Odisha Elections 2024: Congress Role Decisive In Kalahandi LS Seat

Bhawanipatna: Will BJP be able to retain Kalahandi parliamentary constituency in Odisha with Malvika Keshari Deo, who though a newcomer has the legacy of the royal family behind her? Or, will Lambodhar Nial, who belongs to the dominant Gouda (Yadav) community, do the trick for BJD?

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The BJP, which in 2019 won this seat in western Odisha, has changed its candidate this time to offset allegations of non-performance. With Malvika as its candidate, the saffron party also hopes to converted the influence of the erstwhile royal family of Kalahandi in the region into votes. The BJD, on its part, has fielded Lambodhar, who is relatively unknown outside Khariar Assembly seat from where he contested unsuccessfully in 2014 and 2019. He is confident of winning the election with overwhelming support from his community, particularly in Khariar and Nuapada assembly segments, along with the organisational support of the regional party.

While Congress has reposed its faith in newcomer Draupadi Majhi, an independent is also garnering attention in this electoral battle. Dharmananda Gahir quit his job as an assistant professor at Delhi’s Ramjas College, to enter the poll fray to bring about policy changes while highlighting the continuing problem of labour migration in Kalahandi and Nuapada.

Congress Role Crucial

Congress votes will be decisive to determine the winner in Kalahandi. The Congress has a traditional vote bank in this Lok Sabha seat. The party’s heavyweight and state Congress campaign committee chairman Bhakta Charan Das can also be a factor in the 2024 election. Having tasted defeat in Kahalandi in 2014 and 2019 after winning the LS seat thrice in 2009, 1996, and 1989, Bhakta is contesting from Narla Assembly seat this time. The 3-time MP has his own organisation in Kalahandi. His son Sagar Das is the Congress candidate in Bhawanipatna Assembly segment, which also falls under this parliamentary constituency. The grand old party also has a presence in Nuapada. Therefore, the Lok Sabha results may get influenced by the support Bhakta can draw.

Will Congress Vote Share Remain Intact?

In 2019 elections, the Congress could win only one of the seven assembly seats under the Kalahandi Lok Sabha constituency. Its Khariar MLA Adhiraj Mohan Panigrahi, however, has now switched sides to BJD. Will Khariar vote for Adhiraj holding the Conch symbol? Or, will they continue to repose faith in Congress? Will Congress be able to retain the votes which its MP candidate had got from this Assembly segment? Bhakta had garnered over 3 lakh votes in the last elections. How far will the Congress be able to keep its vote share intact in the upcoming election will to a large extent determine the winning equation.

Who Will Benefit From Congress Votes?

It’s difficult to determine whether BJP or BJD would benefit from any swing in the Congress’ votes. The regional party won 5 of the 7 Assembly seats under this parliamentary constituency in the last election. It also has a good organisation in all segments. Despite his previous unsuccessful electoral bid from Khariar Assembly seat, the BJD seems to have strategically picked the 54-year-old Lambodar with an eye on the 25% OBC votes in the constituency. His Gouda community constitutes about 40 per cent of the population in Khariar and Boden blocks of Nuapada district. He hails from Dotto village in Karangamal gram panchayat of Boden block.

Public Support For Royal Family!

Kalahandi voters have supported the royal family in the past. Pratap Keshari Deo was the Kalahandi MP for five consecutive terms from 1957-1977 as Ganatantra Parishad, Swatantra Party and Independent candidate. Bikram Keshari Deo continued the family tradition by winning the seat in 1998, 1999 and 2004 as a BJP candidate. His son Arka Keshari Deo won the seat in 2014 but on BJD ticket. Arka along with his wife Malavika joined BJP in September 2023 after being denied a ticket in 2019 elections when the BJD fielded former minister Puspendra Singhdeo, a member of the Junagarh royal family. Though Basanta Kumar Panda of the BJP won the seat by defeating Puspendra, the BJP has chosen to fall back on the hold of the royal family on the voters of the district to retain the seat. The party also has a good organisation and favourable wind seems to be blowing for Malavika.

The poll dynamics in Kalahandi changed after Bhakta shifted to Assembly from Lok Sabha fray. While the fight is primarily between BJP’s Malavika and BJD’s Lambodar, the Congress and its voters will play a decisive role in crowning the winner.

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