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|September 30, 1999||
Supine Congress has Naveen Patnaik comfortably ahead
Steel and Mines Minister and Biju Janata Dal President Naveen Patnaik is all set to keep his late father's flag fly high in this sugarcane belt of coastal Orissa. This is the second time he is contesting from here on the BJD ticket.
Biju Patnaik had won the seat on the Janata Dal ticket. The All India Congress Committee had tried its best to persuade many, including those who had won the seat earlier, to challenge Naveen Patnaik this time. But every one refused on one pretext or the other. Internal differences are said to be the main reason, which the Pradesh Congress Committee does not want to admit.
The differences could be gauged from the fact that in 26 of the 31 panchayats of Aska, the opposition is ''Congress versus Congress.'' Ultimately, the Congress left it to the CPI to take on Patnaik. The Leftists have fielded Dhruti Krushna Panda, an old warhorse.
The Congress is not openly coming out in support of its ally, the CPI, here. The reported lack of coordination and mistrust could be the reasons. So far no Congress leader has visited the constituency to canvass support for Panda.
Aska Ramchandrapur and Nalabanta are two villages on the Berhampur-Aska road falling in the Aska assembly segment of this parliamentary constituency. ''It is because of sheer contempt for the leftists that the Congress and the BJD have neglected these two villages,'' complains a comrade. ''Under these circumstances, how can we expect any support for comrade Panda from the Congress grassroot workers?'' he asks.
In the seven assembly segments, the Congress and the BJD are evenly placed. The Congress has no leader in the Kodla segment. ''If a leader is found, the Congress can put up a stiff fight,'' Congress workers say. In his campaign speeches, Naveen Patnaik highlights the achievements of the Vajpayee government and promises to improve the lot of the people.
On its part, the CPI harps on the ''misrule'' of the National Democratic Alliance government, inflation and unemployment and non-fulfilment of promises made by the BJD last year.
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