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Battle lines drawn for Orissa polls

April 17, 2004 17:51 IST

With three days to go for the first phase of Lok Sabha and assembly elections in Orissa, an uncertain five-party alliance led by the Congress is preparing to face the might of the ruling Biju Janata Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party coalition.

On April 20 the hilly terrains of south and west comprising 11 Lok Sabha and 77 assembly constituencies will go into polls.

There are 54 candidates in fray in the 11 Lok Sabha seats and 417 aspirants in the 77 assembly constituencies.

Elections to the remaining 10 parliamentary and 70 assembly constituencies are scheduled for April 26. This is the first time since 1971 that simultaneous elections are being held in the state.

While the BJD-BJP leaders had gone out into the districts seeking the support of the electorate, the Congress kick started their campaign from Puri, where Deputy Prime minister Lal Kishenchand Advani ended his Rath Yatra on Wednesday.

Besides, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had also campaigned in the state for a day addressing two meetings at Keonjhar and Bhubaneswar.

Several film stars, including Vinod Khanna, Hema Malini, Dara Singh and Vijayashanti also addressed meetings in Orrissa providing colour to the listless electioneering.

But except Pradesh Congress Committee president J B Patnaik and All India Congress Committee leader Digvijay Singh, who are leading the party's campaign along with alliance partners Communist Party of India, Communist Party of India (Marxist), Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and Orissa Gana Parishad, none of the senior leaders of the Congress have come to the state till date.

AICC chief Sonia Gandhi, who had held a 'road show' in coastal Orissa over a month ago, is scheduled to address three election meetings at Jeypore, Nuapada and Jharsuguda on Sunday, the day electioneering comes to an end for the first phase.

Campaigners point out the low-key campaign so far was because of the intense heat prevailing in many parts of the state. Reports say that the campaign was picking up only in the evening but comes to an abrupt end at 10 pm due to the Election Commission's instructions.     

In the tribal Sundargarh Lok Sabha seat, Union Minister for Tribal Affairs and BJP leader Jual Oram is facing veteran Congress leader and former MP Frida Topno. Oram is seeking a hat trick, having won the seat in the 1998 and 1999 polls.

At Koraput (ST) parliamentary constituency, former chief minister Giridhar Gamang is locked in a fierce battle with Mutika Papanna (BJD), a former judge of the Orissa high court.

Members of the dissolved Lok Sabha, Sangeeta Singh Deo faces his old rival and former PCC chief Sarat Patnaik, while Bikram Keshori Deo was battling Congress leader and former minister of state for railway Bhakta Charan Das.

BJD's Prasanna Acharya was facing a Congress greenhorn Sanjay Bhoi, the son of a former MP from the seat, Late Krupasindhu Bhoi.

Ten ministers in the Naveen Patnaik-led government also are in the fray for the first phase assembly polls.

They included Ananga Uday Singh Deo (Balangir), Mangala Kishan (Rajgangpur-ST), Ananda Acharya (Bargarh), Suryanarayan Patra (Mohana), Balabhadra Majhi (Narla-ST) and Rabinarayan Nanda (Jeypore) all of whom belonged to the BJD.

The four BJP ministers whose fate would be determined on April 20 are Kanak Vardhan Singh Deo (Patnagarh), Arabinda Dhali (Malkangiri-SC), Bimbadhar Kuanr (Bhatli-SC) and Himanshu Sekhar Meher (Junagarh).

A large number of rebels, who have entered the scene in over 100 assembly constituencies after being denied tickets either by the BJD, BJP or Congress, have threatened to queer the pitch for several party candidates.

Prominent among the rebels are former Union minister Bhajaman Behera, who is seeking election from the Dhenkanal Lok Sabha and Hindol (SC) assembly constituencies.

Behera, who was a BJD member and a member of the state planning board, is contesting as a Samajwadi Party candidate.

Former BJD leader Sachidananda Dalal, who was for sometime the leader of the opposition in the state assembly, is another prominent rebel seeking election from the Boudh assembly seat.

Meanwhile, security had been tightened in the Naxalite infested southern region with 25 companies of security forces deployed in the districts of Rayagada, Koraput, Malkangiri and Gajapati. Official sources said three helicopters were being pressed into service on the polling day to maintain surveillance over the region.


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