Congress candidate dies; Odisha assembly by-poll countermanded

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(Eds: Adds fresh inputs) Bhubaneswar, Apr 14 (PTI) Congress nominee for the by-election in Odisha's Pipili assembly constituency, Ajit Mangaraj, died at a private hospital in Bhubaneswar on Wednesday, three days before the polling scheduled on April 17, family sources said.

The by-election was countermanded due to the death of the candidate and a new date will be announced later, Chief Electoral Officer S K Lohani said.

Mangaraj, 53, was hospitalised after falling ill during campaigning in Pipili last week. He had announced on Saturday that he tested positive for COVID-19.

The Congress leader is survived by his wife and two sons, family sources said.

Odisha Governor Ganeshi Lal, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, Union minister Dharmendra Pradhan and senior Congress leaders condoled his death.

'The by-poll in the Pipli assembly segment has been countermanded. The Election Commission of India will decide on a new date for the polling. The Congress will be allowed to field its new candidate in place of Mangaraj,' Lohani told PTI.

The CEO said that other parties cannot change their candidates.

Campaigning for the election, which was scheduled to end on Thursday, also came to a halt.

'The hon'ble Governor condoled the passing away of senior Congress leader and Pipili assembly bypoll candidate Ajit Mangraj and extended his condolences to his family members. Om Shanti,' a Raj Bhavan statement said.

'I am sad to know about the demise of Congress candidate Ajit Mangraj who is contesting the Pipili assembly by-election. I extend my condolences to the bereaved families at such a sad time,' the chief minister said in a tweet.

Patnaik had called up Mangaraj's family members to enquire about his health condition on Monday.

Union Petroleum Minister Pradhan, who hails from the state, visited the hospital and expressed his condolence over the death of Mangaraj.

'He was infected with corona and passed away today. I pray to Lord to give peace to his soul and strength to his family members,' Pradhan said.

Senior Congress leader Pradeep Majhi said that Mangaraj's blood oxygen level dropped to below 30 per cent and he could not recover from it.

'It is our fault to hold elections during the pandemic. The Congress candidate became a victim of the infection. There should be no election during the pandemic,' the former MP said.

Congress MLAs Taraprasad Bahinipati and Ramesh Jena said that Mangaraj died due to respiratory problems.

Former state Congress president Jaydev Jena also expressed grief over the untimely demise of Mangaraj.

Mangarja's mortal remains were cremated maintaining COVID-19 protocols at the Satyanagar crematorium in Bhubaneswar.

The bypoll in the constituency was necessitated due to the death of senior BJD MLA Pradeep Maharathy in October last year. He too was detected COVID-19 positive but died after recovering from the disease.

According to the Representation of the People Act, 1951, if the candidate of a recognised national party or state party dies, the poll is countermanded, Returning Officer for Pipili bypoll, PK Sahoo, said, Sahoo, who is also the additional district magistrate of Puri, said that polling party members, who were earlier instructed to reach Pipili for receiving EVMs and go to polling booths, were asked not to come till further order.

The police have also been informed not to deploy personnel in booths, he said. PTI AAM NN NN