Former BJD MLA Ashok Kumar Panigrahi today formally joined the BJP, ahead of the ensuing by-elections in Bijepur assembly segment of Bargarh district. Panigrahi joined the saffron party at a public meeting attended by two Union ministers – Jual Oram and Dharmendra Pradhan, BJP’s Odisha in-charge Arun Singh and state BJP president Basant Panda. He was elected to the Odisha assembly from Bijepur segment in 2004 on a BJD ticket. Subsequently, the Bijepur seat was in the hands of Opposition Congress in 2004, 2009 and 2014 elections. The by-election is required at Bijepur after its sitting MLA and Congress leader Subal Sahu passed away in August this year.
Panigrahi was suspended from the regional party in 2014 after he contested the polls as an independent candidate at Bijepur seat, leading to the defeat of BJD’s official candidate Prasanna Acharya. For the upcomig by-elections, BJD supremo and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has given the ticket to Rita Sahu, the widow of former Congress MLA Sahu. The BJP is likely to field Panigrahi in the by-polls though it was yet to announce his name as candidate.
Reacting to Panigrahi joining the BJP, Patnaik said, “I think, it will have no impact on the electoral prospect of the BJD at Bijepur.” Patnaik has also announced that he would campaign for Rita Sahu. “BJD will emerge victorious in Bijepur by-poll; I will personally campaign there,” he told reporters. While addressing the gathering on the occasion of ‘Misran Parv’ (joining celebration), Union Tribal Affairs Minister Jual Oram accused the ruling BJD and Patnaik of luring Sahu’s family members with the aim to capture the Bijepur assembly segment.
Though the joining of Panigrahi was attended by senior BJP leaders, Baragarh district president Narayan Sahu, who has opposed the former BJD MLA’s possible candidature in Bijepur assembly segment, remained absent.