INDICATIONS are that it is not going to be a cakewalk for Congress, even though its leaders maintain that the party is comfortably placed in the state. With elections just 10 days away, it is still a little early to make predictions. But the Congress is unlikely to repeat its 1996 performance of bagging 16 out of 21 seats. This time round, barring half-a-dozen seats which are considered sure-fire for the Congress, the party is expected to face a tough fight with the BJP and the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) combine.
The good news for the Congress is that though there is an anti-establishment sentiment and an undercurrent in favour of the BJP, this may not translate into solid gains for the BJP-BJD alliance. This is due to confusion and dissension among grassroots workers of both parties. Moreover, with the JD fielding candidates in as many as 16 constituencies, there will be triangular contests.
The Congress also has a trump card in the Sonia factor. The first leg of Sonia's campaign helped mobilise the party and curb dissidence to a large extent. She is scheduled to hold meetings in four places in western Orissa in the second leg of her campaign. This is may cause a last-minute swing in favour of the Congress in the tribal belt.
The BJD is, moreover, hampered with a dearth of star candidates and hit by a severe cash crunch. With the exception of Naveen Patnaik, there are no names to pull the crowds. And, with the CPI candidate in Aska giving Naveen a tough fight in a triangular contest, he has no time to campaign in other constituencies.
The JD, which under Biju Patnaik was the main opposition in Orissa, has practically lost significance except as a vote breaker. It is also hit by lack of resources and by the fact that none of the party bigwigs has campaigned in the state. Other parties include Laloo Yadav's RJD which has fielded 11 candidates. However, it is unlikely to win any seats. The Samata Party, which has an alliance with the BJP in other states, has fielded candidates of its own in Orissa.
In the final analysis, the JD which won four seats last time, may not be as successful in '98. The Congress is likely to lose two to three seats, while the BJP-BJD combine is now likely to open its account in the state.