikiti), BJP one (Ramgiri) and the CPI one (Chhatrapur).

This time, Ramgiri constituency, represented by BJP’s Bharat Paik has been abolished following delimitation and Mohana has been declared reserved forcing senior BJD leader and energy minister Surya Narayan Patro to move out to Digapahandi segment.

Now, the equation has changed with the break of 11-year BJD-BJP alliance. BJD has left Chatrapur seat to CPI as part of their seat arrangement.

While Congress is plagued by in fighting, BJP is facing the rebel challenge. Lok Sabha nominee Sahu has reportedly no cordial relation with Chikiti veteran leader Chintamani Dyan Samantara.

Veteran tribal leader (Ramgiri) Haldhar Karjee has quit the party and joined the BJD due to this rift with Sahu. On the other hand, rebel BJD candidate Anuj Kumar Nayak is contesting against official nominee Pradip Panigrahi in Gopalpur segment.

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