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All Eyes Western Odisha

Bhubaneswar: Much ahead of the Election Commission of India announcing the dates for the upcoming General Elections for Lok Sabha and Odisha Assembly, the state’s three major parties have already started electioneering, making strategies to win the confidence of the people of western region. This is because everybody here knows that the first phase of elections will be held in the western Odisha earlier and the poll for the coastal belt will come later.

The major parties like ruling BJD and opposition BJP and Congress have already started work in western region. Everybody in Odisha politics knows that the saffron BJP is comparatively in a better position in western region for which party candidates won in five Lok Sabha seats like Sundergarh, Sambalpur, Bargarh, Bolangir and Kalahandi in 2019 elections. The party, however, won three more LS seats in Bhubaneswar, Balasore and Mayurbhanj. But the party’s main stake lies in the western region.

Though the BJP leadership is aware that the party has better possibility in Lok Sabha polls in western region, it has to further its assembly election prospects. As per simple mathematics, the saffron party should have won at least 35 assembly seats from the five LS constituencies. If that is not enough, the party should get at least 30 MLAs from the western region. However, nothing of that kind happened in the 2019 elections. The party in total, including the western region, could win only in 23 assembly segments. Therefore, the BJP leadership has to work very hard and also win Assembly seats from western region if it wants to form the Government in Bhubaneswar. Therefore, western region is very important for the BJP.

Similarly, the case for the Naveen Patnaik headed BJD in the western region. Though the voters of western region voted en-mass for the conch symbol, they preferred to cast their votes for Lotus in the LS elections. Therefore, the western region is equally important for the BJD. As the regional party has been targeting to win 20 of the 21 LS seats in Odisha, it must get the support and cooperation of the voters in western districts of Sambalpur, Bargarh, Jharsuguda, Sundergarh, Kalahandi, Bolangir, Nuapada, Boudh, Deogarh and Subarnapur.

For Congress, which has only nine MLAs in the House of 147 members in Odisha Assembly, four members come from western region (Rajgangpur, Kantabanji, Bolangir and Khariar), three from southern region (Jeypore, Mohana and Sanakhemundi) and two from coastal region (Barabati-Cuttack and Jatni). Therefore, the highest number of MLAs come from western side of the state. Therefore, the oldest party also considers that it has to raise its stake in the western region if it wants to become the principal opposition party in the state. The BJP had replaced the Congress as the main opposition party in the 2019 elections.

Keeping in view the importance of the western region in the state politics, BJP’s Prime Trump Card and Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to address a public meeting in Sambalpur though he is undertaking an official visit to inaugurate the permanent campus of Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Sambalpur. Shri Modi’s visit to western region carries much importance as it is being held while the Prime Minister’s political stake is very high following the opening of the Sri Ram Temple in Ayodhya. The saffron party is expecting a congregation of about 1.5 lakh people, BJP State President Manmohan Samal has said, adding that people from different nearby districts will also attend Shri Modi’s public meeting on February 3.

Shri Modi’s meeting will also follow BJD President and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s visit to Sambalpur on January 27. This is not all; Congress leader Rahul Gandhi will also visit Western Odisha in mid-February as part of his Bharat Jodo Naya Yatra. And all the three main political parties in the State- BJD, BJP, and Congress have formed special strategies to woo voters in the Western Odisha much before the upcoming election.

Naveen’s strategy is visible when he inaugurated the Rs 200 crore SAMALEI project around Maa Samaleswari Temple. She is the Presiding Goddess of Sambalpur, occupies a unique place in the hearts of people in the western part of the state. By developing the Maa Samaleswari’s temple, the BJD aims to reach out the people of the entire region.

BJD Vice-President Debi Prasad Mishra has rejected the allegations that the state government neglected the western region. “The BJD government has all along given priority to the development of Western Odisha. The way Maa Samaleswari temple has been transformed under the SAMALEI project speaks volumes of the Chief Minister’s concern for the people of Sambalpur and other districts in the western region,” Shri Mishra said.

On the other hand, OPCC President Sarat Pattnayak, who himself hailed from Bolangir, one of the western districts, alleged that both the BJP and BJD are trying to do vote bank politics through religious polarization. “The Odisha people will not accept them at all,” he said claiming that Congress was all along with the people of western Odisha and therefore the voters have this time decided to go with the oldest party instead of having faith on the BJD and BJP, who work hand in glove with Delhi Durbar and turn foes in Odisha.

The political heat has already been felt across the western region of Odisha as all the three parties are in the face off situation. BJD would never allow the saffron party to further grow in the land of Maa Samaleswari, said BJD Veteran A U Singh Deo. The party aims for all the five LS seats now in hands of BJP and also to retain its number in Assembly. BJP at the same time would try to cash in on the PM Modi’s popularity and put its entire efforts to retain the five LS seats and win at least 30 Assembly segments from western region, Congress too has similar target and time will tell to whom Maa Samaleswari blesses this time in 2024.