Among all Lok Sabha constituencies going for polls in the first phase, the most complex is Kalahandi where three veterans Bhakta Charan Das of Congress, Pushpendra Singh Deo of BIju Janata Dal and Basant Panda of Bharatiya Janata Party have been pitted against each other.
The constituency comprises five assembly segments of Kalahandi district and two of Nuapada district. Surprisingly, a ‘Modi factor’ is markedly visible in the assembly segments under Kalahandi district while it is completely missing in segments under Nuapada district, though Panda, who is state BJP president, belongs to the latter district.
The supposed Modi factor, however, seems to be limited to Lok Sabha election while voters have preference different parties for assembly election. At the assembly level, the BJD, BJP and Congress have their own inherent strength, and that will reflect the voting pattern for the Lok Sabha candidates.
In the 2014 elections, there was fierce three-cornered contest between BJD’s Arka Keshari Deo, BJP’s Pradipta Naik and Congress Bhakta Charan Das. Deo had polled over 3.72 lakh votes while both Naik and Das polled more than 3 lakh votes each.
This time Deo has been denied ticket and in his place Pushpendra Singh, the sitting MLA of Dharamgarh assembly segment, has been fielded by the BJD. On the other hand, the BJP has fieled its state president Panda in place of Naik, who has been chosen to contest Bhabanipatna assembly segment.
On their own strength, among all three Lok Sabha candidates Panda seems to be weakest as the BJP is lagging behind in Nuapada and Khariar segments of Nuapada, his home district. But he may be benefited by the supposed Modi wave in all five segments in Kalahandi.
Das, a powerful Dalit leader of Odisha, has represented Kalahandi in Lok Sabha twice, and has his own base and fixed votes. It is a challenge for him to go beyond his fixed votes.
In the 2014 elections, the BJD won four out of seven assembly seats under Kalahandi Lok Sabha. But the party received a jolt in the zilla parishad election when it drew a blank while the BJP bagged 25 out of 34 seats. The challenge Puspendra Singh Deo, said to be a good organisation man, is to not only win the Lok Sabha seat but revive the party’s base. Puspendra’s biggest advantage is that the party has votes evenly spread out across all seven assembly segments.
Apparently, chief minister and BJD supremo Naveen Patnaik was aware of the ruling party’s sticky position in Kalahandi. He went on a two-day whirlwind tour of Kalahandi and Nuapada from Monday holding rallies and addressing crowds at several place. It remains to be seen if Patnaik’s outreach yields dividends for the BJD, considering the fact that the women voters still stand solidly behind the chief minister.