Bargarh: The ruling BJD and opposition BJP are wooing communities in their campaigns for the December 5 by-poll in Padampur assembly seat as caste politics has been found to have takers in Odisha.
The strategy is also perhaps due to the fact that tribals constitute around 29 per cent of the over 2.57 lakh voters in Padampur located in Bargarh district of western Odisha.
With the poll date drawing close both the parties are holding community meetings near the Lord Nrushinghanath Temple at the foothills of Gandhamardan mountain.
While Sundergarh BJP MP Jual Oram visited it two days ago, BJD MLA and the party’s poll manager Susant Singh is a regular visitor there.
The Padampur seat was reserved for scheduled tribe candidates till 2009 and is now a general one. The seat has for long been held by the Bariha family, which belongs to the tribal Binjhal community. Bijay Ranjan Singh Bariha, whose death in October necessitated the by-poll, had won the seat five times and his father Bikramaditya Singh Bariha thrice before him.
This time Barsha Singh Bariha, the daughter of the late MLA, has been fielded by BJD president Naveen Patnaik after consulting leaders of Binjhal community. This is indicative of the community’s influence in Padampur, where their number is estimated to be 40,000.
Patnaik, however, did not forget to woo the Kulta and Meher communities living in Padampur before the declaring the candidate’s name. Patnaik had sanctioned projects for the Kulta and Meher communities ahead of the poll in his bid to persuade them to vote for BJD.
The Kulta community has 30,000 voters and the Mehers a sizeable 20,000 electors. Gond and Sohra tribes have around 20,000 voters each.
Schedule castes constitute 28.63 per cent of the voters and together the scheduled tribes account for 44.48 per cent of them.
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The remaining voters belong to the OBC, while a very few people were from the general castes. Castes like Mali (gardener), Brahmin, Yadav, Kumbhar and Agaria also have significant presence in Padampur.
The Kulta Samaj has been sanctioned a piece of land and Rs three crore for construction of a dharmasala (lodge) in Puri, Patnaik also made provision of a piece of land in the state capital for construction of a Bhavan named after Gangadhar Meher, a famous Odia poet. The government also sanctioned Rs three crore for construction of the building for Mehers, who are largely involved in weaving.
The chief minister has also inducted Mahendra Badei, a member of the Kulta Samaj and a former Odisha Administrative Service, into BJD and made him the party spokesperson. Badehi was even allowed to address the public at BJD president Naveen Patnaik’s election rally on Friday.
Not to be left behind, BJP on Thursday inducted former Congress MP Sanjay Bhoi, who belongs to the Kulta Samaj, with the aim to get a share of community’s votes.
Bhoi’s father Krupasindhu Bhoi was a four time MP from Bargarh Lok sabha seat and his joining the saffron party is expected to affect both BJD and the Congress in the by-poll.
Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan has criticised Patnaik for showing favour towards communities ahead of the by-poll. “Why did he (Patnaik) not sanction land and funds for communities before the election. All his activities are aimed at getting votes,” he said.
Senior Congress MLA Santosh Singh Saluja criticised BJD and BJP for indulging in “community politics” and through it dividing the people.
“The people of Odisha had earlier rejected caste politics and now they will teach a lesson to those doing community politics,” he asserted.
BJD MLA Sushant Singh on the other hand claimed that all castes and communities in Padampur constituency support the party as Patnaik is regarded to be working for all people.
Congress leader Panchanan Kanungo, who has been in politics for five decades, said that caste politics do not work in Odisha as its people believe in Lord Jagannath culture, which is above all castes, creed, religion and gender.
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