Bhubaneswar: The ruling BJD has come up with a plan to organise football and cricket tournaments from panchayat to the district level in a bid to further strengthen its rural base following the BJP making inroads into the interior areas of the state, party sources said Sunday.
The BJD is drawn into the politics of sports with a view to attract the youths of the state and bolster the party’s prospects in the upcoming panchayat and urban body polls.
After a stiff challenge from the BJP in the 2019 general elections when the saffron party won eight out of the 21 Lok Sabha seats in Odisha, only four less than the BJD’s 12, the ruling Biju Janata Dal is making all efforts to regain its influence in the rural and tribal areas of the state.
The tournaments will be organised by the youth and students wings of the BJD without having the party’s election symbol (conch), but its logo will carry the picture of legendary leader and former Chief Biju Patnaik after whom the regional outfit is named.
The party has chosen tribal-dominated Mayurbhanj district on a pilot basis where the BJD appears weak in terms of electoral politics.
Odisha’s Sports Minister TK Behera, Revenue and Disaster Management Minister Sudam Marndi, BJD youth wing president Byomokesh Ray and BJD MLA Pranab Balabantray unveiled the logo, jersey and trophy for the Mayurbhanj Premier League (MPL-2021) at a function held at Baripada on Saturday.
“The party will later extend the programme to other districts after witnessing the success of MPL,” a senior leader said.
He said holding tournament from panchayat to district level is the brainchild of BJDs organising secretary Pranab Prakash Das, who is also in-charge of Mayurbhanj district.
The Mayurbhanj district is chosen for piloting the sporting experiment as the ruling party performed poorly in both the previous panchayat polls in 2017 and later in general elections in 2019.
The ruling party candidates could win only in three of the nine assembly segments in Mayurbhanj. Opposition BJP won six assembly seats and Mayurbhanj Lok Sabha seat in 2019 general elections.
This apart, the BJP also dominated the rural pockets of Mayurbhanj by winning 49 of the 56 Zilla Parishad seats while the ruling party finished with only seven seats.
While the football tournaments will start from February 8, the cricket leagues will begin from February 9, according to the match fixture.
Party sources said that similar events will also be held in the districts of Koraput, Malkangiri, Kalahandi and Nuapada in 2021.
Opposition BJP and Congress have ridiculed the ruling party for using sports for its political gains, while the BJD described it as an attempt to discover hidden sporting talents in the districts.