Insight Bureau: For a long period, the Undivided Ganjam District was controlled by the Congress Party. Neither Janata Dal/BJD nor BJP could dominate the political situation there till 1996. However, the erstwhile Janata Dal managed to gain significantly under the leadership of late Biju Patnaik in the early 1990s.
Brahmapur Lok Sabha Seat was considered the safest for Congress, which was even chosen for then PM PV Narasimha Rao in 1996 and he won from it. The Telugu voters in Paralakhemundi area in the Gajapati District always voted for the Congress.
Things changed after 1996 following the entry of Naveen Patnaik. BJD (BJP gained there while in alliance with BJD) continues to grow and became invincible in Ganjam District whether Assembly Polls, Lok Sabha Polls, Urban Polls or Panchayat Polls. With CM leading from the front in Hinjili, things became much easier for the ruling party.
However, BJD has not been able to put up similar performance in Gajapati District. Except for Janata Dal (1990) and BJD (2009), ‘Battle of Gajapati’ was never easy for the party and they ended up on the losing side always. Their 2009 MLA K Narayan Rao is with BJP now and got elected to the Assembly in 2019.
In 2017 Zilla Parishad elections, BJD had won 5 Zones, while Congress got 6 Zones. The BJP which got 3 Zones, managed to bag the Zilla Parishad President’s post as it was reserved for the woman (Scheduled Caste) while Anita Rani Behera of the BJP was the lone candidate in the fray.
Things changed in 2022 with BJD’s General Secretary (Media Affairs) Manas Ranjan Mangaraj took the lead to boost BJD’s prospects in the region which was controlled by BJP MLA K Narayan Rao. He drew the first blood by inducting two key BJP leaders Anita Rani Behera (Zilla Parishad President) and G.Venkat Ravana (Former District BJP President) into BJD in February 2022 just a few days before the elections, which was a major setback for the saffron party.
Banking on CM Naveen Patnaik’s rising popularity and support received from BJD’s Organisational Secretary Pranab Prakash Das, Manas Mangaraj spent considerable amount of time to revamp the BJD’s organisational structure in Gajapati and quell dissidence within the party. Other senior leaders from undivided Ganjam District extended full support to him.
Hi-Tech Group Chairman Tirupati Pangirahi, who was “betrayed” by the Congress in 2019, but secured 37,080 votes as an Independent Candidate and pushed BJD to third position, was a key factor. He helped the BJD to gain significantly in the entire Gajapati district. That was a masterstroke by the BJD Strategists to take Tirupati in. His Son Engineer Rupesh Panigrahi, who is seen as a future leader of the party, canvassed for BJD extensively.
The efforts of BJD Strategists bore fruit, as the party won 11 out of 14 Zilla Parishad Zones, securing overwhelming majority. The Congress managed to get 2 seats, followed by BJP (1).
With a spectacular win in the Panchayat Polls, BJD has now started preparations for the upcoming Urban Local Body Polls in the district and expects to repeat the same performance, sounding the bugle for 2024 Assembly Elections.