By Nageshwar Patnaik in Bhubaneswar, February 22, 2018: The high-voltage campaigning for the Bijepur by poll ended on Thursday with the ruling BJD and BJP leaving no stone unturned to win the assembly seat, which goes to poll on Saturday.

Both the parties have been trading rancorous charges against each other that include bribing voters, terrorizing the opposition party workers et all and had pitted star campaigners to win the battle of ballots.

On Saturday, the Baragarh police seized a consignment of Rs 40.5 lakh from Chhattisgarh, in denominations of Rs 500 and 2,000. BJD has claimed that one of the two people who were arrested has links with the VHP and Bajrang Dal, citing FIRs in the aftermath of the 2008 Kandhamal violence.

Even intelligence reports had indicated that hawala-like systems may be trying to launder significant amounts of money to influence voters in the upcoming bypoll in Odisha’s Bijepur.

In fact, the real fight here is the proxy war between chief minister Naveen Patnaik and BJP heavyweight and Union minister Dharmendra Pradhan as winning the Bijepur seat will help create a hype for the 2019 assembly polls.

Rita Sahu’s husband, Subal Sahu, a three-time Congress MLA of Bijepur in western Odisha’s Bargarh district, died of cancer in August last year, necessitating the bypoll. Barely months later, the CM chose her as the BJD candidate for the seat.

The BJP picked up Bijepur’s BJD MLA from 2000-2004, Ashok Panigrahi, who joined the BJP in October last year. The Congress, which held the seat in the 2014 poll virtually plays a poor third in the by-poll. The beleaguered party, which suffered maximum desertions in the run-up to the bypoll, has picked senior party leader Pranay Sahu as its candidate.

BJD has a near-invincible record in by polls since 2000, but the BJP had won 25 of the 34 zila parishad zones, while in Bijepur it won two of the three zones.

Buoyed by rural poll results, the BJP, which won just 10 assembly seats in the 2014 assembly polls, has mounted a sustained campaign to oust the BJD in the next elections. In fact, a BJD win will quell questions about four-time CM’s popularity, while a BJP win will establish Pradhan as a credible challenger,

For the BJD, the party supremo and chief minister Naveen Patnaik campaigned for the last three days. On Tuesday, a youth allegedly backed by the BJP hurled shoes at him at a road show in Bijepur assembly constituency in Baragarh district.

But that did not deter Naveen who made changes in his campaign strategy on the very next day by making unscheduled visits to certain pockets in Gaisilet and Bijepur blocks and directly interacted with the local people. After landing at Gaisilet, the CM visited Kalangpalli village where he mingled with the local people without any security accompanying him. At Barpalli also, Naveen ventured into certain colonies and interacted with the people.

“After the attack by BJP on CM Naveen Patnaik on Tuesday evening, he walked into the villages and spoke without mike and security directly to people. Residents of Kumbhari village where he was attacked on Tuesday have not taken food on account of this violent incident. They said he is only the second CM after Biju Patnaik to have visited them,” BJD spokesperson Sasmit Patra wrote on his Facebook timeline.

For BJP, several union ministers including Dharmendra Pradhan, Smruti Irani and Ram Kripal Yadav had gone for aggressive campaigning and targeted Naveen Patnaik for what they called ‘lack of development” in the region.

In fact there have been several pre-poll announcements by the BJD and BJP. While Naveen offered a drought package for 70 blocks, including Bijepur, a Rs 1,246-crore lift irrigation project, union petroleum and natural gas minister Pradhan has announced a Rs 750-crore ethanol plant in Bargarh.

Amid all the heated exchange of words by the party leaders and promises of development of the region, the voters appear to have been caught between devil and deep sea.

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