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Battle of Bijepur: Only Congress fields own Candidate

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ONI Bureau: The Congress is back. And, it took the right decision by fielding Pranaya Sahu, Vice Chairman of Gaisilat block, for the Bijepur bypoll. Everyone believes Congress is down and out and today’s decision won’t make any difference. But, as we know politics is a peculiar game. And, you never know what happens next.

The Congress gave importance to Pranaya Sahu ahead of former MLA Ripunath Setha, who had won from Bijepur in 1995. Rahul Gandhi wanted to experiment with the young blood instead of going with the veterans.

The silver lining for the Congress is it has chosen its own candidate, while both BJD and BJP, which consider Bijepur as a prestige battle, have fielded imported candidates, triggering dissidence within the party. BJD has poached Rita Sahu, wife of late Subal Sahu. And, BJP has embraced disgruntled BJD leader Ashok Panigrahi, making him its official candidate. Ashok had won Bijepur in 2000.

Although Congress Party has been on a decline in Bijepur since 2009, its candidate Subal Sahu thwarted all challenges to win the seat in 2004, 2009 and 2014. His untimely demise in August 2017, necessitated the bypoll. In 2004, Congress got 53.97% vote share, followed by 40.91% in 2009 and 32.15% in 2014. The rise of BJP has made a dent in its vote share.

However, it’s believed that the party still has around 25% core voters in Bijepur constituency, who may not change their mind. If Congress garners even 5% more votes, it could be a game changer. As Pranaya belongs to Gaisilat and strong organisation there, he will have an edge there. But, votes in Barpali will be mostly divided between two candidates, as both Rita Sahu and Ashok Panigrahi belong to the block. Bijepur block could play a decisive role.

In 2014, Congress received 53,290 votes, while BJD got 52,832 votes. BJP candidate polled 30,001 votes. Ashok Panigrahi, as an Independent candidate, got 18,232 votes. BJP is hopeful of winning Bijepur on that calculation. The party believes it would add Ashok Panigrahi’s votes to its core vote bank. Similarly, BJD believes it would get majority of Congress votes by fielding Subal Sahu’s widow Rita Sahu. But, will both parties achieve their objectives?

The ‘Battle of Bijepur’ has turned interesting now. While BJD and BJP are confident of winning, the Congress, which started late, could emerge as a dark horse to take advantage from the bitter fight between both parties. The focus is not on Congress now. And, that could help them rebuild, regroup and reinvent themselves.

Note: Bijepur would go to polls on February 24. Counting will be held on February 28.

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