Puri Lok Sabha Elections 2024: Can BJP’s Sambit Patra Wrest the High-Profile Seat in Take 2?

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BJP candidate Sambit Patra dances with a local during his poll campaign for Lok Sabha elections, in Puri on April 29, 2024. (PTI)

BJP candidate Sambit Patra dances with a local during his poll campaign for Lok Sabha elections, in Puri on April 29, 2024. (PTI)

Voters on the ground say Sambit Patra has always been available for them since 2019, despite the fact that he had lost the election. There is broad appreciation of the fact that Patra was the de-facto MP of Puri despite losing the election, and that he was more approachable and rooted to the ground than BJD’s Pinaki Mishra who won the seat

Puri Lok Sabha Constituency is one of the 21 parliamentary constituencies in Odisha. It is spread over parts of Puri, Khurda and Nayagarh districts. The Lok Sabha constituency has the following assembly segments under it: Puri (BJP), Brahmagiri (BJP), Satyabadi (BJD), Pipili (BJD), Chilika (BJD), Ranpur (BJD) and Nayagarh (BJD).

Current MP: Pinaki Mishra (BJD)

Top Contenders: Sambit Patra (BJP), Arup Patnaik (BJD)

Date of Polling: May 25, 2024 (Phase VI)

Political Dynamics

  • BJP Dominates Puri, Sambit Patra Emerges as Favourite: The BJP was confident it could win the prestigious Puri Lok Sabha constituency in 2019. As one of the most important pilgrimage sites for Hindus which is one among the four Dhams, Puri houses Sri Jagannath – who is the life and soul of Odisha. The BJP gave its best shot and tried to defeat the BJD in the previous general election as well. However, it fell short and its candidate, the well-known spokesperson Sambit Patra, was defeated by a margin of about 11,000 votes by BJD’s Pinaki Mishra.
  • However, Sambit Patra did not take the defeat to heart. Considering it a part of Sri Jagannath’s plan for him, Sambit Patra stayed back in Puri after the electoral loss started nurturing the constituency. Over the past five years, Sambit Patra doubled down on efforts in the constituency despite losing the election. It is no surprise, therefore, that the BJP has once again entrusted him with the task of winning Puri.
  • Over the past five years, Sambit Patra’s graph of both popularity and likability has shot up in a rather dramatic fashion across Puri LS. He is now a household name, and it is quite difficult to come across a person who does not know Sambit Patra. The BJP candidate ensured that he used the whole of five years since 2019 to forge personal relationships with the voters of Puri. As a result, he is now a frontrunner in the fight here, and the BJP is expected to register a spectacular victory from the constituency this time. In 2019, the BJP had increased its vote share in Puri by a whopping 25%.
  • Voters on the ground say Sambit Patra has always been available for them since 2019, despite the fact that he had lost the election. There is broad appreciation of the fact that Patra was the de-facto MP of Puri despite losing the election, and that he was more approachable and rooted to the ground than the man who won the election – Pinaki Mishra.
  • Sambit Patra is now in a position to win Puri on his own accord. However, adding further armour to his campaign is the Modi Factor – which is quite visible not just in Puri, but across Odisha. This, for the BJD, is proving to be a lethal combination to challenge.
  • Sambit Patra has also become the first political leader to release his report card ahead of the election in Puri. This report card highlights all the work he has done in the constituency over the past five years, despite not being its MP. According to the report card, Puri has witnessed significant infrastructure growth in national highway expansion and railway services. Expansion of postal services, lighting facility at the mouth of Chilika lake, extension of financial assistance under different schemes to farmers, weavers, fishermen and women self-help groups are the other noticeable initiatives Sambit Patra claims to have delivered on.
  • Interestingly, it seems Sambit Patra was informed that he would be fielded from Puri LS months before the election dates were announced. He has been on the ground, actively engaging in door-to-door campaigning for months now. That in itself has given him a very significant lead over the BJD.
  • BJD’s Time Up? The BJD barely managed to retain Puri Lok Sabha constituency in 2019. One would assume that given its slender margin of victory, the party, and particularly the MP of Puri, Pinaki Mishra would double down in their efforts to reach out to voters and consolidate their position. However, Pinaki Mishra is seen largely as an absent MP, which is among the prime reasons why the voters of Puri are expected to vote for Sambit Patra en masse this time around.
  • The BJD’s campaign is neither as aggressive and visible, nor as luring as the BJP’s this election. Given the voters’ displeasure against sitting MP Pinaki Mishra, the BJD has dropped him and fielded former IPS officer Arup Patnaik from the constituency instead. Arup, who has served as Commissioner of Police in Mumbai, joined the BJD in April 2018 and currently heads the party’s social welfare wing, Odisha-Mo Parivar.
  • Arup Patnaik is relying largely on the BJD’s government’s developmental work in Puri, apart from Naveen Patnaik’s charisma – or whatever remains of it. Among the most prominently highlighted initiative in the BJD’s campaign is the redevelopment of the area surrounding the Jagannath Puri Mandir. BJD has remodelled the parikrama route and corridor of Jagannath Mandir, which was inaugurated in January.
  • While people are appreciative of the redevelopment, it may not be enough for the BJD to win the Lok Sabha constituency. The BJP, in the voters’ minds, has delivered and can deliver a lot more in terms of development. To add to BJD’s woes, while Sambit Patra is an excellent orator who does not shy away from flaunting his Hindutva credentials, the BJD and its candidate have no such assets to rely on. Even Naveen Patnaik, it appears, is beginning to lose his shine due to age progression. The BJD, simply put, is not being able to captivate voters like it used to.
  • There is also a significant chunk of the electorate in Puri which is angry with the BJD government, since its temple redevelopment and beautification plans have displaced several families. Houses and buildings in a radius of 200 metres from the Mandir were demolished during the redevelopment, and this has angered quite a few voters in Puri.
  • Some political observers and analysts on the ground have also suggested that the BJD should be wary of internal sabotage, which would further hurt its prospects not just in the Puri Lok Sabha seat, but the assembly segment as well. In 2019, while the BJD won the parliamentary seat, it lost the Puri assembly segment to the BJP. Now, Naveen Patnaik is determined to win the seat back, but it has an uphill battle at hand.

Key Issues

  • Drinking Water: Residents of Krushnaprasad, Brahmagiri, and Astaranga areas in Puri district face a persistent shortage of drinking water. This issue has become a focal point for the upcoming elections.
  • In Krushnaprasad, despite a drinking water project being announced under the Basudha scheme in 2018 and a foundation stone laid by the Chief Minister, the project remains incomplete, leaving residents with ongoing water scarcity.
  • Similarly, a drinking water project intended to serve 59 villages in Brahmagiri, launched in 2011, has also stalled, leaving machinery unused and construction deteriorating. In Astaranga, the lack of progress in addressing the drinking water problem has fuelled resentment among residents.
  • Corruption: Corruption is a prevalent issue in Puri, with allegations of widespread irregularities in various government programs.
  • In the Motari Panchayat of Delang, PDS articles like rice and wheat are still being withdrawn in the names of over 30 deceased individuals. Similar concerns have been raised about corruption in old-age pensions, Biju Pucca Ghar, and Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana schemes, fuelling public anger.
  • In Gandapada village, PDS articles are also being withdrawn in the names of over 30 deceased individuals at the Fair Price Shop.
  • Pest control: There has been a significant increase in rodent activity within the Jagannath temple. The number of rodents, which grew significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic when devotee visits were restricted, has resulted in damage to the attires of the deities Jagannath, Balabhadra, and Subhadra.
  • Servitors and priests have expressed concern that the rodents could potentially damage the wooden idols. The rodents also disrupt rituals by consuming flower offerings and nibbling on the deities’ attire.
  • While the rodents are a nuisance within the sanctum sanctorum, servitors are prohibited from killing or poisoning them inside the temple.
  • Puri Heritage Corridor Project: The Odisha government’s Rs 3,200-crore Puri Heritage Corridor Project aims to redevelop Puri into an international heritage site, including the 800-year-old Jagannath temple.
  • In February 2022, excavation work for public amenities began within 75 metres of the temple, sparking concerns about potential damage to the 12th-century structure. Questions regarding the necessary permissions for construction around the temple were raised by the people and the opposition.
  • The temple is a centrally protected monument under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (Amendment and Validation) Act (AMSAR). While the Act prohibits construction within 100 metres of a protected area, it exempts public conveniences and utilities.
  • However, an impact assessment was required for developments surrounding monuments with a built-up area exceeding 5,000 square metres, a threshold the Jagannath temple surpasses. In March 2022, a resident filed a petition with the Orissa High Court, expressing concerns about the temple’s structural safety due to the excavation. The issue was also raised in Parliament, with allegations of illegal construction and demands for its stoppage.
  • Tourism Development: The city attracts a significant number of tourists daily, ranging from 50,000 to 100,000. However, despite its tourism potential, development of civic and tourist amenities has been insufficient. This has resulted in a lack of progress in transforming the city into a hub for spiritual tourism.
  • While state leaders have repeatedly promised to leverage the city’s tourism potential, concrete actions to achieve this have been limited. This lack of development has led to disappointment among residents, who believe that the city’s tourism strength is not being fully realised, hindering the region’s economic growth.
  • Unemployment and Emigration: Unemployment is a significant challenge in Puri. The lack of major industrial hubs, manufacturing clusters, or IT centres in the region limits employment opportunities for the growing youth population.
  • As a result, many young people are migrating to urban centres in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu in search of work. Reports indicate that a considerable number of households are affected by this outmigration.
  • Waste Management: The city of Puri is experiencing a growing waste management problem. Urbanisation has led to an increase in solid waste generation, exceeding the capacity of the existing infrastructure. This has resulted in a decline in the city’s environmental quality, contributing to the spread of diseases like dengue and malaria.
  • Despite residents expressing their concerns to local authorities, garbage continues to accumulate on the streets, creating an unpleasant odour for both residents and tourists.
  • Floods: Floods have been a recurrent issue for the residents of Puri and across the state. The story is same every monsoon season. In 2022, around 1.5 lakh people from 201 villages under 55 Gram Panchayats in Puri district were heavily impacted as water entered their homes.
  • The same issue repeated itself in August 2023, when floods in Mahanadi River system left at least 1.20 lakh people stranded in 762 villages of 15 districts and 66 wards of 17 urban local bodies in Odisha.
  • This causes massive strain on the people who have to reconvene their life every year after losses caused due to floods. The government does award compensation to the victims, however, it sometimes isn’t enough.

Voter Demographics

  • Total Voters: 15,62,331
  • SC: 16.8%
  • ST: 2.7%
  • Hindu: 96.9%
  • Muslim: 2.6%

Infrastructure Development

  • Jagannath Heritage Corridor Project: Inaugurated by Naveen Patnaik in January this year, it was completed at a cost of Rs. 943 crore. It includes a 75-metre corridor around the temple boundary, a green buffer zone, pedestrian-only circumambulation, a reception centre for 6,000 devotees, a cultural centre, library, Jagannath Ballav pilgrim centre, and multi-level car parking.
  • Shree Setu: It is a 2.8-kilometre bypass stretch in the city which will lead people coming in from Bhubaneswar and Brahmagiri directly to a multi-level parking spot. This will help reduce visitors’ travel time by up to an hour as they will be able to avoid the city traffic. It was built at a cost of Rs 200 crore. It is India’s first trumpet bridge and has been constructed on an area of 37 acres.
  • Shrimandir Parikrama: It is a 1.5 km walking path around the temple to deal with the rising footfall of worshippers and provide a 360 coverage of the temple for the devotees.
  • Widening of Bada Danda Road: The grand road (bada danda) leading to the Jagannath temple has been widened to 75 metres. This expansion, intended to accommodate the large crowds during the Rath Yatra procession, includes the installation of street lights and street furniture along the sides of the road.
  • International Airport: The Sri Jagannath International Airport will be constructed near Sipasarubali in Puri district. It is being built at a cost of Rs 2,203 crore and will have a passenger capacity of 4.6 million per year.
  • Railway Infrastructure: Platforms were provided at Birapurusottapur, Kalupapadaghat, Malatipatpur, Sakhigopal stations. The station building at Sakhigopal was rebuilt, and one bay platform shelter each at Balugaon and Chilika stations were added. Signboards were provided at Puri station to guide passengers, and waiting hall amenities were provided at Kalupapadaghat and Puri stations. Wi-Fi was provided at Puri, Malatipatpur, Delang, Birapurusottapur and Sakhigopal stations.
  • Additional six bays of platform shelters were added at Puri station. Train no 18117 Rourkela Bhubaneswar Rajyarani Express was extended to Gunupur and stoppage provided at Balugaon. Train no 22809 Paradeep Visakhapatnam having stoppage at Balugaon. Train no 22974 Puri Gandhidham Express having stoppages at Sakhigopal and Balugaon stations.

Explore in-depth coverage of Lok Sabha Election 2024 Schedule, Voter Turnout, Upcoming Phase And Much More At News18 Website

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