BHUBANESWAR: Enthused with its clean sweep in the 2017 zilla parishad election in tribal-dominated Kalahandi, the BJP may be aspiring to repeat the performance in this Lok Sabha seat where the saffron party has fielded its state unit president Basanta Panda.
Former Union minister and Congress candidate Bhakta Charan Das eyes support of tribals, including Dongria Kondhs of Niyamgiri known for their anti-mining protest, behind whom party president Rahul Gandhi has thrown his weight, apart from farmers. BJD’s candidate Puspendra Singh Deo is banking on Naveen Patnaik’s ‘popularity’ and welfare schemes such as Kalia, Naveen’s cash incentive scheme for farmers.
Recommended By ColombiaWhile both Rahul and BJD president and chief minister Naveen Patnaik toured Bhawanipatna, the Kalahandi district headquarters, in February, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will campaign in the area on Tuesday. Modi is scheduled to address a rally at Krishnagar village on the outskirts of Bhwanipatna, his second poll rally in Odisha this month. Kalahandi is among four LS seats going to polls on April 11.
“There is a Modi wave. While people appreciate the Prime Minister’s decisive leadership and vision for the country, our organization at the grassroots is strong,” said Basanta, who had won 2014 election as BJP MLA from Nuapada, a part of Kalahandi LS seat. The BJP had won 33 of the 36 zilla parishad seats in Kalahandi in 2017.
The Congress has been wooing the tribals, portraying the party as their true custodian, apart from posturing itself as champion of farmers’ causes. During his visit to Kalahandi last month, Rahul had also reminded the Dongria Kondhs how he supported them in their fight against mining of Niyamgiri hills.
“Western Odisha has been a stronghold of Congress and this time we hope we will be able to capitalize on farmers’ cause. Party president Rahul Gandhi’s message to increase the minimum support price for paddy to Rs 2,600 per quintal (from Rs 1,750 now) has been well accepted,” said Bhakta.
With irrigation facility from Lower Indra and Indravati projects, farmers in many parts of Kalahandi LS seat grow paddy twice a year. Paddy price is an important issue for them, said a prty insider.
BJD’s Puspendra feels there is no distinction between tribal and non-tribal voters as all are impressed with chief minister Naveen Patnaik’s good track record. “Be it tribals or non-tribals, the development works done by BJD government is well recognized. Secondly, popularity of chief minister Naveen Patnaik is only going up,” he said.
The parties’ performance depends on how tribals and farmers decide to vote. The tribals are agitated in the wake of the Supreme Court’s February 13 order to evict forest rights dwellers, whose forest rights claims have been rejected. The Niyamgiri Surakshya Samiti, an outfit working for protection of the tribals, has given call for election boycott. Similarly, the Kalahandi Krushak Sangharsh Samiti is among many farmer organisations in western Odisha which has asked farmers to vote for NOTA.
Kalahandi district has 27% tribal voters of which the Dongria tribe, mostly concentrated in Lanjigarh block, has 1,635 families.
In 2014, Kalahandi royal scion Arka Keshari Deo of the BJD had won the seat in a fierce triangular battle. Arka had got 3.70 lakh votes while the BJP nominee Pradipta Naik had finished second by securing 3.14 lakh and Bhakta Das (Congress) ended up third by polling 3.07 lakh votes. After being denied party ticket, Arka has left BJD. But the ruling party insists Arka’s move will have no impact.