Allegations of rigging haunt Odisha CM: BJP likely to emerge as principal Opposition
by Ashok B Sharma on 02 May 2014 0 Comment

Naveen Patnaik may be sure of bouncing back to power as Chief Minister of Odisha for the fourth time in succession and win a good number of seats in the Lok Sabha for his party, but he is equally worried about the possibility of his tally declining as compared to the 2009 polls. A desperate move by the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) workers to garner more seats for the ruling party led to instances of booth capturing and alleged tampering of electronic voting machines (EVMs). The Election Commission has ordered re-polling in six booths of Niali Assembly segment under Jagatsinghpur Lok Sabha constituency, two booths in Keonjhar and one booth in Kendrapara Lok Sabha constituency.


In 2009, Naveen Patnaik’s BJD won 103 seats in the 147-member Assembly, an increase of 42 seats after it parted ways with its 10-year old ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). It also managed to get 14 out of 21 Lok Sabha seats in the State. The numbers ensured the Chief Minister a comfortable position and helped him to abort a coup staged by his one-time advisor, Pyari Mohan Mahapatra, who could not master enough support to form a breakaway group either.


With a view to increase his tally in the current polls in the Assembly and Lok Sabha, Naveen Patnaik poached on key leaders of the Congress, such as the Congress Legislative Party (CLP) leader Bhupinder Singh, Nayagarh district Congress president Hemendra Singh, senior leaders like Kamala Das, CLP secretary Anup Kumar Sai and Mema Gamang, wife of former Congress Chief Minister Girdhar Gamang.


But despite Patnaik’s claims of increasing the BJD’s tally in the current elections, several opinion poll surveys point to the decline in party’s strength, though not enough to deny him the chief ministership. Even the increase which the BJD is aspiring to is only marginal. The party vice president Kalpataru Das has said on record that BJD would get at least 105 seats in the Assembly and increase its tally in the Lok Sabha from 14 to 17.


As the Congress has become weak due to infighting and the desertion of key leaders, there are chances that the BJP might increase its strength due to anti-incumbency at some places and the “Modi factor”. If the BJP increases its strength to at least 26 in the 147-member assembly, it would gain the status of a recognised Opposition party. BJP had a strength of 32 in the Assembly in 2004 and slipped to 6 in 2009.


BJP also expects gain four Lok Sabha seats at the expense of BJD. “The results of the 2014 general elections in Odisha will surprise both the BJD and the Congress. BJP will perform better than our expectation. Modi wave would help the party win in 13 coastal districts also,” says BJP state unit president KV Singdeo.


Naveen Patnaik’s worry is not about the chief ministership, but about retaining his numbers. High voter turn-out in the two-phased simultaneous Lok Sabha and Assembly elections at 74% against 65.3% in 2009 has added to his worries as large number of young voters, particularly first-time voters, are keen on change. Women voters have outnumbered men in tribal dominated Kandhamal and Gajapati districts. In at least four out of 13 Assembly segments in Ganjam district, the turnout of women was more. This was also reported in Phulbani Assembly constituency, G Udayagiri and Baliguda reserved constituencies.        


Both the Congress and the BJP have alleged rigging at various places. “Tall claims of having conducted free and fair elections in Odisha are hollow and misleading. There was large-scale rigging at many places through BJD-bureaucrat nexus”, Odisha Pradesh Congress Committee President Jayadeb Jena alleged.


Jena has alleged that the ruling BJD government not only used its power and machinery, but also indulged in rampant use of money and muscle power. He has alleged gross irregularities, manipulations and rigging in 101 booths in Ghasipura Assembly segment in Keonjhar district and EVMs found in the vehicles of Government officials and those associated with the election process in Mahakalpada, Baripada and Bhubaneswar (central) which expose the evil designs and nexus with the ruling party. He cited the example of Kamakshyanagar Assembly segment in Dhenkanal district and alleged that the sub-collector had entered the strong room. There are also doubts about free and fair elections in Mayurbhanj district.


Congress also alleged rigging in at least 16 places in Ganjam district’s Chikiti bloc during the first phase of polls in April 10.


Responding to the allegations, the Election Commission suspended college teacher Ganeshwar Jena and initiated a probe against him after TV footage showed alleged rigging during the April 17 election. Four other polling officials who were at the same station are also being probed. A criminal case has been lodged against five polling agents at the same centre.


Sensing the possibility of irregularities, the Election Commission shifted three district magistrates and a DIG rank police officer from their places of posting before the first phase of polls on April 10. There were instances of violence after the second phase of polls in Kendrapada district. A mob allegedly assaulted Block Development Officer SK Pati after finding 28 pairs of EVMs in a government vehicle parked near his residence; his home was also ransacked. It is now for the Election Commission to clear these issues of alleged rigging and irregularities.

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