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February 15, 2000
Electorate sick of lying politicians in Bolangir
M I Khan in Bolangir (Orissa)
Even after star campaigners Sonia Gandhi and J B Patnaik for the Congress and L K Advani, Pramod Mahajan and Biju Janata Dal chief Naveen Patnaik for the Bharatiya Janata Party-BJD visiting them in recent days, people of the area are not enthusiastic about the elections.
They have a clear-cut idea that these politicians will all disappear after the elections. The problems they've faced for long -- lack of water for irrigation, unemployment and migration -- continue to haunt them despite all the promises made by successive MLAs.
In Bolangir only six per cent of the land is irrigated, over 90 per cent people live below the poverty line and large numbers migrate every year due to lack of employment opportunities. The state government claims it has made a vital difference but none of it is visible in the interiors.
The poor people there complain they lack basic amenities that politicians have promised them over the years.
"It is not that only Congress leaders have been promising the moon; even the BJP and BJD promises to wipe out hunger and eradicate poverty but things remains here the same," says Manik Bhau, an angry villager of Dhaura Pana village in Saintala assembly seat.
Leaders of the Congress and the BJD-BJP alliance politicians are back, seeking votes in exchange for empty promises. But the electorate is indifferent to the bait.
In fact, poll-related activity is more or less confined to party workers, the candidates themselves and sound and light shows they put up. There's no poll fever here for the election on February 17.
"People have started migrating as there is no work for us," says Dhalu Tandi of Kantabajhi assembly constituency. It's a common thing to hear in Bolangir, under which fall six assembly segments, Bolangir, Loisingha, Titlagarh, Kantabanjhi, Santala and Patnagarh.
Pradeepta Nayak, a schoolteacher from Khanterai village says Bolangir is one district in western Orissa where the majority depends on agriculture. Water is the most crucial issue on which the fortunes of politicians hinge.
"But lack of water and work have kept the people suffering. Bolangir is underdeveloped, forcing thousands every year to migrate for survival" Nayak says.
In Bolangir town where the electioneering has picked up a little in the last phase, people were reluctant to talk about party politics. But after much persuasion a group of youths and middle-aged people near the main market said there was no point in taking active part in poll activities.
"In the last 50 years, almost all the issues and promises were occupy a place in the manifestos of the parties. They promises roads, irrigation, drinking water and what not," says Devesh Mishra, an unemployed youth.
The 85-km stretch from Bhawanipatna to Bolangir is very rough. This is where BJP leader Sangeeta Singhdeo won the seat in the last two Lok Sabha elections with promises to improve basic facilities.
While the Bolangir assembly seat is regularly represented by the BJD senior leader A U Singhdeo, a scion of Bolangir maharaja and former chief minister R N Singhdeo, the Congress won two seats in the last assembly elections -- Saintala and Kantabanjhi. The BJD won Bolangir and Titlagarh seats, the BJP won Patnagarh and one independent, Balgopal Mishra, won the Loisingha assembly seat.
All sitting MLAs have been renominated from the seats they have represented. But the shift by president of the state unit of the Janata Dal (United) Narasingha Mishra, who is backed by the Congress, has provided a twist to the electoral battle in Loisingha.
Mishra, the chairman of the Western Orissa Development Council, had won the Binka assembly seat in 1995. But in loisingha he has a direct fight going with his brother-in-law and independent candidate Balgopal Mishra, who is contesting this election on a BJP ticket.
Both of them are out to prove their supremacy in Bolangir politics, which is dominated by the royal family. Although both Mishra were known for their anti-royal attitudes, Balgopal Mishra, who is contesting as a BJP nominee this time, has the backing of the royal family this time. Narasingha Mishra was a Communist Party of India member till a few years ago and his radical past may have worried the influential royal family.
Bolangir MP Sangeeta Singhdeo is the wife of K V Singhdeo, a BJP MLA from the Patnagarh assembly seat while the Bolangir assembly seat is represented by A U Singhdeo, a BJD MLA. Both Singhdeos are close relatives, belonging to the Bolangir royal family.
Balgopal Mishra, who has won the Loisingha seat four times as an independent, is fighting for the first time on a party symbol.
A senior BJP worker Radhanath Panda in Loisingha said the support of the Singhdeos gives Balagopal Mishra an edge; but Narasingha Mishra is banking on his popularity, the support from the Congress and his contribution as the WODC chairman. He reminded people during the campaigning that he had initiated the construction of the long-cherished medical college at Bolangir and other developmental work.
He has also drawn up a detailed programme so that he keeps his promise to provide irrigation facilities to 50 per cent of Bolangir in the next five years with help from a World Bank-funded project.
Promises and more promises...
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