Clutching an idol of Lord Jagannath in one hand, BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra filed his nomination from Puri Lok Sabha constituency in Odisha last week. The beach town of Puri, which is home to the famous Jagannath temple, has always been impregnable for the BJP.
Earlier, there were rumours that Prime Minister Narendra Modi might contest from Puri. But finally it was Sambit Patra, and going by poll data, he might be facing the toughest electoral battle of his life till date.
Puri has traditionally been a Biju Janata Dal (BJD) stronghold, with the party winning the seat in 1998, 1999, 2004, 2009 and 2014.
In the 2014 general elections, BJD’s star candidate Pinaki Mishra polled more than 5 lakh votes and defeated his nearest Congress rival Sucharita Mohanty by more than 3 lakh votes or a 25 per cent vote margin. BJP’s Ashok Sahu came third with 2.15 lakh votes. Pinaki Mishra is the BJD candidate this time too.
Leave alone winning this seat, the BJP has not even come second here ever. Also, for five consecutive elections since 1998, the BJD maintained a healthy 17 per cent average vote margin over its nearest rivals.
Pinaki Mishra had also won this seat on a Congress ticket in 1996. While the Congress won this seat six times, the Janata Dal could add this seat to its kitty twice. The Puri Lok Sabha seat was also won by the Janata Party, Socialist Party and CPI once each.
While BJP insiders have revealed that they would focus more on eastern states to make up for the predicted shortfall in seats in the northern and western states, poll data from Odisha suggests that it would be difficult to dislodge the Naveen Patnaik-led party.
The BJD currently holds 20 out of the 21 Lok Sabha seats in Odisha. The other seat is with the BJP. Puri parliamentary constituency has seven assembly seats, of which six are with the BJD. The BJP scraped through Chilka assembly seat by 541 votes.