Why Naveen factor is Pradhan concern in west Odisha fight | India News

SAMBALUPUR: Sambalpur, the gateway to western Odisha, is witnessing a high-profile battle with BJD expecting a favourable mandate for a “job well done” in the state and BJP counting on anti-incumbency.
Union minister Dharmendra Pradhan, 54, is back for a Lok Sabha contest after 20 years while BJD has deployed its No.2, Pranab Prakash Das, tagged publicly as the regional party’s senapati (commander), to challenge him.
Sambalpur constituency spans three districts: Deogarh, Sambalpur, and parts of Angul. BJP’s Nitesh Ganga Deb emerged victorious in 2019. BJP had won all five Lok Sabha seats in western Odisha back then but could manage only eight of the 35 assembly segments. BJP expects Sambalpur to set a pan-Odisha momentum even in Vidhan Sabha contests. The saffron party is also banking on PM Narendra Modi’s popularity. “The trust in the PM is very high in Odisha. Moreover, people are angry with BJD and there is strong anti-incumbency. We are not only winning big in Lok Sabha but going to form a govt in Vidhan Sabha,” said Pradhan.
BJP did better in western Odisha than in the state’s coastal areas last time. And the party is drawing strength from the region’s proximity to Chhattisgarh, which has a BJP govt. More than 100 BJP functionaries from Chhattisgarh, including the entire Cabinet led by its CM Vishnu Deo Sai, have been campaigning in western Odisha.
BJP’s manifesto includes several key promises aimed at attracting voters in western Odisha. One of the most significant among them is the establishment of a second AllIndia Institute of Medical Sciences in Sambalpur. Furthermore, the party has announced its intention to initiate a proposal to grant central university status to Sambalpur University. The party’s commitment to buying paddy at Rs 3,100 per quintal, up from the current minimum support price of Rs 2,183, is also expected to resonate with the farmers in Hirakud command area.
As chief minister Naveen Patnaik seeks a sixth straight term, anti-incumbency may be a threat for BJD in western Odisha. Union home minister Amit Shah in his rally in Sunda rgarh last week complained of the state govt’s step-motherly treatment of western Odisha.
Claiming that the BJD govt had failed to bring development to the state in its 25 years in office, pushing it back by 50 years, Shah said, “Step-motherly treatment has been meted out by this (BJD) govt, particularly to the western region.”
BJD candidate Das begged to differ, saying there is a strong sentiment in favour of Patnaik across the state. “People have decided to bring Naveen Patnaik back as they want him to continue the good work he’s been doing. Under Naveen babu’s leadership, BJD results get better in poll after poll,” he said.
But what does the common man think? Near the 160-year-old sarsatia shop in Budhima Gali in Kunjelpada, owner Rinku dada claims Patnaik gets the Sambalpur delicacy from his establishment given that not many places have continued the art of making this sweet. A picture of Pradhan having sarsatia is seen at the shop. A local, who did not want to be named, said, “Naveen is still popular in the assembly, but there is now a real fear that he will hand over the CM post to some nonOdia.” Her reference could be to BJD strategist VK Pandian.
Tinku Nayak, a cab driver from Bolangir, said: “BJD is not going to have it easy, if at all it wins. In Lok Sabha, BJP will get most seats. Naveen babu didn’t do anything for us (drivers). The govt hospitals in Sambalpur don’t even have doctors.”
Sambalpur has been the focal point of a long-standing demand for a separate bench of the Orissa High Court in the region. The lawyers’ agitation, which had been going on for decades, came to a sudden halt in 2022 following a violent turn of events and strong objections from Supreme Court.
Pradhan, a prominent OBC leader belonging to the Chasa caste, has consolidated support within the community, which has a significant presence in Sambalpur. In the previous election, Odisha witnessed a split voting pattern. For instance, in Bargarh, BJP failed to secure any of the seven assembly seats but managed to win the Lok Sabha seat. This time, BJP’s campaign strategy focuses on prioritising assembly seats and then targeting the Lok Sabha with the goal of achieving a “double engine” govt.

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