BJD takes the ‘royal’ slice in electoral battle

12 royals are in fray - 10 for Assembly seats and 2 as MP candidates
Keshari Deo,
Malavika Keshari Deo, Sanjukta SinghPhoto | Express

BHUBANESWAR: Odisha’s poll battles have been incomplete without royal representation for decades. The ensuing twin elections are no different. This time, 12 royals are in fray - 10 for Assembly seats and two as MP candidates.

For the Assembly seats, a majority of the royal members have been picked up by the BJD while the Lok Sabha candidates are BJP’s choice. Congress has fielded just one from the royal family members.

In Southern Odisha, the royals of Chikiti, Dharakote and Khallikote have had a sway over voters since Independence. This time, the queens of Chikiti and Dharakote - Usha Devi and Nandini Devi - have paved the way for their young heirs to take their political legacy forward. The mothers are now campaigning for their scions.

Wife of Trigunateeta Deb, Usha first represented the Chikiti Assembly segment in 1990 (won on Janata Dal ticket) and went on to win six times from the seat. Prior to her, her father-in-law Sachidananda Narayan Deb was elected the MLA of Chikiti twice in 1971 and 1974 on Congress ticket. In her 70s now, she has chosen her engineer son Chinmayananda Srirup Deb to take the mantle forward. Reposing faith in Usha’s choice, BJD has granted a ticket to Srirup.

In Dharakote, third generation of the royal family and the crowned ‘raja saheb’ Sulakhyana Gitanjali Devi has got the BJD ticket from the Sanakhemundi Assembly segment this time. The daughter of former BJD MLA of Sanakhemundi Nandini Devi, Gitanjali got into politics seven years back. She was her mother’s election manager in the 2019 polls. The second generation of Dharakote royals have had their political roots in the BJP. Dharakote ‘raja’ and Nandini’s husband Kishore Chandra Singh Deo was a BJP leader. In 2009, Nandini fought the seat on a BJP ticket but lost. After the death of Singh Deo, she joined BJD and was elected as MLA from the seat in 2014.

“Three generations of the Dharakote royal family have been into Southern Odisha politics which began with Ananta Narayan Singhdeo who had won the Soroda Assembly segment several times and was a cabinet minister in the past. After him, his wife Shanti Devi won the seat for the erstwhile Janata Dal,” said former political science faculty member of Berhampur university Bishnu Charan Choudhury.

In the past, while Western Odisha had gadjats (princely states), it was zamindars in Southern Odisha who enjoyed the title of ‘raja’ and ‘rani’. “They had a large following till the 70s-80s but the scenario changed a lot after that. Currently, not the title of king or queen but the image and vote banks of the political parties that they represent, are getting them the votes,” Choudhury added.

In Western Odisha, BJP has retained Sangeeta Kumari Singh Deo as Balangir MP candidate and chosen Kalahandi queen Malavika Keshari Deo as the Kalahandi MP face. Wife of former minister and senior BJP leader KV Singh Deo, Sangeeta has been elected from the Balangir Lok Sabha seat four times in the past.

Kaliesh Narayan Singh Deo, two-time MP from Balangir, this time fights from the Assembly segment. KV will fight from Patnagarh seat on BJP ticket.

In the Kalahandi Parliamentary constituency, BJP nominated Malavika, wife of former MP Arka Keshari Deo. The royal couple, who were initially members of BJD, had quit the ruling party after being denied ticket in 2019 and joined BJP in 2023. Arka is the son of Bikram Keshari Deo, Kalahandi royal family scion and BJP leader, who had won the seat thrice.

Likewise, the BJD has projected Bamanda queen Arundhati Devi, who is the wife of Deogarh king and BJP’s Sambalpur MP Nitesh Ganga Deb, as its Deogarh Assembly candidate and Pushpendra Singh Deo, another royal, for the Dharmgarh seat.

The regional party has also fielded Sanjukta Singh to fight from Angul seat. She is the wife of Rajanikant Singh who is the scion of Angul royal family.

Congress, on the other hand, is depending on Susmita Singh Deo, a member of the Dhenkanal royal family, to win the Dhenkanal Assembly seat. From Nayagarh, Pratyusha Rajeswari Singh will fight the seat for BJP. Pratap Deb, member of Aul royal family, will fight for the Aul seat for BJD.

“Even today, royal families continue to reign over voters. People, particularly in Balangir, still believe they are the praja of the raja. Everywhere else, voters hold the royal family members in high esteem and believe that they are the ones who would listen to their demands and put in efforts to fulfil them. This image of the royals is the key to their success in the political landscape,” said political analyst Satya Prakash Das.

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