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Elections for the Kandhamal Lok Sabha: Will the BJP Be Able to Overcome the BJD Bastion?

There are 21 parliamentary seats in Odisha, including the Kandhamal Lok Sabha constituency. It is a general category seat that includes all of the districts of Kandhamal and Boudh, as well as certain portions of Ganjam and Nayagarh. The Biju Janata Dal (BJD) had seven Assembly seats in the previous Assembly, which are under the Kandhamal Lok Sabha seat: Baliguda-ST, G Udayagiri-ST, Phulbani-ST, Kantamal, Boudh, Daspalla-SC, and Bhanjanagar.

Phase 5 Polling Date: May 20, 2024

Achyutananda Samanta, the sitting MP (BJD)

Amir Chand Nayak (Congress), Sukanta Kumar Panigrahi (BJP), and Achyutananda Samanta (BJD) are the candidates.

DYNAMICS POLITICAL
Overview: Since its creation in 2009 as a result of a delimitation exercise, the Kandhamal Lok Sabha seat has only ever elected BJD candidates.
This time, Naveen Patnaik’s BJD, the BJP, and the Congress are competing in the tribal-dominated seat in three ways.

The BJD continues to rule Kandhamal despite threats from the BJP, a former ally that has increased its power in the area.

Given its declining support base in the state and in the seat of Kandhamal, the Congress is not being considered a viable challenger.

BJD: Popular incumbent MP Achyuta Samanta has been given the ticket by the governing party. In Kandhamal, Samanta will become the first MP to win two consecutive terms if he prevails.

According to NITI Aayog, Kandhamal is one of the top nine aspirational districts, and Samanta’s efforts have received a lot of recognition in this regard.

Samanta is a philanthropist and educationist who served in the Rajya Sabha from 2018 to 2019.

He easily trounced the closest opponent, BJP candidate Kharabela Swain, in the 2019 election by a margin of more than 1.5 lakh votes.

Being the creator of the Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology (KIIT) and the Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences (KISS), he is well-liked by young people for spearheading free education programs for tribal students from rural parts of the state as well as Kandhamal.

Samanta is well-liked in Kandhamal because of his efforts over the last five years to advance rural development, healthcare, education, and tribal advancement. This explains the reason for the BJD’s first-ever repetition of a candidate in Kandhamal.
The BJD is a powerful force in Kandhamal because of Samanta’s base of support as well as Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s popularity and impeccable reputation despite reigning for more than 24 years.

While Patnaik’s programs and efforts for women’s empowerment have produced another strong vote-bank for the party, Samanta has captured the hearts and minds of the young.

BJP: After splitting from the BJD in 2009, the party hasn’t done well in Odisha for around ten years. However, since 2019, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity has grown, it has been progressively establishing its foundation. It now leads the state’s opposition parties.

But it seems that the saffron party does not have a state leader with the same status and reputation as Naveen Patnaik. Most of its leaders are restricted to certain groups of people.

Sukanta Kumar Panigrahi, the party’s candidate in the 2014 general elections, is part of the party’s aggressive plan to challenge the BJD stronghold in Kandhamal. With 12.95% of the vote, he finished third at the time behind the BJD winner and the Congress runner-up.

Panigrahi has a lengthy history of being connected to the Sangh Parivar. After Kharabela Swain, the BJP’s 2019 candidate, declined to run from the same seat, he was put up from Kandhamal. The Lok Sabha seat of Balasore piqued Swain’s attention. By a margin of 1,49,216 votes, Swain had fallen short against Achyuta Samanta of the BJD five years before.
Panigrahi has been bringing up concerns including inadequate road connection, a lack of drinking water and irrigation facilities in the area, and much-needed development in Kandhamal, in addition to promising these things.

Prime Minister Modi is the main reason why the BJP is strong in Odisha. According to a number of surveys, Modi is the most well-liked national leader in Odisha.

The BJP support in the state has grown thanks to his leadership and pro-Hindu policies, especially the construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh.

Turmeric Cheer: The establishment of a National Turmeric Board by the Narendra Modi administration in October of last year has been much appreciated by the turmeric growers in Kandhamal.

One of India’s main districts for the production of turmeric is Kandhamal. Turmeric is farmed by an estimated 60,000 tribal households on about 13,700 hectares.
The Geographical Indication (GI) label was even awarded to the tribal farmers’ Kandhamal haldi (turmeric) in 2019.

Growing haldi in Kandhamal is an environmentally resilient practice that offers great production, minimal risk, and crop sustainability even in unfavorable weather circumstances. The therapeutic qualities of Kandhamal turmeric are also well-known.

Appealing to Tribes: All three of the main contenders in this race are from the General category, even though the seat is controlled by tribes. Because of his contributions to the community in the fields of healthcare and education, BJD’s Achyutananda Samanta may get a sizable portion of the tribal votes.

The BJP is counting on the fact that has nominated Droupadi Murmu, an Adivasi, to be the next president of India. Murmu is a resident of Uparbeda village in Rairangpur, Odisha’s Baidaposi region.

Additionally, programs like the PM Janjati Adivasi Nyaya Maha Abhiyan are being highlighted. On the day of tribal hero Birsa Munda’s birth last year, Prime Minister Modi unveiled a project worth Rs 24,000 crore for marginalized tribal communities.

In its platform, the BJP pledged to mark the 150th anniversary of tribal leader Birsa Munda’s birth in 2025 as the “Janjatiya Gaurav Varsh” if it were to win back tribal-dominated states like Odisha and Jharkhand.

The Janjatiya Gaurav Corridor is an additional effort that the BJP expects would bolster its political advantage among tribals. Its goal is to enhance connectivity, train infrastructure, and economic development in tribal areas.

Congress: The Congress is well-known in Kandhamal, but it has never been able to win the seat, much like the BJP.
In order to consolidate the anti-establishment votes, it had hoped that the BJP and BJD would form an alliance before to the state elections, but that did not materialize.

The national leadership’s seeming disregard for the constituency in Kandhamal is one of its main drawbacks. As a consequence, the party’s support base has been becoming smaller, and cadre morale is poor.

The Congress has put Amir Chand Nayak, a candidate from the Kandhamal seat, up this time.

Uniform Civil Code: Of the BJP’s holy trinity of electoral pledges, a central UCC remains the sole commitment after the repeal of Article 370 in J&K and the building of a Ram Mandir at the Ram Janmabhoomi in Ayodhya. The BJP-led state of Uttarakhand has already passed its own Uniform Civil Code, and there is much conjecture that in its third term at the center, the saffron party may do the same in other states.

Tribal populations in Odisha are apprehensive about the idea of a central UCC, but the Uttarakhand UCC has excluded tribal tribes from its jurisdiction despite intense political debate.

Certain tribal communities have asked to be excluded from the UCC during the Law Commission’s ongoing consultations, and opposition parties have said that the governing BJP is using the matter as a political ploy.

Although there isn’t much discussion on UCC in Kandhamal, some tribal activists are worried and are repeating throughout election season that the community should be kept out of the conjectured UCC.

No Concerns About Reservations: The Congress is not as active in Odisha as it is in other states with a large tribal population, so claims made by its national leadership that the BJP wants to amend the Constitution and eliminate reservations if it is elected to a third term are unlikely to be taken seriously in Kandhamal.

Important Constituency Concerns Railway Line Gopalpur-Phulbani-Sambalpur: The inclusion of Phulbani town in the projected railway link from Gopalpur to Rairakhole under the Janjatiya Gaurav Corridor has been a longstanding demand of citizens’ forums in the Kandhamal district.
The citizens’ forums said in its September 2023 submission to the federal government that a detailed project report (DPR) for the 245-kilometer new railway line from Gopalpur to Rairakhole had been developed by the East Coast Railway.

In their letter, they expressed dissatisfaction about the corridor’s eighteen stations, which included Phulbani. They claimed that the amended DPR removed Phulbani’s station and rerouted the line from Chakapad (Kandhamal) to Madhapur (Boudh) for “technical and economic reasons.”

The committee had pleaded with the government to rethink its insistence on including Phulbani, Kandhamal’s district headquarters, within the planned railway project.

Ashwini Vaishnaw, the Union Minister of Railways, said in January of this year that the demand to include Phulbani into the Gopalpur to Rairakhole route had been granted.

However, according to media sources on May 6, 2024, the project has been delayed since the federal and state administrations cannot agree on how to align it.

The District Railway Action Committee helped the Kandhamal Vikash Parishad (KVP) stage a dawn-to-dusk bandh in November of last year to protest the lack of a railway station in Phulbani town.

The 241-km projected railway line by East Coast Railways between Gopalpur in Ganjam district and Rairakhole in Sambalpur was the subject of protests, who claimed that Phulbani was delinked from the project.

However, the KVP had stated that there was a station in Phulbani town in the original DPR.

Left-Wing Extremism: Over the last ten or so years, anti-Naxal operations in Odisha have shown significant achievements; nonetheless, the Kandhamal-Kalahandi axis continues to be concerning, since many fire events have been recorded since last year.

During a combing operation in the Kandhamal district on December 24, 2023, an improvised explosive device (IED) placed by Naxals detonated in a forest, injuring two jawans of the elite Special Operations Group (SOG) of the Odisha Police.

Three SOG jawans were injured on January 5th, this year, in an IED explosion at Batepanga Forest, which is at the boundary of the Boudh and Kandhamal districts. The explosion was set up by suspected Naxals.

According to reports, there are just 242 active cadres in the CPI (Maoist) in Odisha under the Kandhamal-Kalahandi-Boudh-Nayagarh (KKBN) division, and Naxals are moving back and forth into Odisha districts like Malkangiri, Koraput, and Kandhamal via the Bastar corridor in Chhattisgarh.
Suspected Naxals assassinated a tribal man before the 2022 Panchayat elections, claiming he was a police informant.
In a number of villages, Naxal posters and banners had also appeared, advising residents to abstain from the panchayat elections.
Water Scarcity: The tribal settlements of Kandhamal have a similar problem: a shortage of water.

By 2022, the Odisha government had committed to providing tap water connections to all schools and anganwaadi centers via the officially funded Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM) in an effort to lessen suffering. That promise hasn’t been kept, however.
The Sapari tribal village, which has 165 residents living in 38 families but no access to clean drinking water during the sweltering summers, is one place where the situation is especially bad.

Malnutrition: According to the Odisha government’s official figures from 2018, Kandhamal had around 3,500 fatalities from malnutrition in the preceding five years.

The area is home to more than 53% of indigenous people, making it one of the top groups in the state with the highest rates of malnutrition.

This tribal hinterland has seen a notable reduction in hunger rates in recent years, indicating some progress.

The National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5) 2019–21 reports that there has been a notable decline in stunting in Kandhamal, from 38.4% to 34.2%. The proportion of children who are underweight has decreased from 43.1% to 35.40 percent.

All of these numbers, however, remain below the state average.
A people’s collective called Jeebika Suraksha Mancha operates in Kandhamal, and it has been teaching the locals the value of creating a kitchen garden and the health advantages of consuming fruits and vegetables that are green.

With further assistance from the Noida-based NGO Atmashakti Trust, the nutritious kitchen garden program is assisting rural households in 267 villages within the Kotagada and Tumudibandha districts of the Kandhamal district in growing vegetables at home.

Election Demographics: Social Make-Up

SC: 18.39%

ST: 27.91%

Contents of Religion

Buddhist: 0.2 percent

Christian: 8.85%

Jain: 0.01%

1.8% of Muslims

Sikh: 0.2 percent

KANDHAMAL’S MAJOR INFRA PROJECTS
Greenfield Railway Line Project: Located in western Odisha, the project is a Rs 6,700 crore undertaking that crosses the Kandhamal district in addition to five other districts.

The line would offer quicker port access for the industrial clusters in eastern Chhattisgarh and link the East Coast port with the mineral and industrial clusters in western Odisha.
It is anticipated that the project would create new industrial corridors and enhance the socioeconomic development of the tribal regions in the districts of Kandhamal and Boudh.

Upgrading National Highway-59: In February of this year, Nitin Gadkari, the Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways, said that Rs 718.26 crore will be allocated for the purpose of expanding and reinforcing the Daringbadi Ghat stretch of National Highway-59, which crosses the districts of Kandhamal and Ganjam.
The project spans 26.96 kilometers in total.

Long-route cars from western Odisha are presently bypassing National Highway 59 owing to difficulties with the Daringbadi Ghat portion, according to Gadkari. These issues stem from the small roadway and inadequate geometry.

Improving this section will raise the bar for safety, meet all weather connection requirements along National Highway 59, and improve highway standards since it is a popular tourist destination, particularly in the winter.

Hydro Power Project: At an estimated cost of Rs 787.48 crore, the Odisha Hydro Power Corporation Limited (OHPC) intends to construct a hydropower project with a 63 MW capacity in Baliguda, Kandhamal district.

The project was cleared in February 2024 by the State-Level Single Window Clearance Authority (SLSWCA) of Odisha.

Medical College and Hospital: In October 2019, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik announced plans to upgrade the district headquarters’ current hospital and establish a medical college in Phulbani in Kandhamal.

An estimated Rs 655 crore was spent on the project when it was started.
VK Pandian, the chairman of 5T, gave staff instructions in December 2023 to finish the work on schedule.

The government intends to enroll the first class of MBBS students in 2024–2025, according to reports.

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