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And Utkal Bungled

Both the Congress and the BJP-BJD combine are in a disarray

And Utkal Bungled

THE more things change, the more they remain the same in Orissa. Once again it's Congress versus the BJP-BJD combine. The picture is rendered marginally more complicated by the recent split in the Janata Dal. The splinters are regrouping; some are fleeing to safer havens. Their net effect will be evenly apportioned, though the tie-up between the rump JD (Secular) and the Left has established a multi-cornered contest on paper.

However, it's not smooth sailing all way for the BJP-BJD alliance in the run-up to polls (September 25 and October 3). Their understanding has run into rough weather on the question of seat-sharing. In the last Lok Sabha elections, the BJP had fielded nine candidates and the BJD 12. Naveen Patnaik's outfit has rejected demands of the BJP state unit to concede more seats to them, and the latter has openly dared its regional ally to break away if it's confident of winning the elections on its own.

State BJP president Juel Oram has criti-cised the 'irresponsible' behavior of the BJD leadership. Says he: "The BJD has reduced the alliance to a mere seat adjustment." After the BJD turned down state BJP secretary Manmohan Samal's request for a coordination committee meeting last week, Oram reiterated his party's demand for more seats. He pointed out that the BJD's position is weak in some of the 12 seats it had contested earlier.

The BJP state unit has taken exception to the high-handed attitude of the BJD president. Patnaik has refused to entertain any further request on the ground that the BJP central unit had okayed the share of the spoils, and there was no need for coordination at the state level.

On the face of it, the allied campaign revolves around an identical set of planks—Vajpayee's leadership, stability and the Kargil victory. The alliance expects to better its performance by winning more than 16 of the 21 Lok Sabha seats bagged in Orissa last time. What will certainly help is the undistinguished stints of Congress CMs J.B. Patnaik and Giridhar Gomango. PCC president Hemananda Biswal manages to put up a brave face though, "We'll sweep the elections in the state." In fact, the party has been facing problems in fielding suitable candidates from all seats, as senior leaders are reluctant to contest from many constituencies. For instance, J.B. Patnaik, still cut up over his unceremonious dethronement, refused to stand from Bhubaneswar and the Congress is now considering fielding a consensus candidate from outside the party. Former JD Union minister Srikant Jena is in the running. Khagawati Pradhani, nine-time winner from the Nawrangpur Lok Sabha constituency, too has upset Congress plans by refusing to contest this time. The PCC is hard pressed to find a replacement for him. Meanwhile, Hembati, chief minister Giri-dhar Gomango's wife, is a strong contender for the Koraput Lok Sabha constituency vacated by her husband.

Also notable among the Congress' 15 candidates is J.B. Patnaik's wife Jayanti, who is contesting from Berhampur, a party stronghold. But the BJP is confident of winning even this seat. The Congress has gone for new faces in Balasore and Puri. Its main poll issues are, the failure of the ruling alliance at the Centre, special category status for Orissa, lack of funds for the Kalahandi-Bolangir-Koraput project and no additional provision for the state in the railway budget. Sonia Gandhi has to address 10 more rallies in the state and is the party's sole hope.

Meanwhile, the BJD has resolved its internal problems with a rapprochement between Naveen Patnaik and dissident leader Bijay Mohapatra. The latter now heads the reconstituted parliamentary affairs committee (PAC) of the BJD. Both factions were present in the last PAC meeting, which concentrated on framing a reply to the BJP's demand for more seats.

Patnaik's move of inducting nine JD legislators, fresh from their split, into the party and appointing senior leader Nalini Mohanty as the working president of the BJD was, by consensus, a clever one. Explains a party insider: "It will curb Moha-patra from garnering too much power within the party." It has had its desired effect, at least for now, but only after it almost triggered a revolt against Patnaik. The BJD'S factional problems may affect its performance even if the BJP can't manage to wrest more seats for itself. Right now, it's the glass-house residents who have been throwing stones; the elections, it seems, may reverse the direction of these flying pr ojectiles.

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