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‘Hearing Odisha may go for early polls’: Dharmendra Pradhan

Bhubaneswar: Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan on Saturday claimed that assembly elections may be preponed in Odisha by 8-15 months and held next year.

Pradhan, who hails from Odisha, made the surprising claim while speaking to reporters for the first time after his party, the BJP, lost the December 5 bypoll in Padampur in Baragarh district to the ruling BJD by a margin of over 42,000.

“We are hearing that Odisha might go for early polls, 8 to 15 months before the schedule in 2024. At this moment, we cannot predict the political scenario,” he told reporters on the sidelines of a programme here.

Assembly elections are usually held in Odisha simultaneously with the Lok Sabha polls.

A BJD spokesperson declined to comment on this statement, while the Congress alleged that Pradhan has “exposed” that the Election Commission is controlled by the party ruling at the Centre.

“If the Election Commission wants, it can hold the polls anytime six months preceding the due date,” leader of the Congress legislative party Narasingha Mishra told PTI.

“When the EC asks, our party will give its views. Pradhan has exposed that the EC dances to the tune of the ruling party at the Centre,” he alleged.

As per the rules, the chief minister can also opt to go for snap elections.

Stating that his party has accepted the results of the Padampur bypoll, Pradhan targeted the BJD and said that one should remain humble in victory.

BJD candidate Barsha Singha Bariha won the by-election by 42,679 votes.

After the victory, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik had said that he himself campaigned for Bariha as he was hurt by the way some BJP leaders “disrespected” her. “The people of Odisha have never tolerated insult to women, nor will they ever do so.”

On this, Pradhan said the BJP got around 78,000 votes in the bypoll. “Does that mean that women did not vote for us?”.

He said the efforts being made by the Centre on empowering women were unmatchable.

“It’s the Centre that is providing monetary assistance for the construction of toilets and houses, electricity connection and LPG connection,” he said, listing the initiatives taken up by the BJP-led government for empowering women.

Terming Pradhan’s comment unfortunate, BJD MP Sasmit Patra in a statement said he should understand that it is a very sensitive issue.

“Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan should understand that this is a very sensitive issue regarding disrespect to a woman just entering public life and not treat it as a political issue. In the process he has tried to pull the PM and the schemes of the Union government into the statement which is unfortunate and misleading,” Patra said.

During the election campaign, former Union minister and Sundergarh MP Jual Oram had courted controversy by questioning Bariha’s tribal status following her marriage to a non-tribal man.

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