| Political billboards in Sambalpur city. Telegraph picture |
Arch rivals within the BJP for years, Suresh Pujari and Jay Narayan Mishra have struck a pact with the former reaping its benefits more than the latter this time.
Pujari, the famous student leader of west Odisha of the 80s, is the contesting this Lok Sabha seat for the first time after he tripped in is bid to enter the Assembly from here and Brajraj Nagar several times in the past and even Mishra, who is aiming for a fourth straight victory on the Sambalpur Assembly seat, is hopeful of a turnaround in his one-time rival’s fortunes.
“He is doing well. At least in my Assembly segment he is far ahead of his rivals,” says Mishra. That is quite a statement considering that the two used to miss no opportunity of taking potshots at each other till the party decided to field Pujari as a Lok Sabha candidate. That brought them together with Pujari, who needs Mishra desperately to shore up his own fortunes, taking the initiative to bury the hatchet.
The posters featuring them together alongside BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi are ubiquitous in this town considered the political nerve centre of west Odisha. Pujari also seems to be gaining from a subtle undercurrent in favour of Modi, who many want to see as the next Prime Minister of the country. “Bahut hui mehengai ki mar, abki baar Modi sarkar, (enough of price rise, this time it should be Modi government at the Centre),” is a slogan that is catching on.
While the outgoing Congress MP, Amarnath Pradhan, who had just managed to scrape through last time, is battling charges of having neglected the constituency, Nagendra Pradhan, the ruling BJD candidate is new to the Lok Sabha constituency though he has been a minister in the Naveen Patnaik government in the past. Pujari, in contrast has the image of the local boy who brings with him a clean slate.
Suave and gentle, he has been criss-crossing the constituency addressing issues which no one cared to talk about before him. He has brought the farmers into focus for the first time promising them subsidies on seeds and fertlisers and improved irrigation facility.
Activists like Ashok Pradhan, the convenor of Paschim Odisha Krushak Sangthan Coordination Committee, however, are still not satisfied.
“What about the shrinkage of Sasan canal system which is the lifeline of farmers in this district?” he asks pointing out that many villages in the tail end of the canal are still not getting water.
Though the canal has a command area of 60464 acres, around 10,000 acres remain unirrigated which is a major cause of resentment among farmers who have staged dharnas and demonstrations against the government in the past. Though, it is none of his fault, Pujari has been quick to take up the cause of farmers who are sore that water supply to industries is being given precedence over them.
“His stand on the issue is clear from his manifesto which talks about improvement in irrigation,” says Harishankar Hota, one of his supporters at Rairakhol, where his campaign appears to be generating a lot of response.
A lawyer himself, he has also been sensitive to the cause of this region’s demand for a separate high court bench, an emotive issue. But here, his Congress rival is on an equally strong wicket as the party’s leading light in the region and Sambalpur Assembly candidate Sureswar Mishra has been in the vanguard of the agitation for a separate bench.
The ruling party, though, appears to be in a tight spot over the issue being accused of selfishly betraying the cause to join the municipal poll fray sometime ago. The BJD’s decision to contest the civic polls last year against the wishes of a majority of agitating lawyers had forced the hands of the Opposition parties such as the Congress and the BJP as well, but they continue to resent the fact.
“They betrayed the cause and people will not forgive them for that. We have been highlighting this issue in our campaign which is generating good response,” said Mishra.
But that is the only advantage the Congress may have in the constituency.
Otherwise it seems to be mainly a battle between the BJP and the BJD and with a bit of luck Pujari should break the jinx which has been haunting him elections so far.