The Bijepur by polls is touted as a curtain raiser for the all important Lok Sabha elections. In a triangular contest, the ruling BJD, BJP and Congress vie for victory. The tussle is as much as an acid test for the parties as it is a prestige issue.
But, in the din of high decibel campaigning and propaganda war, the spirit of a democratic election has gone for a toss. When you watch the media beaming mudslinging allegations by each of the political parties, you realise campaigning can stoop so lowly to garner votes. The agenda is to win the elections- forget what the elected candidate can potentially achieve for the people who choose him.
Let’s start with the BJP which is nursing ambitions to conquer Odisha at the next elections. And, for the party which has emerged as the flagship Opposition dislodging Congress, thanks to its stellar performance at the three-tier panchayat polls, the stakes are running high. The party seriously believes any upset for the ruling BJD at the Bijepur elections will turn the tide and the people’s mood in its favour. BJP’s state unit president Basant Panda has even gone on record claiming that a win at Bijepur polls would be the baby step to realise the BJP’s goal of 120+ seats in Odisha.
Union minister and BJP’s heavyweight campaigner Dharmendra Pradhan almost treats it as gospel truth. In fact, Pradhan is pulling all stops to ensure victory for the BJP nominated candidate Ashok Panigrahi. Pradhan has already wound up two rounds of campaigning in the Bijepur assembly constituency while BJD’s supremo and chief minister Naveen Patnaik is yet to show up. The Union minister addressed a huge gathering at Bijepur. Importantly, it saw the homecoming of Sanat Gartia into the BJP’s fold. At the gathering, Pradhan took to his usual BJD bashing and questioned the chief minister’s sudden love for Bijepur. “If Naveen is so keen on development, it would not have taken 18 long years for BJD Government to provide water for drinking and irrigation in Bijepur,” he said. Pradhan lambasted the ruling BJD for failing to provide the Minimum Support Price (MSP) to the paddy farmers. He claimed to have sensed the people’s anger with the BJD, saying this will ensure an easy victory for his party. Pradhan’s Cabinet colleague Jual Oram, too, sounded very upbeat on BJP’s victory- calling it a writing on the wall. Both leaders, were stunningly conspicuous by their lack of a blueprint for the people’s development. Perhaps, overconfidence made the development agenda redundant.
The BJD, appeared unruffled by the BJP’s calibrated propaganda war. The ruling party said it only shows the BJP’s frustration as it is staring at a certain defeat. “BJP has forgotten its poll promises. Suicide by farmers has increased across the country, prices of essential commodities have gone up exorbitantly and unemployment has grown after the BJP came to power”, said Bijay Nayak, BJD’s state secretary. BJD president Naveen Patnaik whose Bijepur campaign takes off on February 20, sounded confident of a victory, riding on the government’s development and welfare works.
In the bipartite war of words, the state unit of the BJP has petitioned the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) demanding action against those carrying the cash purportedly for distribution among voters and the local police for letting off the culprits. A delegation of the BJP led by party’s spokesperson Sajjan Sharma met chief electoral officer Surendra Kumar and submitted a memorandum alleging that the ruling party is using all unethical and unlawful practices to influence the voters of Bijepur. While the car carrying the cash is registered in the name of Bikram Sahu, the vehicle was used by his relative Haraprasad Sahu, a BJD leader of Ganjam district.
Taking the BJP head on, senior BJD leader and panchayati raj minister Pradeep Maharathy stunned every one with the declaration that he will quit politics if the BJD loses the Bijepur poll. In the unsavoury game of one upmanship between the BJD and the BJP, the Congress seems to be lost in the woods. Or, are we missing the woods for the trees? Can Congress emerge as a dark horse winner? Bijepur goes to the polls on February 24 and the voters’ choice is known on February 28. Regardless of the outcome, this poll campaign deserves to be eminently forgettable. Politics can come out of this rut and enrich us with a spirited show by the parties in the future.