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Lord Jagannath Listed Among ‘Modi Bhakts’ by Sambit Patra, BJP Faces Backlash

On Monday, Sambit Patra, the BJP candidate for the Puri Lok Sabha seat in Odisha, unintentionally sparked a rift when he declared, in error, that Lord Jagannath is a follower of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Patra was speaking to reporters after the prime minister’s roadshow in Puri, when he told local channel, “…Lakhs of people have gathered to see Modi. Lord Jagannath is a devotee (bhakt) of Modi, and we are Modi’s family. This is an unusual sight, and I am not able to control my emotions. I think it is a historic day for all Odias.”

Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik harshly criticised Patra for his inadvertent comment, branding it a “insult” to the Lord.

“Mahaprabhu Shree Jagannatha is the Lord of Universe. Calling Mahaprabhu a bhakt of another human being is an insult to the Lord. This has hurt the sentiments and demeaned the faith of crores of Jagannatha bhaktas and Odias across the world,” Patnaik wrote in a post on social media platform X.

The Lord is the greatest Symbol of Odia Asmita, Patnaik added. “I strongly denounce the statement made by the BJP Puri Lok Sabha candidate, and I appeal to the BJP to keep the Lord above any political discourse. By this, you have deeply hurt Odia Asmita and this will be remembered and condemned by people of Odisha for a very long time,” the chief minister wrote.

In response to Patnaik’s post, Patra called it out as a “slip of the tongue” and asked the chief minister to “not make an issue” out of it.

“I gave number of bytes today to multiple media channels after the massive success of Shri Narendra Modiji’s Road Show in Puri today, everywhere I mentioned that Modi ji is an ardent “Bhakt” of Shri Jagannath Mahaprabhu… by mistake during one of the bytes, I pronounced just the opposite… I know you too know and understand this… Sir, let’s not make an issue out of a nonexistent issue… we all have slip of tongue sometimes…,” Patra wrote on X.

The Odisha Congress, however, said that Patra’s remarks were a direct jab at Odia Asmita, or Odia pride.

“We want Sambit to apologize with folded hands in front of national media, and each and every citizen of Odisha. It’s very derogatory… You should mind your language,” read Odisha Congress’s post on X.

On the day when PM Modi was campaigning in Puri, Cuttack, and Angul, Patra made this statement. The Prime Minister worshipped at the Jagannath shrine prior to his roadshow in Puri.

“Prayed to Mahaprabhu Jagannath in Puri. May His blessings always remain upon us and guide us to new heights of progress,” he posted on X.

The Biju Janata Dal (BJD) has used the dispute as an opportunity to exact revenge on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has been criticising the Patnaik-led government in the state for disdaining Odia pride and culture.

In the state, the ruling party and the BJP are engaged in a fierce battle. In its attempt to win back power for a sixth time, BJD is up against anti-incumbency sentiment, but BJP has also grown its support base in the state. The party gained eight seats in 2019 after gaining just one in the national elections of 2014. It also increased the number of seats in its assembly, going from 10 in 2014 to 23 in 2019.

In four phases, Odisha is simultaneously hosting state assembly elections and Lok Sabha elections.

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