CONGRESS, BJD LOCK HORNS
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New Delhi, March 28 : Campaigning for the biennial Rajya Sabha elections in Orissa has degenerated into a bout of mudslinging between the Biju Janata Dal and the Congress. The Congress has charged BJD candidate and industrialist Baijayant Panda with defaulting on repayment of bank loans to the tune of Rs 655 crore, while the Naveen Patnaik-led party has accused Radhakanta Nayak - an Independent candidate backed by the Congress - of changing his religion twice to reap 'undue benefits'. According to the BJD, Nayak's name also figures on a list of 'corrupt officials' prepared by the Central Vigilance Commission and posted on its website on February 24. Nayak is a retired IPS officer. The BJD has fielded Birbhadra Singh and Panda for two of the three seats Orissa has in the Rajya Sabha. The BJP candidate is state party chief Manmohan Samal. The BJD has 68 legislators in the 147-member Assembly, while the BJP has 38 and the Congress 24. There are eight Independent legislators who were previously members of the BJD (four) and the BJP (also four). All eight legislators contested the polls independently after being denied party tickets. The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha has three legislators, while the CPM, the CPI, the Trinamul Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) have one each. According to preliminary estimates, Birbhadra Singh is certain to win tomorrow's election, but Panda is short of eight votes, With Independent legislators likely to make the difference, both the BJD and the Congress are going all out to woo them. Sources said the four Independent legislators who were previously with the BJD had already pledged their support to the party. Likewise, the Congress is also believed to have convinced the other Independent legislators to back Nayak.