With the Congress fielding a greenhorn, Bargarh Lok Sabha seat is witnessing an intense battle between two heavyweights of the ruling BJD and the opposition BJP. The grand old party has pitted Pradip Debata, a businessman, against BJD stalwart and sitting Rajya Sabha member Prasanna Acharya, and BJP national secretary Suresh Pujari in the backward constituency in western Odisha.

Fighting his maiden electoral battle, Debata is facing a tough fight at the hustings as both Pujari and Acharya are known for their oratory skills and political experience.

“The people in Bargarh are unhappy with the Naveen Patnaik government which has failed to bring development. The BJD government has also failed to improve irrigation facilities during its 19-year rule, and not a single industry has been set up in Bargarh,” he said.

Describing development as BJD’s main agenda, Prasanna Acharya said, “Our party symbolises progress of all sections of society. I am highlighting the developmental works and the welfare measures of the state government while campaigning.”

Exuding confidence about his victory, he said, “The region has witnessed speedy development during BJD rule. People are now getting basic facilities such as road connectivity, drinking water supply and electricity.”

However, it will be an uphill task for the BJD to deal with anti-incumbency.

The party is already under attack from several quarters for a spate of farmer suicides allegedly due to factors such as debt burden, crop failure and distress sale of paddy.

Accused by the opposition BJP and Congress of neglecting western Odhsha, the Naveen Patnaik-led BJD is also worried because of the impressive show put up by the saffron party in the panchayat elections in 2017 in the western region.

In a bid to face the saffron surge in the region and woo the voters, the chief minister is contesting the assembly election from two seats this time.

Apart from Hinjili in Ganjam district, Patnaik is in the fray from Bijepur assembly segment, which comes under Bargarh Lok Sabha constituency. The BJD hopes to derive electoral gains from Patnaik’s candidature from an assembly seat in the region.

Blaming the BJD government for poverty in the drought-prone region, BJP’s nominee Suresh Pujari said, “A strong Modi wave is sweeping across the country and voters in Bargarh are also highly impressed with the development works and welfare measures undertaken by the BJP-led government at the Centre.”

It has not been a smooth affair for the BJP too as its firebrand leader and Bargarh strongman Subash Chouhan quit the party and joined the BJD after being denied nomination from Bargarh Lok Sabha seat.

In the 2014 Lok Sabha election, Chouhan had lost the Bargarh seat to BJD’s Prabhas Singh.

Prasanna Acharya, a former Odisha minister, had contested the 2014 election from Bijepur assembly constituency on a BJD ticket, but lost to Congress nominee Subal Sahu by a margin of 458 votes.

Earlier, he was a minister in Odisha after winning from Rairakhol assembly constituency in Sambalpur district in the 2009 election.

Acharya had represented the prestigious Sambalpur parliamentary constituency thrice in a row in 1998, 1999 and 2004. Earlier, he had been elected to the state assembly from Bargarh constituency in 1990 and 1995.

Having taken an active part in the movement led by veteran Jayaprakash Narayan, Acharya had been imprisoned under ‘MISA’ during the Emergency.

Pujari, on the other hand, had been initiated into politics right from his student days. Being a firebrand student leader, the BJP leader had taken active part in a movement in the early 1980s.

Pujari had contested the 2014 election as a BJP candidate from Sambalpur Lok Sabha constituency, but was defeated by BJD’s Nagendra Pradhan by a margin of 30,576 votes.

Earlier, he had fought from Brajrajnagar assembly segment thrice in a row as BJP candidate in 2000, 2004 and 2009 but was defeated by Congress candidate Anup Kumar Sai on all the three occasions.

While Acharya banks on the chief minister’s clean image and charisma, Pujari says the country is witnessing a strong wave in favour of Prime Minister Narendra Modi because of the good work done by the BJP-led government at the Centre in last five years, which will benefit him immensely.

Congress nominee Debata said there is a strong anti-incumbency mood among the voters against the BJD government in Odisha, while the people are “disillusioned” with the NDA government at the Centre due to “growing unemployment and inflation”.

The Bargarh Lok Sabha seat is now represented by BJD’s Prabhas Kumar Singh who had defeated his nearest rival Subash Chouhan of BJP by a slender margin of 11,178 votes in the last election.

In 2009 parliamentary elections, Sanjay Bhoi of Congress had won the Bargarh Lok Sabha seat.

Stalwarts of all major political parties including BJP president Amit Shah and BJD supremo Naveen Patnaik have hit the campaign trail in the constituency to bolster the poll prospects of their candidates.

The Bargarh Lok Sabha seat was created after delimitation in 2008.