The five-year term of the 16th Lok Sabha is due to expire on 03rd June, 2019. Article 324 of the Constitution of India bestows the relevant powers, duties and functions upon the Election Commission of India while Section 14 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 provides for the conduct of the elections to constitute a new Lok Sabha before the expiry of its current term. Taking into account these Constitutional and legal provisions, the Election Commission of India has made comprehensive preparations for the conduct of elections to the 17th Lok Sabha in a free, fair and peaceful manner. Indian General Election 2019 schedule has been released and the national election will be held in seven phases on April 11, April 18, April 23, April 29, May 6, May 12 and May 19.

In Odisha, for the 21 Lok Sabha seats, elections will be held in four primary phases.

Phase-I

With poll-dates of April 11, Berhampur, Kalahandi, Koraput, and Nabarangpur are in phase 1.

In a major turn-around, from Berhampur, BJD has chosen not to field two-times Berhampur MP Sidhant Mohapatra but Chandra Sekhar Sahu. The latter was the losing candidate from INC in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections against Sidhant Mohapatra and with a big margin of 1, 27,720 votes. Chandra Sekhar Sahu was a member of the 14th Lok Sabha. He is pitied against Brughu Baxipatra of BJP and V Chandrasekhar Naidu from INC; both relatively new faces for Berhampur.

Kalahandi seating MP from BJD, Arka Keshari Deo has resigned from BJP after having denied MP ticket. Instead, BJD has fielded Puspendra Singhdeo against Basanta Kumar Panda from BJP and Bhakta Charan Das from INC.

Koraput seems to heading to a steamy contest between Jayaram Pangi from BJP, Saptagiri Ulka from INC and Kausalaya Hikaka from BJD. Jhina Hikaka from BJD had won the last elections against INC’s Giridhar Gamang with a precarious margin of 19,328 votes only. Neither of them have been given tickets for this Lok Sabha elections thus far.

Nabarangpur will host the battle of the Majhis: Balabhadra Majhi from BJP, Pradeep Majhi from INC, Ramesh Chandra Majhi from BJD. During the 16th Lok Sabha Elections, Balabhadra Majhi from BJD had defeated Pradeep Majhi from INC in a razor thin margin of just 2,042 votes. This will be an interesting contest.

 

Phase-II:

In the second phase, Aska, Bargarh, Bolangir, Kandhamal, and Sundargarh will go to polls on April 18.

Aska has been vacant after the demise of BJD MP Ladu Kishore Swain. Now, BJD has fielded 68-year-old Pramila Bisoi credited with launching the self-help group (SHG) movement in the state. She goes against Anita Priyadarshni. 3, 11,997 votes was the biggest margin win for late Ladu Kishore Swain of Aska. This can only mean the grass-root cadre is extremely strong in Aska and is going to stay that way for this year elections.

For the Bargarh seat, BJP has fielded Suresh Pujari against Pradip Kumar Devta of INC and Prasanna Acharya of BJD. Prima facie, it seems like a three-way contest and who will win this fickle seat remains to be seen.

Bolangir will again see battle of the royals: three-time MP Sangeeta Kumari Singh Deo from BJP versus two-time MP Kalikesh Narayan Singh Deo from BJD. Sangeeta had defeated her nearest rival Sarat Patnaik of the Congress in 1998, 1999 and 2004. The two members of the Bolangir royal family are going to fight each other from the Bolangir Lok Sabha seat for the third time. They had faced each other in the 2009 and 2014 general elections from their respective parties. Kalikesh Narayan Singh Deo had defeated his sister-in-law Sangeeta Kumari Singh Deo both times and last year with a massive margin of 1, 04,299 votes. Whether Sangeeta can ride the Modi-wave to victory versus Kalikesh riding on BJD-freebie wave remains to be seen. Samarendra Mishra from INC is a newbie young entry in the fray at Bolangir. Son of Narasingha Mishra, veteran INC leader and the Leader of the Opposition, Samarendra hovers like the proverbial fly over the champagne glasses.

With Pratyusha Rajeshwari Singh jumping ship from BJD to BJP and yet the ticket for Kandhamal going to Mahameghabaham Aira Kharbela Swain from BJP, the story just becomes more interesting. In the last Lok Sabha elections, Pratyusha Rajeshwari Singh had convincingly defeated Harihar Karan of INC with a huge margin of 1, 81,017 votes. Her movement to BJP thoroughly weakens the BJD political grass-root cadre. Mahameghabaham Aira Kharbela Swain is three-time BJP MP from Balasore from 1998 but had floated a new political unit called Utkal Bharat in 2010 to up his ante against BJD and INC. Known as a bitter critic of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, he will go against Achyuta Samanta from BJD and newbie Manoj Kumar Acharya from INC. BJD has made a curious choice in Achyuta Samanta. His Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences (KISS) has ground cadre in Kandhamal for admissions of tribal students into the institute. Whether they will complement the weak BJD grass-root political cadre and whether BJD will be able to cash in on his penetration though tribal education remains to be seen. But, with a dismal parliamentary attendance of just 53% against a national average of 78% and state average of 74%, one wonders if there will be any major contribution from Achyuta Samanta of BJD in the parliament; if he wins.

For Sundargarh, BJP has fielded last time winner, Jual Oram against George Tirkey of INC and Sunita Biswal of BJD. BJD has dropped Dilip Kumar Tirkey who had lost the last elections for a meagre 18,829 votes’margin. Sunita Biswal, daughter of former Chief Minister and veteran Congress leader, Hemananda Biswal, has recently joined the BJD. While her father, a veteran of INC of 60 years, maintains a dignified low profile, it appears the current generation is distancing themselves from the current dispensation of INC leadership.

Phase III:

In the third phase, Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, Dhenkanal, Keonjhar, Puri, and Sambalpur go to polls on April 4.

Bhubaneswar, in particular, promises to be a hard fought battle between two former civil servants: Aparajita Sarangi and Arup Pattnaik. A 1994 cadre IAS officer, Aparajita Sarangi applied for her voluntary retirement while being joint secretary in Ministry of Rural Development. As part of one of her assignments, she was the commissioner of Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation and with many beautification and planned projects, she is widely popular as having set the stage for Bhubaneswar to eventually become numero uno Smart City in India. On the other hand, at BJP’s helm, Prasanna patsani had been tugging at the heartstrings of Odias with achievements of championing Odia to be declared a Classical Language in India. In 2014, Odia became the sixth language of India to get “classical language’’ status as Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam. The criteria for declaring a language as classical mandates high antiquity of its early texts/recorded history over a period of 1,500-2,000 years, a body of ancient literature/texts which is considered a valuable heritage by generations of speakers and a literary tradition that is original and not borrowed from another speech community. Bhubaneswar has been the strong-hold of BJD. With Prasanna Patsani stepping aside, Arup Pattnaik, IPS cadre of 1979 and first and only Odia IPS officer to hold the post of and retired as 36th Police Commissioner of Mumbai, has been burdened to lead the race for BJD in the state capital.

For Cuttack, Dhenkanal, Keonjhar, Puri, BJP has fielded Prakash Mishra, Rudra Narayan Pani, Ananta Naik, Sambit Patra respectively. In the last elections, from Cuttack, Bhartruhari Mahtab had defeated actress Aparajita Mohanty conclusively with a monstrous margin of 3, 06,762 votes. Aparajita Mohanty has now joined BJP. From Dhenkanal, Tathagata Satpathy from BJD had defeated Rudra Narayan Pani of BJP with a massive 1, 37,340 votes. Sakuntala Laguri of BJD had won with a huge 1, 57,317 margin of votes against Ananta Nayak of BJP. Similarly, Pinaki Misra of BJD had defeated Sucharita Mohanty of INC with a large margin of 2, 63,361 votes. Though BJD has only announced Pinaki Misra’s name, it will be surprising if it changes Bhartruhari Mahtab, Tathagata Satpathy, Sakuntala Laguri for Cuttack, Dhenkanal, Keonjhar respectively. That BJP had to pull in its national spokesperson, Sambit Patra to fight from Puri and field losing candidates Rudra Narayan Pani and Ananta Naik for Dhenkanal and Keonjhar respectively reeks of abysmally low senior and middle leadership in BJP in Odisha. In and for these seats, unless BJP starts scouting and leveraging on the existing intelligentia who are willing to jump into politics and start grooming them from now, the leadership chasm won’t fill even for the 18th Lok Sabha elections. In face of a formidable opponent, whether Sambit Patra, with his good debating and pitching skills, will be able to swing the votes in his favour remains to be seen.

For Sambalpur, BJD is fielding an ex-bureaucrat, Nalini Kant Pradhan in place of Nagendra Kumar Pradhan who had won last tie against BJP’s Suresh Pujari with just 30,576 votes. He stands against current Deogarh MLA Nitesh Ganga Deb of BJP.

Phase IV

In the fourth phase, Balasore, Bhadrak, Jagatsinghpur, Jajpur, Kendrapara, and Mayurbhanj go to polls on April 29.

For Balasore, BJP had no option but to field Pratap Sarangi again against Rabindra Kumar Jena. Pratap Sarangi had lost the last elections to Rabindra Kumar Jena with a margin of 1, 41,825 votes.

For Bhadrak, Jagatsinghpur, and Jajpur, BJP still hasn’t released the list of its candidates. BJD hasn’t yet declared the canditate for Bhadrak. However, for Jagatsinghpur and Jajpur, BJD has fielded Rajashree Mallick and Sasmita Sethi and that is where the situation takes interesting turn. From Jagatsinghpur, Kulamani Samal of BJD had decisively won against Bibhu Prasad Tarai of INC with a massive margin of 2, 76,394 votes. He has been sidelined. In the last lok Sabha elections, in Odisha, from Jajpur, Rita Tarai of BJD had the highest winning margin of 3, 20,271 against Asok Das of INC. Even, she has been shunted out in this election. Whether it is strategically a mistake, only time will tell.

For Mayurbhanj, BJP is yet to field a candidate. BJD has announced Debashis Marandi for Mayurbhanj even though last year Rama Chandra Hansdah of BJD had won against Nepole Raghu Murmu of BJP with a margin of 1, 22,866 votes. Going by the leadership scarcity in BJP in Odisha, one won’t be surprised if Nepole Raghu Murmu is fielded again to test his waters against Debashis Marandi of BJD.

The juiciest story which has unfolded in the recent days is for the Kendrapara seat. Frustrated and disillusioned with the current leadership of and shadow boxing from BJD, one of the founding members of BJD, Baijayant Panda, after months of negotiation, finally joined as the vice president of BJP and will contest from Kendrapara. And to counter the heavyweight, BJD has fielded its most promising campaigner, film actor Anubhav Mohanty. Anubhav Mohanty enjoys high popularity among the cine-goers in Odisha but will it be sufficient to counter the on ground development and Kendrapara voters’ love is to be seen. Another interesting point to note is with Sidhant Mohapatra no longer in the fray, Aparajita Mohanty not getting a ticket, if Anubhav Mohanty loses the election, it will signal an evolution of voters’ mind-set not to focus on razzmatazz of movie stars but to focus on whether an elected representative is doing solid work at the grass-root level for sustainable development. Anubhav Mohanty’s attendance in the parliament has been 65% against the national average of 78% and state average of 74%.

The biggest casualty in this entire story is the INC. Neither do they have credible candidates with winning history nor do they have heavy weights. Even the ground cadre has disintegrated and redistributed between BJP and BJP. In the last elections, out of 21 MP seats, BJP had just one in Jual Oram and rest 20 had gone to BJD. INC had 0 wins. This year, however, BJD will end up conceding quite a few seats to BJP and INC will be left high and dry.

The following is the summary as on March 28, 2019.

My personal prediction is as follows:

BJD will be able to retain Berhampur, Aska, Bolangir, Cuttack, Dhenkanal, Keonjhar, Puri, Balasore, Bhadrak, Jagatsinghpur, Jajpur, and Mayurbhanj: 12 seats.

BJP will eat into their pie and end up winning Kalahandi, Koraput, Nabarangpur, Bargarh, Kandhamal, Sundargarh, Bhubaneswar, Sambalpur, and Kendrapara: 9 seats.

But, Election Commission of India branding 2019 Lok Sabha Elections as Desh ka Maha Tyohaar, we won’t know until May 23 when the results come out.  Until then, enjoy the show.