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In Cuttack, ex-Birla Group honcho vs BJD heavyweight, now in BJP

BHUBANESHWAR: Campaigning under a blistering summer sun, Odisha’s richest Lok Sabha candidate goes about engaging with electors, hands folded and his smile unfading. Santrupt Misra, 58, who left his high-flying corporate job in Feb to test political waters, is vying for the Cuttack Lok Sabha seat as a BJD nominee. While he is riding high on BJD supremo Naveen Patnaik’s popularity and the party’s organisational strength, what makes the battle for Cuttack a high-stakes affair is that he is pitted against Bhartruhari Mahtab, a six-time BJD MP, contesting this time on a BJP ticket.
Son of freedom fighter and Odisha’s first CM Harekrushna Mahtab, his switch to BJP marks a shift in political dynamics of a region that has been a BJD bastion since 1998.

That doesn’t deter Misra who is “confident about his chances”. “I don’t care what others are saying or doing. I assure my electors that I will be available for them. Together, we will build a prosperous Cuttack,” said Misra, BJD’s national spokesperson with declared assets of Rs 461 crore.

However, his formidable opponent senses “a wave of change” across Odisha in favour of BJP. “People are fed up with increasing corruption in the state. PM Modi’s good work and vision will be instrumental in BJP’s victory in Odisha,” said Mahtab, adding, “Odia Asmita is in danger and that is why people will vote for BJP.”

Cuttack constituency holds special significance for Odisha as it was not only the state’s capital till 1948 but also the political breeding ground for prominent leaders and former CMs like Harekrushna, Biju Patnaik, Janaki Ballav Patnaik and Nandini Satpathy. The birthplace of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, the constituency carries a legacy that both candidates are keen to claim during their campaigns. In 2019 state elections, of the seven assembly segments under Cuttack Lok Sabha constituency, six were won by BJD and Cuttack-Barabati went to Congress.

However, after more than two decades in power, BJD is facing a resurgent BJP. This time, therefore, the contest here is not only about local issues but also a reflection of larger political undercurrents in Odisha.

“Politics has given me the perfect platform to give back to my city that has shaped my journey. The overwhelming love and support I’ve been receiving while campaigning is truly heartwarming,” said Misra, who has had an illustrious career spanning over three decades with the Aditya Birla Group. Misra’s corporate background, marked by significant stints in key positions in the com pany, including as group director of Birla Carbon and director of Birla Chemicals, has equipped him with a strategic vision and managerial acumen, qualities he promises to bring to his political career. He also served on the board of ONGC as an independent director, as chairperson of NIT-Rourkela and as a member of board of governors at XIM-Bhubaneswar. His ‘Ideas Manifesto’ for the constituency, ‘Mo Cuttack’, includes plans for “economic renewal, intellectual expansion and cultural reimagination” of the more than 1,000-yearold city. It has outlined initiatives to tackle the city’s pressing issues, including traffic congestion, waste management, unemployment and river economy. His blueprint for progress includes fostering local industries and creating employment opportunities.

“Cuttack has immense potential and with the right policies and initiatives, we can transform it into a model constituency. The city used to be the economic capital of Odisha and because of its central and strategic location, it has what it takes to become the economic hub of the state, and the craft and gift capital of India,” Misra said, elaborating on his plans for sectors like food processing, tourism, agriculture, textile, handloom, handicrafts and other industries.

As the campaign progresses, both candidates are busy highlighting their unique strengths. Misra is emphasising his corporate success and vision for modernisation and development, while Mahtab is bank ing on his extensive political experience and the deep connection he shares with the electorate. BJP national leaders like Amit Shah had a roadshow in Cuttack last week while PM Narendra Modi addressed a campaign rally on Monday.

“BJP has promised financial assistance to women through welfare schemes and pensions. Ayushman Bharat and other projects will be implemented in Odisha as well. The problems of Cuttack district, like lack of industries, cold storages and sugar mills, will be fixed,” Mahtab, who is also the editor of an Odia daily, pointed out.

Voters in Cuttack, however, complain the city has been neglected over the years as neighbouring Bhubaneswar, the state’s capital, is the focus of development. “Major govt offices have been shifted to Bhubaneswar and Cuttack has been struggling even for basic facilities like roads, drains, water and sanitation,” said Jyoti Ranjan Mohanty, a resident of Nua Bazar in Cuttack.

Congress has nominated former minister Suresh Mohapatra as its candidate for the constituency.
Cuttack, which has over 15 lakh electors, goes to polls on May 25.