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Fear Of Women

Bhubaneswar: Governing Biju Janata Dal (BJD) replacing its leading Bhadrak District leader Rajendra Das by Abanti Das, the Chairperson of Tihidi Block and an active member of the Women Self Help Group (WSHG) under Mission Shakti, as candidate for Dhamnagar by-poll may just be a political move. But, the action of the BJD supremo Naveen Patnaik has created anxiety among many sitting MLAs, ministers and even MPs, who fear that any woman SHG member of their constituency may now replace them in the ensuing general elections in 2024. The fear factor for the surging women power among the men folks is now palpable.

The replacement of Rajendra Das by Abanti Das may be an isolated case, but it has a huge political ramification. It has made the hearts of the entire middle level leadership flutter as there is no guarantee that one will be re-nominated by the party for the elections. An air of uncertainty pervades the community of BJD leaders, lamented a BJD veteran.    

As part of Naveen’s women empowerment initiatives, the party now focuses on female voters in its bid to wrest power for the sixth time. The Chief Minister has a strong feeling that women voters and his empowerment initiatives are behind his phenomenal success.  Naveen had reserved 50 per cent of seats for women in the last rural and urban elections. Besides, 70 per cent of the Zilla Parishads and Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) are now headed by women.

As Naveen may not be able to launch new schemes before elections due to the decline in the flow of central grants, he is likely to play the ‘Woman Card’ to retain power. Meanwhile, the BJD President has met most of the leaders working under the Mission Shakti Program and made them aware of his plans.

After the BJD announced the name of Abanti Das as its candidate from Dhamnagar, Rajendra Das was made to announce his support to her. He made an announcement in the line of the party at Bhubaneswar and also claimed that he was instrumental in making Abanti as the chairperson of the Tihidi Block.

Party sources said that the BJD picked up Abanti Das as Rajendra Das was opposed by former MLA Muktikanta Mondal and two other leaders. The party thought that if it chose a third candidate and that too from the women category, all would accept her. But, the things did not go as per the wishes of BJD decision makers. Now, Rajendra Das has turned a rebel and filed nomination as an independent candidate, a first for BJD in recent times. Rajendra Das has become the torch bearer of the BJD party rebellion that may be emulated by many ahead of the 2024 elections, party insiders feel.

Even as BJD leaders claimed that Rajendra’s nomination would have no impact on the electoral prospects of the BJD, the fact remained otherwise. Abanti Das may not have a cake-walk in the election battlefield. The Dhamnagar seat was held by BJP’s Bishnu Charan Sethi, who passed away on 19 September 2022 for which a by-election is being held. Sethi’s son Suryabanshi Suraj is a saffron party candidate and he may get a good amount of sympathy vote even as his counterpart in Balasore by-poll, Manas Dutta, failed to retain his father Madan Mohan Dutta’s seat in 2020.      

Rajendra Das had lost the 2019 polls to Bishnu Sethi by a margin of over 4,625 votes. If Rajendra Das gets 10,000 votes as an Independent candidate, it will certainly help the BJP candidate Suraj and give a hard time to Abanti Das. Rajendra Das is a seasoned politician working for the people of Dhamnagar since his defeat in 2019 elections. Therefore, mustering over 10,000 votes will not be an uphill task for him.

In the previous elections in 2019, Rajendra Das as a BJD candidate had polled 75,486 votes against Sethi’s 80,111 votes. Therefore, as an Independent candidate, Rajendra Das’ 10,000 votes may topple the BJD’s apple cart.  That could be the factor for which BJD may take the help of its President Naveen Patnaik to campaign in Dhamnagar by-poll even as the Chief Minister did not canvas for votes in the Pipili and Brajrajnagar by-polls.

Presence of BJD Supremo in the by-poll campaign will certainly tilt the voting scenario in favour of the regional outfit, opine political observers, as he has the charisma and vote catching power.

Overstaying in power for over two-decades has also become a problem for the BJD as almost all constituencies have parallel organizations. There is always an alternative to any sitting MLA or MP. Therefore, like Rajendra Das, many MLAs and MPs are likely to face competition from within the party fold. If in all such cases, the party decides to field any member of WSHGs, then one cannot rule out a repeat of the Dhamnagar Syndrome across the state. This may, on other hand, help the rival BJP or the Congress in many assembly segments.

The BJD now has 113 MLAs in the House of 147-member Odisha Assembly. Keeping in view Naveen’s dependency on Mission Shakti women, it may be possible that the BJD President may not hesitate to reserve 50 per cent seats for women. Therefore, as many as 73 of the state’s 147 assembly seats may get women BJD candidates, opine experts. Naveen had already implemented such reservations in the previous Lok Sabha elections.

Of the 21 Lok Sabha seats in the state, BJD fielded 7 women (33 per cent) in the Lok Sabha polls and five of them were elected. Therefore, many political analysts opine that if not 50 per cent, BJD may next time in 2024 elections allot 33 per cent of seats to women. The number of BJD women candidates could be around 48 if Naveen continued his women empowerment spree. His meeting with members of Mission Shakti, is a clear indication in that direction.

During the meeting, the BJD leadership has been identifying the potential women candidates for the next elections, an insider said. Anyway, time will tell how Naveen manages the situation. The Dhamnagar by-poll result is therefore significant for the governing BJD as its pilot experiment is now put to test.