BHAWANIPATNA/ANGUL/MALKANGIRI: In Golamunda block of Kalahandi district, Mahaling is a gram panchayat. For much of the second part of last year, this panchayat grabbed the headlines over the sensational murder of school teacher Mamita Meher. And found himself embroiled in the controversy was BJD’s Minster of State for Home Dibya Shankar Mishra.
When the panchayat poll vote counting was wrapped up for the ZP zone, Mahaling polled 3,264 votes of which 1,813 went to the ruling party. BJP managed just 785 while Congress secured 571 votes. It summed up how all the vociferous campaigns of the saffron party against BJD cut little ice with the voters.
Districts where BJP enjoyed a stronghold, this pretty much was the scene as the party was pushed to the margins, almost. In Kalahandi, the saffron party has been left to lick its wounds. In 2017 rural polls, BJP had bagged 33 of the total 36 zilla parishad (ZP) seats in the district while the ruling BJD came a distant third with only one seat while Congress won two seats. This time, the table turned completely with the BJD leading in 33 ZP seats while BJP and Congress ahead in two and one seats respectively.
Both the BJP and Congress were banking on the Mamita Meher murder case to gain an upper hand in the panchayat elections. Besides, targeting Minister and Junagarh MLA Mishra for his alleged link with the main accused Gobind Sahu, the opposition parties also raked up the paddy procurement mess and plight of farmers due to erratic monsoon.
Initially jittery, the BJD launched the offensive and campaigned aggressively despite facing egg attacks and various kinds of protests. Mishra was assigned the poll supervision which showed BJD was not willing to back down. The ruling party workers convinced voters that the Mamita murder case was being used by the opposition to target Mishra keeping in view the panchayat elections. This turned the negative campaign of opposition into a sympathy riding on which the Minister managed to win all the seven ZP seats in Junagarh and Golamunda blocks, which come under his Assembly constituency, for his party BJD.
Workers of the ruling party also effectively managed to take the welfare schemes of the State government like BSKY smart health card, housing assistance, rural electrification, road connectivity and drinking water projects to the voters of Kalahandi. BJD applied a new style of campaigning and monitoring in each booth which confused the opposition.
On the other hand, the campaigning of BJP and Congress was lacklustre. BJP’s Bhawanipatna MLA and Opposition Leader Pradipta Naik were recuperating from Covid in hospital while senior Congress leader Bhakta Das has been tasked by his party to campaign in the North-East elections. Their absence was felt by the cadres of both parties.
District president of BJP Debendra Mohanty attributed BJD’s stellar show to misuse of money power and government machinery. However, he admitted that his party failed to take the welfare schemes of the Centre to the voters. Similarly, Congress president of Kalahandi Bharat Bhusan Bemal alleged that voters were lured by the BJD with money. Congress lacked adequate funds to counter the ruling BJD, he added.
In Angul, the BJP suffered a similar heartbreak. In the last panchayat polls, the saffron party had won 16 ZP seats while the BJD bagged 12 seats. This time around, BJD has so far won 15 seats and is leading in 11. The BJP has managed to win only one seat and leading in another.
In Talcher constituency, the BJP had won four of five ZP seats last time but in this election, the party has failed to open its account. Similarly, the party had won four seats in Pallahara and three in Kishore Nagar in 2017. This time, the BJP’s score in these blocks is zero. The party has won a single ZP seat in Chhendipada block and is leading in another in Angul.
In Malkangiri, the BJP faced a wipe-out. In 2017 polls, the party had won 10 of the 13 ZP seats while BJD bagged only one and Congress secured two. But this time, the ruling party has emerged victorious in 12 ZP seats while Congress has secured three seats. In 2017, election was not held in two ZP seats in Swabhiman Anchal.
Uma Shankar Kar , BK Rout and Deba Prasad Dash