A bitter tussle between the Biju Janata Dal and BJP is expected in the forthcoming simultaneous Lok Sabha and Assembly elections in Odisha and not a ‘friendly contest’ as earlier expected.

An indication about a tough contest came when the two parties started announcing the name of candidates following failure of talks for a formal alliance between them. The two had decided against an alliance gauging the antagonism among their party workers against such a move.

BJD heavyweight Pranab Prakash Das, who is the organisational secretary and has been calling the shots in the party, has been chosen to take on Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, considered to be the BJP’s poster boy in the State, in the Sambalpur Lok Sabha seat in western Odisha. The saffron party has been promoting Pradhan for more than a decade.

The moving of Das, a three-time BJD legislator from Jajpur Assembly seat in the coastal region of the State to Sambalpur, reflects the BJD’s seriousness in containing the BJP in the State.

Son of late Ashok Das, a popular Janata Dal leader of the 1990s, Das was appointed as BJD’s observer for Sambalpur in March last year, anticipating that the BJP would field Pradhan in the seat.

The BJP’s national vice-president, Baijayant Panda, would seek election from Kendrapara Lok Sabha seat which he had won as the BJD nominee in 2014. He had lost the election in 2019 as a BJP candidate.

The BJD has picked up Anshuman Mohanty, son of former Minister late Nalini Kanta Mohanty, who was president of Kendrapara District Congress until he quit the national party and joined the BJD recently. Mohanty is a former Congress MLA from Rajnagar, one of the seven Assembly seat under Kendrapara.

The Bhubaneswar LS seat is also gearing up for a tough contest between the two parties. The BJD has fielded Manmath Routray, a former commercial pilot and younger son of six-time Congress legislator Suresh Chandra Routray. He will take on Aparajita Sarangi, BJP’s national spokesperson and sitting MP from Bhubaneswar.

Similarly, Puri LS seat is also set to witness a close contest between BJD nominee Arup Patnaik, the former Mumbai Police Commissioner, who had lost in the Bhubaneswar LS polls in 2019, and BJP national spokesperson Sambit Patra, who was defeated by the BJD’s Pinaki Misra in the last election.

The other seats that are likely to witness bitter fights between the BJD and BJP include Sundargarh Lok Sabha seat where the BJD has fielded Hockey India president Dilip Tirkey against BJP candidate and former Union Minister Jual Oram.

In the 2019 elections, the BJD had won 12 of the 21 Lok Sabha seats by securing 42.8 per cent votes, while the BJP had won eight seats with 38.4 per cent votes and the Congress had won one seat with a vote share of 13.4 per cent. The Congress, however, hopes to perform better as it has been trying to pitch itself against the “unholy nexus” between its rivals.

Tough contests between the BJD and BJP are also on the cards in the 147 Assembly seats in Odisha as the ruling party has fielded most of its sitting Ministers and legislators. The BJD had won 112 seats, while the BJP had won 23 and Congress nine seats in the 2019 polls.