Ahead of urban polls, BJD has a rebel problem; many suspended

FRESH from a record-breaking win in the recently concluded three-tier rural elections, the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) faces a fresh challenge ahead of the urban local body (ULB) polls — rebels.

With elections to 109 ULBs in Odisha scheduled to be held on March 24, the party has suspended around 50 of its members so far. While the official statement by the party does not specify the reason for any of the suspensions, most among those who have been suspended had filed nominations as Independent candidates for the ULB polls.

According to party sources, for days ahead of the nomination withdrawal deadline, the rebels had been persuaded to withdraw their candidatures and support the party’s official candidates. Over the last week, those who did not pay heed were either served suspension notices or removed from party posts. The list of suspended members include Mamata Sahu and Banaja Mohanty of Ward no-41 under the Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation (BMC), and Manojit Das, former state unit president of the Biju Yuva Janata Dal, among others.

Arjun Behera, a former BJP leader who shifted to the BJD ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha and Assembly elections, was suspended from the post of Bhubaneswar organisational district secretary. Arjun had fielded his wife as an Independent candidate from Ward no-37 of the BMC. “I don’t think there was anything wrong in fielding my wife as an Independent candidate. This was for the betterment of my ward. The suspension is unwarranted,” Behera said.

Terming the suspensions as disciplinary action, party spokesperson Lenin Mohanty said, “Discipline is the core value of our party. Candidates are finalised by the party after much deliberation. Once the party has decided who will contest an election, if there are people who go against that, the party will have to act.”

The party also claimed that the rebel candidates won’t affect its chances in the elections. “Their candidature will not have any impact because people are with the party and with Naveen Patnaik,” clarified BJD MLA Amar Prasad Satpathy.

Party leaders admit in private that while the rebels won’t affect the results, their presence is likely to impact the vote share. In Bhubaneswar alone, over 20 leaders have been suspended while nine have been suspended from Cuttack. “The party is sure to win the elections but if there are Independent candidates from within the party, it will definitely affect the vote share, which is a concern. This is why the party tried to convince the Independent candidates to withdraw their nomination,” a senior BJD leader said.

A BJD leader who withdrew his nomination said on condition of anonymity, “I was hoping to contest the elections but I did not get a ticket, so I decided to contest as an Independent. But we have our loyalties towards the party and so I eventually withdrew my nomination.”

The BJD won a record 766 zilla parishad seats out of the total 853 in last month’s rural elections. By winning 60 per cent more seats than what it had won in 2017 (473), the BJD is set to form zilla parishads (ZP) in all the 30 districts of Odisha — an unprecedented feat in the history of the three-tier panchayat elections in the state. The BJD also secured 52.73 per cent votes, the highest vote share it has had in any election in the state.

Meanwhile, the state unit of the BJP too suspended 12 members for “anti-party activities and violating party discipline”.

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