Congress flag lies at the foot of the bust of Saheed Laxman Nayak, the ‘Gandhi of Malkangiri’, at his birthplace Tentuliguma under Boipariguda block of Koraput district.
A few feet away, a group of villagers is busy putting up banners of BJP on the banyan tree and readying a stage for the party meeting to be held there later in the day. The tree does also have a banner of the BJD but it is on the verge of losing its strings and coming unstuck.
Elsewhere in the district where the election tempo has touched peak as the day of voting is less than a week away, but the banyan tree at the native of Nayak is the only sign of any politicking here. A stark sense of non-enthusiasm and indifference prevails over the relatively big village with around 130 households and a population of over 800.
Madhu Nayak, the grandson of Saheed Laxman Nayak, points to the house of the great hero who sacrificed his life fighting the British. The single-room house appears to have frozen in time. It has been 130 years since Laxman Nayak was born there but it has undergone no change. The thatched roof has half crumbled and supported by a polythene sheet. The wall maintained by the family with periodical mud pasting.
It is not preservation of a historical monument in its original form but a symbol of the years of sheer negligence of the soil that one of Odisha’s great freedom fighters belonged to. Tentuliguma exists beyond the margins of development.
Amid great fanfare, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik named the Koraput medical college, inaugurated in 2017, after Saheed Laxman Nayak. Not to be left behind, Prime Minister Narendra Modi felicitated Nayak’s descendant during his visit to Odisha in the same year. The tokenism ended then and there as his village still pines for a proper road connectivity, drinking water, a health facility and education.
“The administration holds a perfunctory programme to observe the birth and death anniversaries of Laxman Nayak every year.
The Collector, the BDO and other officials come, garland the statues and leave, not even directing a glance at the state of his village. Politicians, MLA, MP - we have not seen in years barring election time”, says the around 65 year-old Madhu. His cousin Kesav, son of Laxman’s younger brother Dana, raises the much-needed direct connectivity to Boipariguda block headquarters. “Now we have to travel through Mathili in Malkangiri district covering over 60 km to reach Boipariguda. We have been seeking a road through Danabadi, which would reduce the distance to half, in vain”, he says.
Right then passes a trekker (an open jeep kind of passenger vehicle of the 80’s and 90’s) with over 50 passengers virtually clinging to every centimetre of available holding space at serious risk to their lives.
“What other option is there? This is the only public transport available and the vehicle plies once a day”, Kesav explains.
The village of over 800 people depends on a couple of tube-wells for drinking water. Electricity provided by the nearby Minakshi Power company and not Government while majority of the 12 villages under the panchayat still in darkness. The local upper primary school has no teachers and children are packed off to Ashram schools in Boipariguda. The nearest health facility is 20 km away.
Predominantly Bhumia tribesmen, the villagers are farmers but farm productivity is at the lowest due to lack of irrigation. A greater part of the year, they seek work far off in Jeypore as labourers.
The much vaunted KALIA scheme has not reached them even as their names are on the list. Nor has the Central Government flagships like Ujjwala or Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana.
“Only around 10-12 of our village have got KALIA money. Ujjwala gas has reached a little more houses at around 20. We have not heard of the NYAY scheme of the Congress and if it is true, it is just another false promise,” informs a villager.
The excuse of Maoist shadow on development works also does not convince the people. It was a Maoist hotbed earlier but things have changed after deployment of BSF. The BSF has a camp in the village and jawans are seen guarding the entire expanse from Boipariguda through Tentuliguma.
Who will the Tentuliguma panchayat under Kotpad Assembly constituency and Nabarangpur Lok Sabha seat vote for on April 11? Traditional Congress voters but this time, there may be a split. Modi is a big factor even in this back of the beyond. Naveen popular yet up against anti-incumbency.
“No en-bloc votes. To each his own”, says Mukul, a youth.