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regular-article-logo Sunday, 23 June 2024

Jay Shri Panda or Shri Naveen?: 'Paribartan' poser on BJP-BJD poll clash in Odisha's Kendrapara

Resentment, rather anti-incumbency, is brewing against the BJD-led Naveen Patnaik government in the area where the BJP’s national vice-president Baijayant “Jay” Panda — Naveen’s buddy-turned-bete noire — is locked in a fierce contest against the ruling party’s Anshuman Mohanty

Subhashish Mohanty Bhubaneswar Published 28.05.24, 08:51 AM
Baijayant ‘Jay’ Panda, BJP’s Kendrapara nominee, campaigns in the constituency. Pitted against him is Anshuman Mohanty (picture right) of the BJD.

Baijayant ‘Jay’ Panda, BJP’s Kendrapara nominee, campaigns in the constituency. Pitted against him is Anshuman Mohanty (picture right) of the BJD. Pictures by Subhashish Mohanty

Mohammed Fa­kruddin Ali Ahamed, aka Kuni Bhai, a sm­all-time businessman, wants the BJP to get a chance in Odisha this time.

“We have been voting for the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) for the last 25 years. Let the BJP get a chance. Let’s see what they do,” Kuni Bhai, a constituent of the Kendrapara Lok Sabha seat, says.

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His sentiments may appear in stark contrast to the feelings of most members of his community, but things are a-changin’.

Resentment, rather anti-incumbency, is brewing against the BJD-led Naveen Patnaik government in the area where the BJP’s national vice-president Baijayant “Jay” Panda — Naveen’s buddy-turned-bete noire — is locked in a fierce contest against the ruling party’s Anshuman Mohanty.

Mohammed Fakruddin Ali Ahamed.

Mohammed Fakruddin Ali Ahamed.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to visit Kendrapara on Wednesday to give a final push to the BJP’s effort to win the seat. The BJD is trying to protect its bastion, while the BJP is trying to win where it has never.

However, what could queer their pitch is the entry of the Congress’s Sidharth Swarup Das.

The resentment is palpable everywhere. At Kharinasi panchayat — where boats packed with men, women, and children carrying their belongings, and vehicles negotiate a crocodile-infested creek connecting around a dozen villages with Batighara on the other side every day — the people appear in a rebellious mood. It’s a risky journey they have to undertake daily for want of a bridge. The creek, part of the Mahanadi river system, crisis crosses different parts of the district and touches the sea near Paradip.

“A bridge across the creek at Kharinasi has been our long-standing demand but no one pays attention. The bridge should come up here to connect with Batighara,” says Vidya Sagar Das (37) at Kharnashi, a part of Kendrapara Lok Sabha constituency.

Batighara is where the first lighthouse was installed on the eastern coast of India on December 6, 1836, and was lit on October 16, 1837. This light can be seen up to 60km on the sea.

It is home to nearly 13,000 people, mostly Bengali settlers, who have been living here for the last six decades. “I don’t remember when we came here but this is my motherland. However, I am being projected as an encroacher. I am not entitled to sell my land. What’s their intention,” asks Vidya Sagar.

Boats lying idle in the crocodile-infested creek at Kharinasi in Kendrapara district.

Boats lying idle in the crocodile-infested creek at Kharinasi in Kendrapara district.

Cut off from the mainland, boats are the sole means of communication in this part of the district. Boat ambulances provide health services but Manoranjan Behera said they are available only in the daytime. “After evening if there is a health crisis somewhere, there is a crisis. Only a bridge over the creek can solve the issue of communication,” says the Batighara resident.

Their problems don’t end there.

“Till 2023, we were paying land rent but now the government is not even collecting that. Now there is talk that our land would be taken to set up a company’s project. But
we will not allow this to happen. Where would we go and how would we survive? This is a question of our survival,” says another villager, Tapan See (54).

His village folks say leaders promise the moon during elections but forget everything after.

Sibapada Mandal, 56, said: “We all depend on fishing for our livelihood. Earlier, we were able to catch enough fish from the creeks but now they are full of crocodiles. Just two months ago, a crocodile attacked and killed a woman from our area when she had gone to take a bath. As the number of crocodiles increases, the fish catch is falling. People are now scared of going out.”

Villagers say the government is making matters worse by imposing a seven-month ban on fishing in the sea in these areas.

“While there is a ban on fishing for five months to protect the endangered Olive Ridley turtles, there is another ban of two months to protect fish seedlings. So only five months are left for us to fish to maintain our livelihood. See these trawlers and boats lying defunct. But this is not an election issue for our leaders,” said Mandal.

Another villager, Hemnata Maiti rued: “The entire area is cyclone-and flood-hit. There is no guarantee we would be able to reap a good harvest. Our earnings have taken a hit, a change is needed.”

While there is an undercurrent in favour of “paribartan (change)”, it is yet to be seen if it is strong enough to dislodge the BJD that has been ruling the roost here for the last few decades.

They are still in an advantageous position at this point. The six per cent Muslim electorate still backs the BJD.

“There are roads to every village. People are getting cheap rice and availing health insurance facilities. What more can they expect? The Naveen government has also announced a waiver of power bills. We are happy,” said Judhisthira Mandal.

Sitting Mahakalapada MLA Atanu Sabyasachi Na­yak, who is contesting the Assembly seat, a segment of the Kendrapara constituency, said: “We are taking one project after another. Chief minister Naveen Patnaik has taken up a number of development projects. No one can match his popularity. We are sure of victory.”

All seven Assembly segments are held by the BJD. Besides 1952 (Congress) and 1971 (Utkal Congress), Kendrapara has always been held by anti-Congress forces. Biju Patnaik represented the seat thrice, in 1977, 1980 and 1984.

Since its formation in 1997, the BJD has been winning the seat.

Even Baijayant Panda, the present BJP candidate, had represented the seat twice, in 2009 and 2014, on a BJD ticket. In 2019, BJD’s Anubhav Mohanty, the Odisha filmstar, won the seat. However, this time the ticket has gone to former Kendrapara district Congress unit president Anshuman Mohanty, son of one of the founding BJD members Nalinikanta Mohanty.

Anshuman, who switched from the Congress, got the BJD ticket. This upset Anubhav, who joined the saffron party instead.

“We know if Jay Panda wins, he will be a cabinet minister. That’s the only motivation for us to vote for him. But keeping Nalinikanta Mohanty’s contribution to the area in mind, it’s tough to decide who should we support. His son Anshuman enjoys a clear advantage. I will wait till the last moment to decide,” said 31-year-old Chandan Das.

Panda has assured voters that the pace of development in Kendrapara would speed up under the Modi regime once he is voted to the Lok Sabha. He is also raising the issue of Odia pride which, he argues, is under threat under Naveen’s rule.

Anshuman too continues to assure them of carrying forward Naveen’s work.

Whose assurance will the voters believe in?

Kendrapara votes on June 1

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