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|September 25, 1999||
Rebel BJP candidate may end up spoiling Satpathy's party
M I Khan
As the bara (a food item) is the most sought after fast food in this industrial town, rebel Bharatiya Janata leader Rudranarayan Pani is no less popular than the bara which has earned its place in the people's hearts.
These days, at any restaurant and any sweetmeat shop, bara along with pani, meaning water in Hindi, is the topic of discussion. As a natural turnaround, the official candidate of the BJD-BJP alliance, Tathagat Satpathy, who represented the seat in the 12th Lok Sabha as a BJD MP, faces an uncertain future with Pani's presence in the fray, which could help the Congress candidate K P Singh Deo by eating into the non-Congress votes.
A famous bara-maker Trilochan Sahu says, "We are confused over whom to support, Pani or Satpathy, because both claim to help Vajpayee become the next prime minister."
Everywhere, the people give the impression that a tough choice is facing them. A paan shopkeeper in Angul was reluctant to declare his support: "It is difficult to predict till date who will win or lose." Even after the completion of campaigning on September 23, it is difficult to assess the popular standing of Vajpayee's official and non-official candidates.
But the BJP-BJD alliance is in trouble thanks to the open support extended by the local BJP workers and leaders to Pani.
"Pani's candidature has made the task easy for Singh Deo," say Congress workers in the Gondia assembly segment. It is a seat the Congress is expected to win easily, no wonder then, the scion of the royal house of Dhenkanal is going around with a wide grin.
Even if Pani wins over one-fourth of the non-Congress votes, it will help the Congress in a big way. Despite Vajpayee appealing in his public meeting in Angul to support Satpathy and not Pani, it is felt that the call will have been wasted, so deep is Pani's hold over the constituency.
Further, almost the entire saffron brigade is backing Pani instead of Satpathy.
There are those who feel that the Vajpayee wave may upset Pani who is asking votes in the prime minister's name. Pani's presence has made the constituency the target of speculation in the vernacular media as well as in political circles, the question being whether the Vajpayee wave will help Patni or not.
However, Singh Deo's campaign managers feel since Dhenkanal is a traditional stronghold of the party, and also given his popularity here, it will certainly help the party increase its victory margin.
"We were sure to wrest the seat this time because the people were fed up with Satpathy who failed to do anything for the constituency, but Pani's presence has made this task easier," they added.
Like Singh Deo, Pani is also highlighting the neglect of the constituency by Satpathy.
Going around this constituency, from Gondia to Angul and Dhenkanal town, one gets the impression that Satpathy is desperately trying to project himself as Vajpayee's candidate. His supporters are optimistic that whenever there is an anti-Congress wave or a wave in favour of others, the Congress has lost the election here, as it did in 1977 and 1989.
But they overlook the fact that they were both one-to-one contests, unlike the triangular contest this time.
Congress workers are confident the Congress will sail smoothly since the party has always come on top whenever it has faced a triangular contest.
In the last Lok Sabha election Satpathy defeated Singh Deo by 32,506 votes. Going by Pani's mass appeal and his personal contacts, which have already placed him ahead of the BJP's official candidate, the slender margin is not going to hold up this time.
"How can we betray Pani who has built the party network here? This election will prove who is popular, Satpathy or Pani," a BJP worker in Dhenkanal said.
"It is difficult for us to decide and back any one of them," said Bhajman Patnaik in Angul town. Like Patnaik, thousands of voters are in a dilemma which is bound to help the Congress a great deal.
Pani knows well enough that he may not win the election, but at least he will prove his mass base by getting more votes than the BJP's official candidate.
Although the state BJP leaders are not supporting Pani here, it is said that their tacit support -- they are not campaigning in favour of Satpathy either -- indicates the belief in BJP circles that Pani is an asset for the future.
There is a common trait between both Singhdeo and Satpathy here. If 'raja' Singh Deo has his loyal subjects, Satpathy also enjoys a strong family base as the son of former Congress chief minister Nandini Satpathy who represented the Gondia assembly seat.
Singh Deo, who has won four times from here, is all set to prove that the Congress fort is intact. In the 12 general elections so far, the party has won eight times from here, and the Congress also currently represents all the seven assembly segments in the state assembly.
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