Sambit Patra’s dramatic debut in Lok Sabha campaigning
Sambit Patra, the star spokesperson of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its Lok Sabha seat candidate from Puri, has become a hermit while campaigning in the land of Lord Jagannath.
As Puri geared up for the Phase III of the Lok Sabha 2019 elections on April 23, it was the final run for Patra’s election campaign.
Puri, Odisha, has been a stronghold of Biju Janata Dal (BJD) for years. Patra, who was earlier rarely seen in Puri, has gone full throttle on his campaign to challenge the BJD’s dominance. From bathing in local ponds and offering prayers at several temples to even turning vegetarian, Patra has left no stone unturned to win votes in the region.
He has embraced what is being termed as a ‘hyper-Hindu’ avatar, complete with chandan paste on forehead and a saffron gamchha. This is quite a change for Patra, who is usually seen wearing western clothes on national television.
Congress has picked former news TV star and current state spokesperson, Satya Prakash Nayak. The BJD has nominated three-time MP and eminent lawyer Pinaki Misra.
The BJD has won the Puri LS seat continuously since 1998. Its candidate, Misra, is a crorepati MP and also a three-time legislator from the area.
Patra is contesting elections for the first time in his life. His campaign was dotted with political gaffes and controversies. For example, he vowed to make the ‘conch’ bloom in Puri (“Puri re sankha phutiba”) at a political rally. He obviously meant to say that the lotus, the symbol of the BJP, would bloom. He was trolled on social media for this faux pas.
Patra has defended resorting to the narrative of religion in his campaign. When asked about the change in his wardrobe, he said, “What is wrong if we flaunt chandan on our forehead or wear religious clothes! There are people from other religion who also own their religious attire, like a skull cap. There is nothing wrong in it.”
The BJP nominee has been criticised for carrying an idol of Lord Jagannath during a campaigning rally. This incident drew the ire of the locals and his political opponents. Irked by this antic, both the Congress and the ruling BJD registered a complaint with the Odisha Chief Electoral Officer (CEO), citing Patra’s use of religion to influence voters.
Condemning the act, a senior servitor of Puri temple Rama Chandra Das Mohapatra said, “We have the festival of Rath Yatra, which is dedicated to Lord Jagannath, but the way the BJP leader promoted the act of carrying the Lord in a car is a disgraceful.”
It is also alleged that Patra violated model code of conduct by organising several rallies in Puri without permissions. Puri Collector and Returning Officer said an FIR has been registered against Patra for violating model code of conduct. Also, an official of the flying squad recently registered a complaint against Patra for allegedly using Lord Jagannath’s name on the vehicle he used for election campaigning. The complaint was filed at Sea Beach police station of Puri town.
Commenting on this kind of campaigning of the BJP spokesperson, former political science professor of Utkal University, Surya Narayan Mishra, said, “It is good that a national figure has been contesting from holy land Puri. But, no one can ensure that one will get votes if he spends nights in villages, eats food in someone’s home or wears dhoti.”
Of tweets and songs
Patra recently made headlines for his rendition of a popular Telugu song Telusu Manasa at a political event. The Pentakhata area of the temple town has a sizeable Telugu population, and the short singing performance was Patra’s attempt at connecting with the local voters.
The BJP leader, who is quite active on social media, stepped up his campaign game on Twitter too. He shared the video of his performance on Twitter.
Puri has a sizeable Telugu Population as well. While Campaigning amidst them sang a famous Telugu number on demand. The frenzy in the crowd was palpable, don’t believe ? A must watch! Lots of love to my adorable Telugu friends. @BJP4Odisha #IndiaBoleModiDobara #SambitPatra4Puri pic.twitter.com/ULI8xJdnhU
— Chowkidar Sambit Patra (@sambitswaraj) April 19, 2019
Not all of his Twitter posts received praise. One video was especially targeted by trolls. The clip showed Patra eating at a village where a woman is seen serving him food cooked on a chulha. Twitter users trolled Patra by asking him about the PM’s Ujjwala Yojana, which provides gas connections to poor households.
Civic issues, the staple of several political rallies, seemed somewhat absent in Patra’s campaign. While speaking at public meetings, he was usually heard making one common statement—Jagannath Dakichanti abong Modi Patheichanti (Jagannath ji called me here and Modi ji sent me). He claimed that people of Odisha, especially Puri, want change and they have faith in Modi.
While Patra’s campaigning has been criticised for being over-the-top, there’s no denying that he tried. Tried a bit too hard, in fact, in his debut Lok Sabha election. Ahead of declaration of results on May 23