Desperate Srikant skips rest of Odisha to save Baleswar seat

Union minister Srikant Jena, who was recently appointed campaign committee chief of the Congress for Odisha, appears to have suddenly gone off the radar. Not only was his name missing from the list of star campaigners of his party submitted to the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) here, he was conspicuously missing at the release of the party manifesto here today.

More ominously for him, his photograph was missing from the cover of the Congress manifesto, which has pictures of PCC president Jayadev Jena and even Surendra Singh Bhoi, who was appointed the Leader of the Congress Legislature Party barely a month ago. “The photograph of Bhoi is in the manifesto since he is the Legislature party leader,” said PCC president by way of an explanation without explaining Jena’s absence on the manifesto cover as well as the function organised at the Congress Bhavan here for its release.

In yet another indication of his absence from major party events in the state, he was nowhere to be seen at the election meetings of AICC Vice-president Rahul Gandhi in Koraput and Nabarangpur districts on March 31. Party leaders are not sure whether he will attend the meeting of party supremo Sonia Gandhi at Khariar in Nuapada district on Saturday either. According to party sources, Jena is busy setting his own house in order in Baleswar Lok Sabha constituency where he faces an uphill task this time with two formidable opponents – from BJD and and BJP.

Since the squabbling in the Congress party has spilled over into the open in the district, the senior Congress leader is pulling out all stops to retain his seat. While the stock of Nilagiri MLA and BJP Lok Sabha candidate Pratap Sarangi is growing gradually, the BJP has planned a rally of Narendra Modi in the constituency, which is going to polls in the second phase.

This apart, Trinamool Congress, BSP, CPI, AAP and three independent candidates are also in the fray in the Balasore Lok Sabha seat. Though the rivals are new, the Union Minister has been faced with a host of problems. Former Balasore MP and senior Congress leader Kartikeswar Patra is this time a TMC candidate. BJD’s Rabindra Jena is also the nephew of Chintamani Jena, who was an MP from Balasore Lok Sabha seat for two terms in a row in 1980 and 1984.

TMC candidate Kartikeswar Patra and his former MLA wife Umarani Patra have a significant influence in Bhograi, Basta and Jaleswar assembly segments. Patra as a TMC candidate could eat into a sizable Congress vote.

TMC has also decided to requisition the services of its party supremo and Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and mega star Mithun Chakraborty during the electioneering. Baleswar has a sizable Bengali community.

“The campaign committee chief is not interested to go anywhere to canvass for votes for other candidates. We are only waiting for the central leaders, who have little time for us as they have to campaign across the country. Now, we are campaigning on our own as we have no option,” said a despondent Congress candidate.

The All India Congress Committee (AICC), which has released a list of star campaigners for the state, has kept its Lok Sabha and assembly candidates out of the list. It has picked former OPCC president Niranjan Patnaik, Rajya Sabha member Ranjib Biswal, former minister Kanhu Charan Lenka, Rama Chandra Khuntia, Rama Chandra Rath and Bijayalaxmi Sahoo from Odisha as star campaigners.

However, they are confused over their campaigning since the PCC has not made any programme schedule for them to campaign in which districts and areas.

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