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|February 25, 1998|
Bickering in Bolangir royal clan may hurt BJP chances
M I Khan in Bolangir
The hugely impressive Sonia Gandhi rally on February 18 appears to have taken some of the wind out of the Bharatiya Janata Party sails, and redirected it into the flagging Congress campaign in this perennially drought prone constituency.
The Sonia factor's impact is underlined by the fact that neither of the top BJP draws, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Kishinchand Advani, has found time to visit the area. Thus, the prevailing pro-BJP mood, party insiders fear, may be diluted to some extent at least in the rural regions.
Advani did address a rally in neighbouring Kalahandi a day earlier -- and drew half the crowd that flocked to the Sonia rally. Leading local observers to infer that the mood was swinging in favour of the Congress.
The locals appear to share in this perception. "There was a real saffron wave here, but after Sonia's rally it is the Congress that is on the upswing," says Jatin Das of Damaul village near Sonepur, about 35 kms from Bolangir town.
A tour of several villages spread across the constituency indicate that, unlike other constituencies in the western Orissa belt, there is electricity in the air here as polling day approaches. Bolangir town is plastered with banners and posters of both contending parties, and increasingly, the seat is being seen as a prestige fight.
In Bolangir, it is sitting MP Sarat Patnaik of the Congress versus Sangeeta Singhdeo of the BJP, and the latter party is pinning its hopes on the scion of the erstwhile ruling house of Bolangir to open the party's account in the state.
The biggest handicap for Singhdeo, however, is the fact that local MLA and party colleague A U Singhdeo appears inimical to her candidature. The grouse, as always, appears to be candidate selection -- members of the MLA's camp argue that in 1996, he had gone down to Patnaik by a mere 11,000 votes and thus, it was he rather than Sangeeta Singhdeo who deserved a shot at the seat this time.
Interestingly, both the Singhdeos are related to each other.
"The decades-old political rivalry within the Bolangir royal family will have a bearing on the outcome of the election," predicts a farmer of Deoga village.
Patnaik for his part is taking full advantage of the confusion within the BJP ranks. "The tribals and the Harijans are with us, and a section of the forward class votes are also coming to us thanks to the infighting within the BJP," the former state Youth Congress chief asserts.
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