Who is going to win the Kalahandi clash — BJP, BJD or Congress?

Odisha Politics

Bhubaneswar, May 8: Known for its backwardness, distress migration, hunger deaths, Odisha’s Kalahandi parliamentary constituency — in every general elections— attracts national and international media attention. Top guns of every participating political party throng the constituency, crisscross its nook and corner and canvas for their respective parties.

For over two decades now, the politics in Kalahandi parliamentary constituency has been revolving around a few key leaders – Bhakta Charan Das of Congress, Pradeep Nayak of BJP and Puspendra Singhdeo of BJD.

This time is no exception as the three have been in the assembly elections fray.

According to political analysts, Kalahandi parliamentary constituency, like the previous editions, is poised to witness this time an interesting triangular fight involving a royal bahu, locally called Rani Maa; an energetic tribal woman and a strong grassroots leader hailing from the Other Backward Class (OBC) community.

Malavika Devi, the queen of Kalahandi who is locally known as Rani Maa, is contesting on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ticket. She is pitted against Droupadi Majhi, a tribal woman. The parliamentary constituency has over four lakh tribal voters.

Odisha’s ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) has fielded Lambodar Nial, an OBC community leader hailing from Gouda (milkman) community.

In the 2019 battle, the BJP nominee Basant Panda had wrested the seat from BJD. He defeated the BJD nominee Puspendra Singhdeo by a margin of 26,814 votes, considered a low one in a vast LS segment with around 15 lakh voters. Basant Panda got 433,073 votes (35.26 per cent) while Puspendra bagged 4, 06, 260 votes (33.08 per cent). Congress candidate Bhakta Charan Das, who is this time contesting assembly polls from Narla seat, had finished third with 3,19,202 votes (25.99 per cent).

The BJP dropped Basanta Panda this time and chose to field Malavika Devi, wife of former MP Arka Keshari Deo, with hope that the royal family’s long relationship with the party and the local people’s loyalty towards the loyal family, will fetch it good votes.

The Congress’ nominee Droupadi Majhi who served as chairperson of Thuamul Rampur block hopes her strong links with panchayat level workers will enable her to win the seat.

“I come from a grassroots political background. I was elected as Zilla Parishad member once and twice as chairperson of Thuamul Rampur block. My opponents do not have any links with the people living in villages. I’m pretty confident that people will bless me,” said Droupadi.

Kalahandi, which the ruling BJD claims has seen huge transformation in terms of overall development, is still reporting large-scale migration of farmers and farm workers to other states in search of jobs. Both the BJP and Congress have made this distress migration a major poll issue.

The BJD, on the other hand, is showcasing the irrigation network, infrastructure development and expansion of education and healthcare facilities as its contributions to the constituency. “Our party has done tremendous work in Kalahandi. This was once called Bhoka-ra Bhugola (a land of hunger). Now, it has turned into a green land with a massive increase in irrigation network. Road infrastructure has developed a lot and an airport at Utkela has become operational,” says BJD nominee Lambodar Nial.

Congress leader Bhakta Charan Das told this newspaper that his party’s woman nominee Droupadi Majhi for Kalahandi LS segment is the carefully chosen face to counter BJP’s Malavika Devi.

“Droupadi can connect better with the people. She is a hard-working woman, who works for the people round the year and not during the election only. She will make a difference. Migration of people is a burning issue here apart from the slow pace of work of Junagarh-Nabarangpur railway line,” he said.

Scheduled caste and scheduled tribe population together constitute 46 per cent in Kalahandi. Most of the people’s occupation is agriculture. Kalahandi LS seat comprises tribal-dominated Kalahandi and Nuapada districts. While Kalahandi district has five assembly constituencies, Nuapada has two.

“BJP will do even better this time. Kalahandi district is yet to see development in education and health sector as many of its counterparts have seen in recent times. For me, another most important work is the welfare of women farmers,” she said.

Kalahandi LS seat will go to polls on May 13.

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