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|September 24, 1999||
The prince and pauper fight it out
M I Khan in Bhawanipatna, Orissa
This is truly a battle between king and commoner. But the result may make little difference to the people.
The Bharatiya Janata Party candidate B K Deo is a scion of the royal family of Kalahandi and the Congress candidate, Bhakta Charan Das, is from a poor family of the same area.
The duo had battled it out in the last Lok Sabha election too and the Deo had beaten Das by a huge margin at the time, relying on a Vajpayee wave.
This time the Vajpayee wave is bigger, but Deo and Das are still at blaming each other for the drought that strikes the area.
While Das can relate with the people, the subservient electorate here tends to vote for the royalty.
Das is associated with the movement to change the face of Kalahandi. This has remained an unfulfilled dream till now. But it made him a household name and helped him win the 1996 Lok Sabha election from Kalahandi as a candidate of the Samajwadi Janata Party of former prime minister Chandrashekhar.
Das has an even wider network in the district, particularly in semi-urban Bhawani Patna, Kesinga, the rural sector of Khairiar, and in Kokshara block. Deo, on the other hand, is backed by those still loyal to the erstwhile royal family.
Deo, the former MLA from the Junagarh assembly seat, has a strong family base here, which is an asset. Kalahandi has been synonymous with hunger, poverty and starvation and hit the headlines in the 1960s, following severe drought in the area.
Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who visited the area put special emphasis on the eradication of drought and poverty but the situation changed little.
Thanks to the 'vote bank politics' in the name of poverty, political rivals keep accusing each other neglecting Kalahandi. That reality has not bothered the politicians can be gauged from the fact that at Jugsai Patna, only 20 km from Bhawani Patna, the district headquarter, literacy in about a dozen villages there stands at zero per cent.
"This is one face of Kalahandi. The lack of basic facilities are visible everywhere -- in health, communication, education and human development," says Jagdish Pradhan of Sahvhagi Vikash Abhiyan, one organisation trying to change conditions in this drought-prone area. Other people in the district are also are fed up with the system that has failed to give them anything.
During electioneering, the different parties do mention things like health facilities, poverty and underdevelopment, but that is essentially due to politician compulsions, not with any real plan for change in mind.
This time, Deo, the sitting MP, is focussing on the failure of the Congress government in the state for failing to pay attention to the underdeveloped area. He says the public distribution system is in complete disarray in Kalahandi where nearly 80 per cent people live below the poverty line.
And Das hardly misses an opportunity to remind the people that the Vajpayee government at the Centre did nothing for this backward district. For comparison, he provides facts and figures regarding the work he did during his tenure as MP.
Deo who represented the constituency in the 12th Lok Sabha in his maiden parliamentary contest won by a convincing margin of 119,000 votes, partly due to the saffron wave at the time. But this time, despite the Vajpayee factor, a closer fight is expected here, at least going by the similar size of the crowds the two candidates draw at their public meetings.
In a last bid to draw over the rural people, particularly the tribals, Das organised, on the last day of campaigning, a public meeting in Bhawani Patna attended by Congress president Sonia Gandhi. That move is expected to shift some votes in favour of the Congress, especially in the interior.
Unlike earlier, the Congress workers are working together to help Das. Congress workers admit that partymen treated Das badly last time and that could have worked against him then.
In the last six elections since 1980 the Congress has won the Kalahandi seat four times and the SJP and the BJP have one time each.
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