It is set to witness a triangular contest
Kalahandi, the western Odisha Lok Sabha constituency, where star campaigners, right from the Prime Minister to the Chief Minister and from the BJP president to the Congress chief have so far addressed public meetings, is poised for a close triangular fight.
Three-time MP and former Union Minister Bhakta Charan Das, state BJP president Basant Panda and BJD heavyweight Puspendra Singh Deo are trying to outsmart one another through crafty election manoeuvering and by holding massive public meetings.
Since independence, Kalahandi’s politics has been revolving around royal families and the issue of back-breaking poverty and malnutrition.
Of the 16 general elections held in the past, members of royal families have been elected nine times from here, while on seven occasions, senior Congress leader Das has emerged as the principal challenger, winning the seat thrice.
Sensing a comeback this time, the senior Congress leader had embarked upon the campaign in Kalahandi much earlier than his counterparts. Congress sources said he had played a crucial role in the selection of nominees in seven Assembly segments falling in the Kalahandi LS constituency.
Mr. Das hopes a combination of caste factors, his personal relations and impact of the party’s recent success in neighbouring Chhattisgarh will help him scrape through.
“It is very deceptive if one sees wide roads connected to the district headquarters town of Bhawanipatna. It does not represent a true picture of development. Travel to a rural village, a few hundred metres off the main road, would tell the real story. One can see that Kalahandi has never progressed from what it was in the 1980s,” he said. Congress president Rahul Gandhi, along with Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel, held a rally at Bhawanipatna to bolster his prospects.
The sitting MP, Arka Keshari Deo, who had fought the 2014 election on BJD ticket, has been denied renomination by the party this time. Instead, Puspendra Singh Deo, a royal descendant and trusted party leader, has been chosen. The BJD is banking on Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s pro-poor and development programmes to see it through. Moreover, the regional party has a well-oiled organisation in place in almost all blocks. Mr. Singh Deo hopes that the party’s organisational strength will help him retain the seat for BJD.
Buoyed by its spectacular victory in the last panchayat election in 2017, the saffron party has identified Kalahandi as of one of the winnable seats. Mr. Panda, state BJP president, is of the view that the strings of visits by the top leadership have created a sort of wave in favour of his party.