Bhaskar Parichha

Bhartruhari Mahtab, a prominent political figure in Odisha, has been a six-time Member of Parliament from the Cuttack constituency. His association with the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) party has been long-standing, as he consistently won the Cuttack seat under their ticket since 1998.

However, in a surprising turn of events, Mahtab decided to resign from the BJD and join the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Mahtab’s decision to switch parties was primarily driven by his dissatisfaction with the recent functioning of the BJD.

He felt that the party’s direction and policies were not aligned with his own beliefs and principles. This move came as no surprise to political observers, as Mahtab had been expressing his discontent with the BJD for some time.

Court Case
Coincidentally, Mahtab’s resignation came just a day after the Special Court for MP/MLAs framed charges against him for an incident that occurred 13 years ago. The charges alleged that Mahtab had assaulted a police officer during a program held at the Netaji Birthplace Museum in Cuttack on January 23, 2011.

The incident involved him slapping the then Sub-Inspector Amitabh Mohapatra, who currently serves as an Assistant Commissioner of Police.

While the timing of the charges and Mahtab’s resignation may seem connected, it is important to note that his decision to join the BJP was not influenced by the legal proceedings against him. Instead, it was a result of his disillusionment with the BJD and his belief that the BJP better represented his political ideology.

Mahtab’s entry into the BJP has been seen as a significant gain for the party in Odisha. As a six-time MP from Cuttack, he brings with him a wealth of experience and a strong support base. His popularity and track record of winning elections make him a valuable asset for the BJP in their quest to expand their presence in the state.

The BJP’s decision to field Mahtab as their candidate for the prestigious Cuttack seat in Odisha further solidifies his importance within the party. With his deep understanding of the constituency and his strong rapport with the people, Mahtab is expected to be a formidable contender in the upcoming elections.

Overall, Mahtab’s resignation from the BJD and subsequent entry into the BJP marks a significant shift in Odisha’s political landscape. His decision to join the BJP, coupled with the charges against him, has generated considerable attention.

Tough Battle
The upcoming election for the Cuttack Lok Sabha seat is expected to be a challenging contest between Bhartruhari Mahtab and Dr Santrupt Misra, who is venturing into electoral politics for the first time after resigning as the HR head of Aditya Birla Group. Given Misra’s lack of political experience and the limited presence of the Congress party in the constituency, the battle is primarily between Mahtab and the BJD.

 Santrupt Misra, a prominent business leader and former HR head of Aditya Birla Group, recently joined the BJD party. He was swiftly appointed as the party’s national spokesperson.

There had been speculation about his potential entry into the Naveen Patnaik-led party ever since he chose to retire from his corporate position in December. In response to media inquiries, Santrupt expressed his commitment to fulfilling any responsibilities assigned to him, utilizing his knowledge and capabilities to contribute towards the state’s development. His ultimate goal is to help transform Odisha into a developed state by 2036, which marks the centenary year of Odisha’s formation.

The executive leader had previously served in an advisory capacity to the Naveen government before opting for voluntary retirement. In 2021, Santrupt assumed the position of chairman for the Ekamra Kshetra Heritage Project Advisory Council, a committee consisting of 19 members. This council is responsible for providing guidance and coordinating the implementation of the Ekamra Plan scheme, which aims to enhance the Lingaraj shrine, a historical monument from the 11th century located in Bhubaneswar.

Santrupt’s spouse, Alka Misra, currently holds the position of chairperson for the Odisha Skill Development Authority.

Political experts are of the opinion that Santrupt’s inclusion is part of the BJD’s strategic plan for Puri. Alongside his appointment as the national spokesperson, Santrupt was joined by another prominent leader from Puri district, Sanjay Das Burma, who also assumed the role of BJD spokesperson simultaneously.

 2019 Fight
Cuttack holds significant importance as it has been represented by notable leaders like Biju Patnaik from Janata Dal and JB Patnaik from Congress, both of whom also served as chief ministers.

Bhartruhari Mahtab, the son of Odisha’s first chief minister Harekrushna Mahtab, faces challenges in the upcoming 2024 election. Despite his previous victories in the Lok Sabha elections of 1999, 2004, 2009 and 2014, he will need to navigate a potentially difficult path.

In the 2019 election, Mahtab successfully defended his seat for BJD by defeating BJP’s Prakash Mishra. He emerged as the winner in the Cuttack Lok Sabha election with a significant margin of over 1.21 lakh votes, securing 49.47% of the total votes. Prakash Mishra received 4.03 lakh votes, accounting for 38.04% of the total votes.

In contrast, Congress’s Panchanan Kanungo only managed to secure a 9.42% vote share from the same seat in 2019. Within the Cuttack Lok Sabha constituency, BJD won six out of the seven assembly segments, with the remaining seat going to Congress

(Mr Parichha is a senior journalist, author and columnist. Views are personal.)