ROURKELA: THE ruling BJD and Opposition Congress are banking on caste politics ahead of the poll to the 35-member Sundargarh Zilla Parishad (ZP) council. Both the parties have begun moves to corner the votes of Bhuiyan and Christian communities. The outcome of the Sundargarh ZP council poll in February next year with about 10.49 lakh voters would be a significant indicator for the outcome of Sundargarh Lok Sabha seat in 2019.
Sources said the Congress is still a dominating factor in rural pockets of Sundargarh district represented by MLAs Yogesh Singh and Prafulla Majhi, both from Bhuiyan community. It also has nine ZP seats, while the BJP had failed to open its account in 2012 rural poll. Also, between 1996 and 2007, the alliance of Congress and Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) had won the ZP council thrice.
In 2012, Congress failed to ally with the JMM thus losing sizeable Christian votes and BJD, with 20 seats, formed the present ZP council.
Interestingly, the usually anti-Congress Bhuiyan community had in 2009 gravitated towards the Congress with former Congress chief minister Hemanand Biswal, a Bhuiyan, winning the Sundargarh Lok Sabha seat defeating BJP heavyweight Jual Oram.
Sundargarh District Congress Committee (SDCC) president Dushmanta Naik claimed that 3.75 lakh Bhuiyan community votes and 2.5 lakh Christian votes are decisive factors. He said Biswal and the two sitting MLAs can garner Bhuiyan votes for his party. The Congress, with its secular image, also enjoys the support of Christian votes, he added.
Observers, however, beg to differ. They say as of now the Bhuiyan votes are divided between BJD, Congress and to some extent BJP, while majority of Christian votes seems to be moving towards the BJD. The ongoing Biju Patnaik Rural Hockey Tournament, organised by BJD’s Rajya Sabha member and hockey icon Dilip Tirkey, a Catholic, has managed to rope in about 21,600 young players of the district to form a bond with the vast Christian masses through hockey. Moreover, the incumbent Sundargarh ZP president Petrus Toppo is also a Catholic.
The BJD is also working to corner the sizeable Bhuiyan votes through former Bonai MLA Bhimsen Choudhury and Kishan votes through Rajgangpur MLA Mangla Kishan.
Rourkela Development Authority Chairman and former BJD minister Sarada Prasad Nayak said the BJD is poised to win the ZP council in view of the growing popularity of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik in the district.