BJD, BJP, Cong claims credit for Kalahandi’s transformation, field new faces in LS polls

Bhawanipatna (Odisha), Apr 29 (PTI) Once infamous for drought and starvation deaths during the 1980s, the Kalahandi Lok Sabha constituency in western Odisha seems to have undergone a remarkable transformation, with political parties across the board claiming credit for its development.

It appears that the operationalisation of the Indravati Irrigation project and schemes like the Revised Long-Term Action Plan (RLTAP) worked wonders for the region.

While the BJD, BJP and Congress promise further development in the area if voters elect their candidate, all three parties have fielded fresh faces for the ensuing Lok Sabha elections in consideration of the fact that Kalahandi chose a new MP in each of the last three parliamentary polls.

In the 2009 general elections, Bhakta Charan Das of Congress had won from the Kalahandi seat, while Arka Keshari Deo of BJD and Basant Kumar Panda of BJP won the subsequent editions of the polls in 2014 and 2019 respectively.

The BJD has chosen Lambodar Nial, the BJP named Malavika Keshari Deo, a member of the Kalahandi royal family, replacing sitting MP Basant Kumar Panda, and the Congress has put up tribal community member Droupadi Majhi as a candidate for the seat.

Kalahandi now has an airstrip, a medical college, a university and many other projects worth indicating its real transformation. The erstwhile hunger zone of Kalahandi is now a major rice bowl of the state. The region is the second highest contributor to the state’s food security basket after Bargarh, claimed BJD leader Sujeet Kumar.

He attributed all credit to Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s efforts that changed the face of Kalahandi.

While campaigning for BJD Kalahandi Lok Sabha candidate Lambodar Nial, senior party leader V K Pandian said, “As head of the family, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has taken care of all of you. He has provided Biju Swasthya Kalyan Yojana, school transformation, improvement of hospitals and other works in Kalahandi.”

Pandian said adivasis occupied a special place in Patnaik’s heart and claimed the chief minister withdrew 50,000 cases against tribals, improved their places of worship and carried out other development projects in tribal areas.

“I appeal to you on behalf of chief minister Naveen Patnaik to vote for the conch symbol,” Pandian said, referring to the poll symbol of the Biju Janata Dal.

Nial, who hails from the OBC community is optimistic about his victory. “The development achievements of the chief minister and the BJD government would certainly help me to win the seat. The state’s health scheme is extremely popular among the poor people of Kalahandi,” Nial said.

The BJP, too, claimed credit for the transformation of Kalahandi. Sitting MP Basant Kumar Panda of BJP claimed that important projects worth Rs 3,000 crore have been completed during his tenure. National Highways and railway projects, including the Junagarh-Nabarangpur rail line, were taken up under the Junagarh-Bhadrachalam new line project, he said.

The NDA government has also improved tele connectivity in the region for which people are very happy, claimed Panda.

The BJP has fielded Malavika Keshari Deo since the Kalahandi royal family is believed to have special influence among Kalahandi voters. Members of the royal family have been elected to the Lok Sabha nine times since 1952.

Malavika’s grandfather-in-law Pratap Keshari Deo was elected to the Lok Sabha five times in a row from 1957 to 1977. While he was elected on the Swatantra Party ticket four times in 1957, 1962, 1967 and 1971, he won as an Independent in 1977.

Her father-in-law B K Deo was elected from this Lok Sabha seat thrice as a BJP candidate while her husband Arka Keshari Deo also won the Lok Sabha elections in 2014 as a BJD candidate.

Malavika expressed confidence that she would retain her family seat this time as well for her connection with the poor people. “People accept me and shower blessings. This indicates my clear victory in Kalahandi,” Malavika claimed.

Malavika may be new to the electoral battle, but her family is a force in Kalahandi politics, said political analyst Ajay Mishra.

Tribal leader and Congress candidate Draupadi Majhi started her political journey as a village sarpanch and went on to become a zilla parishad member of her party. She too is confident of winning the polls.

“Both the BJD and the BJP have betrayed the people in the name of development. It is the Congress alone that fought for the tribals, Dalits and poor all along. This time, the people will certainly bless me and my party,” Majhi said.

She also claimed that the tribal people of Kalahandi have a special bond with the Gandhi family and that they will choose the hand symbol over others.

Kalahandi Lok Sabha constituency comprises seven assembly segments – Nuapada and Khariar in Nuapada district, Lanjigarth, Junagarh, Dharamgarh, Bhawanipatna and Narla in Kalahandi district. The seat will go to the polls on May 13 during the fourth phase of elections.

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