By Swaraj Mishra*
Electoral contests can be as thrilling as any sporting event when the top contestants are evenly matched. Odisha has witnessed many such bitterly fought elections won on slender margins. But the record of a Lok Sabha seat being won on the smallest possible margin in Odisha remains with Kendrapara Lok Sabha constituency. In the 3rd General Elections to Lok Sabha (1962), this electoral battle was fought in Kendrapara between two Surendras: one, a renowned Odia writer, Surendra Mohanty and the other, a firebrand Socialist leader, Surendra Nath Dwivedy, where the contest was decided on a margin of mere 66 votes.
Both the leaders had impeccable political records. Surendra Nath Dwivedy born in 1913 was a diehard socialist and social worker, who was elected to Rajya Sabha in the first term in 1952. He contested for Lok Sabha in the Second General elections-1957 from Kendrapara Lok Sabha constituency and won on a Praja Socialist party (PSP) ticket. But 1962 Lok Sabha elections had something else in store for him. He ran into an epic fight against Surendra Mohanty, the renowned literary giant, loved and revered all over the state for his extraordinary literary works. Surendra Mohanty, 9 years junior to Dwivedy was born in 1922. He had also entered Rajya Sabha in 1952 like Dwivedy and got elected to Lok Sabha in 1957 from Dhenkanal constituency on a ticket from Ganatantra Parishad. But he switched over to Congress Party and decided to contest the Lok Sabha elections in 1962 from Kendrapara on Congress ticket. Since Congress Party had just formed the Government in Odisha under the leadership of Biju Patnaik, Mohanty was all set to put up a formidable fight against the sitting PSP MP Dwivedy. It was truly a very very close contest and a seesaw battle was going on, round after round on the counting table. As per the provisional results declared Surendra Mohanty had won by a margin of 212 votes. But after recounting, the final result went in favour of Surendra Dwivedy who was declared elected defeating his nearest rival by a margin of only 66 votes, the smallest ever margin in the history of Lok Sabha elections from Odisha till date.
Surendra Mohanty, in his autobiography ‘Patha o Pruthivi’ describes this incident very poignantly. “Having got the message that I had won by a margin of 212 votes, I started for Kendrapara in a jeep to collect the certificate. From the opposite side some of my counting agents and supporters were coming in another jeep. They stopped me at Bahugram bazar and burst into uncontrollable tears. I could see that the news of my defeat had given them the rudest possible shock, much more than it had hit me.”
Surendra Nath Dwivedy went on to win Kendrapara Lok Sabha seat once again in 1967. But Surendra Mohanty wrested the seat from him in 1971 elections. Mohanty went to Rajya Sabha from 1978 to 1984 and came back to become the Editor of Odia daily ‘Sambad’ which eventually became the No.1 Odia daily of the state. Surendra Nath Dwivedy didn’t rest either. This three time Lok Sabha member from Kendrapara, went on to become the Governor of Arunachal Pradesh in 1991. Both the Surendras are more than evenly matched.
Odisha fondly remembers both these stalwarts for their contributions in the fields of politics, literature and social work. And when it comes to recording the closest ever Lok Sabha elections fought from Odisha, no one has beaten the two Surendras, yet.
*The author is the secretary of Aama Odisha.