Pradeep Pattanayak

Amidst the border dispute between Andhra Pradesh and Odisha, the contentious Kotia Panchayat in Koraput district is all set to go to Panchayat polls on February 18. 

To feel the political heat on ground zero, OTV team visited the villages bordering the southern state.

The sun was beating down little harshly when the team began the journey on the Phagunasineri-Phatusineri road. Villages and hamlets line either sides of the stretch. The team stopped off at a few villages to get a feel of the mood of the villagers about the ensuing elections. 

It is worth mentioning here that Andhra Pradesh had conducted Pancahayt elections in Kotia Panchayat in February last year. It had then divided the contentious Panchayat into three parts. With an aim to send out a clear and loud message to AP, this time all the political parties in Odisha have joined hands. 

Though they had decided to select consensus candidates for the posts of Zilla Parishad, Sarpanch, Samiti and Ward members, it did not pan out as exactly as they had thought of. However, they were partly successful in fielding Samiti members unanimously. 

As the team entered markets and villages like Kandha Sahi, they were greeted by candidates with folded hands in posters and banners which were put up everywhere, from shops to outer walls of all the houses. 

The team came to know that two women have been pitted against one another for Pottangi Zilla Parishad zone-1 seat. They are Mamata Jani, an all party candidate and Tikai Gemel, an independent one. While Mamata's banners and posters show leaders of all the parties, Tikai is riding on dynasty, being the wife of former MLA Chandra Santa's grandson.  

Mamata said she knew it very well that Kotia is an indivisible part of Odisha. "Since all the parties have chosen me, I will never let them down. I will fight for Kotia," she said. Similarly, Tikai said, "Kotia is my birth place and this gives me the right to fight."

This time, seven candidates are vying for Sarpanch post in Kotia Panchayat. They all have one and only one objective to serve the Panchayat in a way people will forget AP, provided they are voted to power. "If I win, my first priority will be to provide the benefits of government schemes and yojanas at their door step. This will help dissuade people from inclining towards AP," observed Dillip Kumar Pangi, a Sarpanch candidate. Two other Sarpanch candidates, Binod Pangi and Liu Gemel echoed the same sentiments.  

Thereafter, our team interacted with the villagers to find out their mood. "The Odisha government has constructed roads and buildings but that will hardly solve our problems. We want work so that we can earn something. The government is doing nothing to provide us jobs" rued a villager.

As of now, the Kotia border dispute is sub-judice in Supreme Court. Our team spoke to some villagers to a get a clearer picture of their allegiance--Odisha or AP. "I want to be with both the states since that will mean facilities from both sides. I also vote in elections conducted both the States," said Phatusineri villager. 

When we asked a resident of Madkar village as to which state he belonged, pat came the reply that he lives in a disputed area. "I want to live in the disputed area, instead of one single State. My fellow villagers also want the same," he said. 

The wish of the villagers of Tadibalsa near the Zero Point (the meeting point of Odisha and AP) left our team perplexed. They openly stated that they don't want to participate in the ensuing Panchayat election conducted by the Odisha government.  "The villagers have decided to stay away from the election. They wish to remain with AP because they are getting all kind of facilities from that government," said a youth. 

Our team came across with another instance that speaks volume about the seriousness of the Odisha government to win hearts of people living in the disputed area. They found that a plaque of Odisha government lying on the ground at the Zero Point while a massive hoarding of the AP government with CM Jagan Reddy’s photograph dominating the skyline at a distance. And, despite being the election time, there were no presence of the Odisha police. In contrast, the AP police were found guarding the check post jealously.