By Sandeep Sahu
The loudspeakers have fallen silent. The cacophony of the shrill, no-holds-barred bout of charges and counter-charges has now come to an end. After suffering the incessant onslaught of raucous electioneering for weeks, the eardrums of the people have finally got some respite. Bombarded with petitions by the contending parties accusing each other of electoral malpractice on a daily basis for close to a month now, Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Surendra Kumar would heave a sigh of relief tonight.
The thousands of outsiders, who had descended in the area like migratory birds, would finally go back to wherever they had come from. The people of Bijepur will hopefully get a good night’s sleep today as the longest running campaign in the electoral history of the state comes to an end.
Who will win Bijepur will be revealed only on February 28. Such has been the confusing signals coming out of Ground Zero that no one- neither those who actively participated in the campaign nor those who have been engaging in crystal gazing and indulging in heated arguments about the possible outcome in conversations and on social media while sitting far away from where the action – can say for sure which way the voters of Bijepur would tilt. But there is one thing that can be said with absolute certainty. The campaign for the high-stake by-election marked a new low in politics and provided a foretaste of what is in store in the next general elections.
What began with firing on a local BJP leader’s house on January 7 reached a nadir when footwear was thrown at Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik during a meeting in Kumbhari village on Tuesday. With accusations and counter accusations flying thick and fast from both sides, the truth about the real perpetrators of these two attacks would perhaps remain a matter of conjecture. But together, these two incidents provided ominous signs that Election 2019 (or whenever it takes place) would be the most bitter, vicious and abusive in the electoral history of the state. And though election fever in Bijepur would recede in the next few days, the countdown for the next elections has already begun.
Neither of the two main dramatis personae exactly covered themselves with glory during the campaign. Making a determined bid for victory in what it considers its own turf, the BJP threw all accepted norms of electioneering to the winds, marking a new low in state politics. Even if one were to gloss over the bizarre scene of actress Pinky Pradhan carrying a pitcherful of water while giving a running commentary on the water woes in the area as normal electoral drama, one just cannot ignore the party’s decision to have Rajeswari Kamila, who earned statewide notoriety for throwing eggs on Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s dais at a meeting in Talasari in Balasore, sitting by the side of Union minister and head of the BJP campaign Dharmendra Pradhan on the dais during a meeting – and even addressing the crowd.
In trying to present her as someone who had done something ‘heroic’, the saffron party may well have spoilt its book and laid itself open to the charge of a party that glorifies violence as a tool in electoral politics. Though it took place in faraway Bhubaneswar, the cow-dung attack on the house of Mr. VK Pandian, private secretary to the Chief Minister, was obviously undertaken with an eye on Bijepur and also fell in the same category of unacceptable political conduct. Pradhan rounded off his litany of charges against the ruling party by all but dubbing Labour Minister Sushant Singh a criminal and seeking his ouster from the area for the duration of the election on the last day of the campaign. If the BJP believes these tactics would win Bijepur for it, one shudders to think about what is in store in the period leading up to the next election.
On its part, the BJD too stooped rather low in countering the shrill BJP campaign, giving back as good as it got. While the police never really lifted the mystery over the gunshot attack on the house of BYJM leader Manoranjan Meher in Pada village, the needle of suspicion certainly pointed to the ruling party. The circumstances of the ‘chappal attack’ on the CM also suggest that the possibility of it being the handiwork of the ruling party to discredit the BJP is not all that fanciful. The party did not win any brownie points either for its decision to rush to the CEO with a complaint against a TV channel accusing it of carrying ‘paid news’ to influence the Bijepur vote in what was perhaps the first such act by any party in the state.
In sharp contrast to the below-the-belt attack on each other by the BJD and BJP, the Congress, which introduced the concept of ‘egg attack’ as a ‘legitimate’ political tool not so long ago, ran a remarkably low-key, restrained campaign shorn of vitriol. It was also the party that fielded one of its own rather than import turncoats from other parties like the other two major contenders.
No matter who wins Bijepur, however, the heat generated during electioneering is unlikely to die down after February 28, the counting day. If anything, things are certain to get hotter in the days ahead.