By Priya Ranjan Sahu
The results are out. People have reaffirmed their faith in Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Centre and chief minister Naveen Patnaik in Odisha.
In Odisha, Patnaik has romped home for the fifth time with 112 assembly seats. The Biju Janata Dal has also won the majority of 12 Lok Sabha. However, the Bharatiya Janata Party, which got just one Lok Sabha seat, and Congress, which drew a blank in 2014, have got eight and one respectively.
Among all 21 Lok Sabha winners, two clearly stand out – Suresh Pujari from Bargarh and Aparajita Sarangi from Bhubaneswar – for fighting against odd and achieving success.
Both from the BJP, Pujari and Sarangi are the only two candidates who have won though their MLA candidates lost in the seven assembly seats under each of their Lok Sabha constituencies. If the binary of ‘BJD for assembly, BJP for Lok Sabha’ has worked in real sense anywhere in Odisha, it is in Bargarh and Bhubaneswar.
Pujari’s fight was even tougher. He was contesting in a Lok Sabha constituency where chief minister Patnaik was also a contestant as an MLA, in Bijepur.
Pujari’s rival was Rajya Sabha MP and veteran BJD leader Prasanna Acharya, who is well known for his sharp political acumen. The BJD’s heavyweight MLA candidates in the rest six assembly candidates included ministers Snehangini Churia, Sushant Singh, Western Odisha Development Council chairman Kishore Mohanty, former minister Bijay Singh Bariha and former Congress strongman Naba Kishore Das who was inducted into the BJD recently.
Most political watchers (including this writer) saw no chance for Pujari. But he finally won the race.
What propelled Pujari, among the better educated politicians in the state, to victory?
There was no doubt the ‘Modi factor’, which prevailed across the country, worked in Odisha too. But Patnaik’s charisma neutralised it to a large extent in the state. What worked in Pujari’s favour were his own unblemished image as well as local negativity against Acharya.
Many argue that Pujari, who started his political career as a student leader, never won an election except for the direct election for the post of Sambalpur municipality chairman in the 1990s. But it is a fact as an Independent candidate, he pull considerable votes in Sambalpur in assembly elections.
After joining the BJP, he was asked contest assembly election in 2000 in an alien terrain, Brajarajnagar, where the party had absolutely no base. He built the BJP from the scratch in an area where CPI and Congress held sway. He lost the 2004 and 2009 assembly elections by narrow margins.
In 2014, he was brought back to contest the Sambalpur Lok Sabha seat where, again, he lost to the BJD candidate by around 30,000 votes, which is not much for Lok Sabha.
This time, as Pujari was preparing his field to contest in Sambalpur, he was shifted to contest for Bargarh Lok Sabha seat, again a new terrain. Speculation was ripe about a leader higher up in BJP’s hierarchy trying to kill Pujari politically. But at the end, the combined factors of his own personal image, negativity against Acharya and Modi brand worked in tandem to help him overcome the odd.
Pujari’s hard work of years has taken him where he should have been long ago, Parliament.
On the other hand, Aparajita Sarangi, who left the IAS to join the BJP just before the elections, too has won in the face of strong opposition from the BJD and hardly any help from her own party’s leaders.
When Sarangi joined the BJP, it was speculated that she might be the party’s future chief ministerial candidate. It was not liked by many powerful people inside the party and soon attempts were made to cut her to size.
Undaunted, she confined herself to Bhubaneswar Lok Sabha area and worked hard to cover each and every household under it. When campaign started she was visible everywhere in the constituency while BJD candidate Arup Patnaik, a former police commissioner of Mumbai, was hardly visible.
Sarangi had an uphill task of creating space for herself where odds were loaded against her in the form of strong BJD assembly candidates. However, successful stints as collector of Khurda district, where she is still remembered for some good work done, and as the Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation’s commissioner came to her rescue.
Apart from Pujari and Sarangi, another candidate who deserves appreciation is Saptagiri Sankar Ulaka, who has won Koraput Lok Sabha seat for the Congress. Ulaka has achieved this feat in the face of high decibel campaigns by the BJD and BJP, and without much resources and support from his party in the state and at the national level.