Monday, March 31, 2014

Cordiality makes Kalahandi fight difficult to predict

Decaan Herald,  March 30. 2014
S T Beuria, March 30, 2014, DHNS:
At a time when hate speeches and filthy personal remarks by candidates of different political parties are grabbing headlines, the Kalahandi Lok Sabha constituency in western Odisha presents a refreshingly different picture.
The candidates of three major political parties—the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD), the Congress and the BJP—are not indulging in personal attacks against each other during campaigning, confining their speeches to issues only. 

The Relationship between the parties have remained cordial to such an extent that the district unit offices of the Congress and the BJP have been functioning under one roof—on two different floors of the same building—for several years without any problem. “We are ideologically different, but certainly not enemies,” insist activists of both parties.

A few days ago, Congress nominee and sitting MP Bhakta Charan Das and BJD candidate Arka Kesari Deo met each other. After a photo-op for the local journalists present, both heaped praise on each other. “I advised the young man to take up the problems of the poor of Kalahandi,” said Das of his BJD rival. Deo had equally good words for him. “He is a senior politician and I have many things to learn from him. He had started his political career along with my father,” he said.

Deo, who is making his electoral debut in the upcoming polls is the son of late Bikram Kesari Deo, a three-time BJP MP from the backward constituency, who had defeated Das consecutively in the 1998, 1999 and 2004 Lok Sabha elections. The late leader, however, suffered a humiliating defeat during the 2009 polls as he was pushed to the third spot.  This time the BJP has nominated former state minister Pradip Nayak to contest from the politically important constituency.  

In the 2009, sitting MP Das virtually had a cakewalk over Congress rebel and BJD candidate Subash Chandra Nayak, by a margin of more than 1.5 lakh votes. However, it may not be that easy for the former Union minister and AICC spokesperson this time, primarily because he has a formidable opponent in Deo.

The BJD candidate is not only fresh but is also expected to get the advantage of the pro-Naveen Patnaik wave clearly visible in the constituency. “There is an undercurrent in favour of the BJD and Naveen Patnaik, and Deo is certain to benefit from that,” said Prakash Mohanty, a resident of Bhawanipatna, Kalahandi’s district headquarters.

Moreover, Deo is also expected to gain from the goodwill and reputation of his family. Not only was his father a three-time MP from the constituency, his grandfather Pratap Keshari Deo, the late erstwhile king of Kalahandi, was a five-time MP from the western Odisha seat, winning four times a Swatantra Party ticket and in 1977 as an independent.

What may further help Deo is the intense infighting within the Kalahandi unit of the BJP over distribution of tickets for the Lok Sabha and assembly elections. His father was popular among local BJP cadres, and party members unhappy over the selection of candidates are expected to tacitly throw their weight behind him. Despite all this, sitting Congress MP Das has the capability to turn the tables and win back the seat primarily because of his strong organisational network in all the seven Assembly segments under the Lok Sabha constituency.

The Vedanta mining project in Lanjigarh, one of the Assembly segments under the Kalahandi LS seat, which had grabbed headlines and had subsequently been scraped, has become one of the issues here. Though local tribals were at the forefront of the agitation against the multi-crore project, the political battle is was being led by Das.

 “Scrapping of the project had a negative impact in the district, and subsequently affected job opportunities for the locals,” said Dibakar Jena, an unemployed graduate.

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