The Election Commission Wednesday issued notification for election to the Patkura Assembly seat, part of the Kendrapara parliamentary constituency, on May 19 along with the last phase of the ongoing Lok Sabha polls. Assembly election in Patkura, originally scheduled on April 29, had to be postponed after Bed Prakash Agrawala, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) candidate, died on April 20 follwing a prolonged illness.
Patkura has always attracted special attention because it has seen some epic battles involving stalwarts of Odisha politics in the past. But this time, there is added interest in the constituency because old warhorse Bijoy Mohapatra, who was once No. 2 in the Biju Patnaik cabinet and has been in political wilderness for nearly two decades now, has returned to his home turf as the BJP candidate after two unsuccessful attempts at entering the Assembly from neighbouring Mahakalpada.
For Mohapatra, who has failed to make it to the Assembly since being tricked out of the contest by BJD supremo Naveen Patnaik in the 2000 Assembly elections, it is a battle of survival and political relevance in the state.
Plenty of drama preceded the death of Agrawala, necessitating countermanding and rescheduling of the election in Patkura. The former minister’s name was announced as the candidate from the constituency even as he was fighting for life at the ICU of a leading private hospital in Bhubaneswar. He could not even collect his ticket for nearly a week after the announcement of his name due to his critical condition. During this period, Agrawala’s family members reportedly met the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) supremo Naveen Patnaik and pleaded for the ticket to be given either to his son or his daughter instead. But Naveen would have none of it and stood firm in his decision.
As soon as news of Agrawala’s death spread on April 20 morning, there was animated discussion in political and media circles that this was a cynical, deliberate ‘strategy’ by the BJD boss to deny Bijoy entry to the Assembly. The consensus was that Naveen was banking on the sympathy wave for Agrawala to do the job for him whenever elections were held for Patkura. While the EC has given the BJD time till May 1 to name its new candidate, it is a foregone conclusion that a family member would be the BJD candidate in the constituency.
While paying tributes to Agrawala on the day of his death, Mohapatra had said the BJD had done grave ‘injustice’ to the veteran leader by insisting on fielding him despite the fact that he was in the ICU for nearly three months. After the EC announcement today, Mohapatra has welcomed the decision, saying; “People of Patkura were concerned that elections to the Assembly segment might get postponed for an indefinite period.”
The fact that the Patkura election would be held in less than a month’s time, however, doesn’t make Mohapatra’s job any easier. Naveen Patnaik has pulled out all stops to ensure that he loses and party leaders and workers at the ground level are working tirelessly to fulfill the supremo’s agenda. All that the beleaguered leader can now do is to hope that the highly politically conscious voters of his constituency would see through the cynical game being played by Naveen and send him to the Assembly one last time.