Bhubaneswar: The tribal dominated Kandhamal Lok Sabha seat in Odisha that was face to face with communal disturbance following the murder of VHP leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati in 2008, is witnessing triangular contest with BJD leaving no stone unturned to retain the seat.
The parliamentary constituency is going to polls on April 18 during the 2nd phase of ongoing elections. If pre-poll trends and voters’ mood are any indication, it is witnessing a triangular contest involving the major political players- BJD, BJP and Congress.
For wrong reasons, the constituency had grabbed international limelight more than a decade back. There was outbreak of bloody communal riots in Kandhamal district in the aftermath of the killing of VHP leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati in 2008. The communal flare-ups forced the BJD to sever ties with BJP. BJD-BJP combine had come to power in the state for nine years.
Though five candidates are in the fray, the main fight is between BJD’s Achyuta Samanta, Kharavela Swain of BJP and Monoj Acharya of Congress in the Kandhamal seat where polling will be held in the second phase on April 18.
While Samant, an edu-entrepreneur and Rajy Sabha member, is “confident” of wining the seat due to the clean image and charisma of BJD supremo and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik as also his own social contributions, three-time MP Swain banks on the achievements of Narendra Modi Government.
On his part, Monoj Acharya of Congress pins his hope on the traditional votes of the grand old party and anti incumbency mood against the ruling BJD in the constituency with over 12.59 lakh electorate..
Kandhamal Parliamentary seat was created in 2008 in place of erstwhile Phulbani after the presidential notification for the delimitation of constituencies.
Kandhas, considered as the original tribal inhabitants of the area, and Panos, a scheduled caste community, wield considerable influence in the constituency, where Christians also comprise a sizable section of population.
The ruling BJD, which was looking for a new face for Kandhamal, is stated to have played a tribal card by fielding Samanta in the Lok Sabha constituency as tribals form a sizable population in the seat though it is unreserved.
Known for his role in providing educational facilities to tribal children in his institutes, Samanta has also got an opportunity to make a foray into direct politics with his nomination for the Lok Sabha constituency.
The soft spoken Samanta is considered to be possessing a “pro-tribal” image for his social work. The Rajya Sabha MP also enjoys acceptability among both Hindus and Christians because of his non-controversial identity.
Kandhamal has been a BJD fort where it won in 2009 Lok Sabha polls despite polarisation following the killing of Swami Laxmananda Saraswati in 2008.
In 2014 too, BJD candidate Hemendra Chandra Singh won with a margin of 1,81,017 votes securing 50.21 per cent votes. However, following his untimely death BJD nominated Singh’s wife Pratyusha Rajeswari Singh who retained the seat in a by-election by beating her nearest BJP nominee Rudramadhab Ray by a whopping margin of 2,98,868 votes and bagging 61.54 per cent of the votes polled.
Singh, however, quit the ruling BJD after being denied renomination this time and subsequently joined the BJP.
Much before the election schedule was announced, Samanta had launched various activities in the constituency. He had recently laid the foundation of a branch of Kalinga Institute of Social Science (KISS) near Daringibadi in Kandhamal district.
Swain of BJP has also reached out to the voters throughout Kandhamal projecting himself as an “honest” and committed worker. He has also been highlighting the works done by the BJP-led government at the Centre for development in different spheres and welfare of all sections.
Congress nominee Manoj Acharya alleges that people in the area are angry over lack of basic facilities and improper implementation of various welfare schemes including MGNREGA. The benefits of Kalia scheme for farmers also “failed” to reach the targeted beneficiaries, he claims. Assembly segments under Kandhamal Lok Sabha seat are also poised to witness multi-corner contests with both BJD and Congress facing rebel candidates in several seats.