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|September 22, 1999||
A pineapple instead of a lotus
P Dev Kumar
Rudra Pani's election symbol is the pineapple -- a pineapple set against a background of saffron and green. Saffron and green are the colours of the Bharatiya Janata Party's flag and the pineapple is strategically located at the same spot as the lotus. All this, of course, is not coincidental.
Pani, former general secretary of the BJP's Orissa unit, quit the party a day before party president Shashikant 'Kushabhau' Thakre announced his expulsion for six years. The reason cited was indiscipline. His main rivals are Tathagat Satpathy of the Biju Janata Dal, a constituent of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance and K P Singh Deo of the Congress.
Tathagat had wrested the seat from Singh Deo in 1998. Now the presence of Pani whose enthusiastic supporters keep chanting ''Delhire Vajpayee Dhenkanal re Rudra bhai, Delhire Advani Dhenkanal re Rudra Pani'' (In Delhi, it is Vajpayee, in Dhenkanal it is Rudrabhai, in Delhi it is Advani, in Dhenkanal it is Rudrabhai) should be cause for concern for both the BJD and Congress camps.
His team of young volunteers make it a point to tour the constituency right from the crack of dawn in jeeps fitted with loud speakers extolling the qualities of their leader. Pani's banners, in saffron and green, are much more in evidence throughout the constituency than those of the BJD or Congress candidates.
Pani's main campaign point is the alleged neglect of the constituency by sitting MP Tathagat Satpathy. When this correspondent met Pani on the campaign trail, the 40-year-old slim, tall man said, ''When Vajpayeeji asked the electorate to vote for a clean person from the platform at Angul on Saturday, I was confident of winning.''
Satpathy, on his part, seems to be banking entirely upon the prime minister's charisma to see him through. Vajpayee had addressed an election meeting at Angul on September 18. Former chief minister and veteran Congress leader Nandini Satpathy, Tathagat's mother, was present at the meeting.
Dhenkanal has traditionally been a Congress bastion. Only in 1977 and 1989 did K P Singh Deo lose the seat to Debendra Satpathy (Bharatiya Lok Dal) and Bhajman Behera (Janata Dal) respectively. Singh Deo had his maiden victory in 1967 as a Swatantra Party candidate. He emerged victorious as a Congress candidate in the 1980, 1984, 1991 and 1996 elections. He was vanquished in 1998 by Tathagat Satpathy by more than 32,000 votes in a six-cornered contest. It was a sort of revenge for Tathagat who suffered defeat at K P Singh Deo's hands in 1991 by more than 41,000 votes.
According to political observers, Vajpayee's meeting at Angul and his appeal to the electorate to vote for Tathagat could upset Pani's calculations. The latter had been freely invoking the prime minister's name at his campaign meetings, stating he had the blessings of Vajpayee and other top BJP leaders.
A section of BJP leaders in the state was not in favour of holding an election meeting for Vajpayee at Angul and tried to get the venue changed. Pani, on his part, had threatened self-immolation at the venue to register his protest at being ignored during the nomination of candidates.
He was dissuaded from taking any drastic steps by the district administration and his well-wishers. Barring the district BJP president, no other senior party leaders were present at the Angul meeting. Partymen, however, claim the prime minister's visit has given a boost to Satpathy's campaign.
All the three candidates are touring the constituency extensively, holding panchayat level meetings and door-to-door canvassing. Local issues do not figure in the campaign. The foreigner issue also do not seem to bother anyone.
Meanwhile, the Congress camp is anticipating a division in the anti-Congress votes following Pani's entry into the scene. Also, Congress president Sonia Gandhi is to address a meeting here on the last day of the campaign on Thursday and this is expected to boost hers party's chances.
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