Himansu Shekhar Rout

The way tribal leaders are deserting the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) one after another when elections are around the corner, it seems the ruling party is losing grip of the tribal vote bank. It may cost dearly in the upcoming elections. 

Days after senior BJD leader Balabhadra Majhi quit the party, Telkoi MLA Premananda Nayak followed suit, alleging that Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik was inaccessible to him. Nayak also accused the BJD of sidelining the tribal leaders and giving more importance to the leaders of rich and corporate backgrounds.    

The BJD government has already been on the back foot after its Cabinet decision on the tribal land transfer to non-tribal. After protests from tribal outfits and an outcry by political parties, the decision was reversed.  

Now, tribal leaders deserting the party has become a big concern. 

As per reports, about 23 per cent of the population in the state belong to tribal communities. Day after the decision on the tribal land transfer, the government realised its mistake. As part of its damage control exercise, the government reversed the decision. Later, it announced LABHA, put forth a proposal to enlist 169 communities as tribals, and Rs 25 crore to set up a turmeric processing plant in Rayagada.  

Former BJD leader Balabhadra Majhi alleged, ”BJD thinks that the tribal leaders who are intelligent will create problem for other leaders. The party drives out all the tribal leaders, saying they have no importance. The party is now roping in retired, IAS, OAS and CEOs of corporate houses into its fold."     

Taking a swipe at the BJD, BJP leader Mohan Majhi said, ”Of the 22 party legislators, about 50 percent belong to tribal communities. This means, people of tribal communities love the BJP. Our top leadership is ensuring the development of the tribals in the country.  

However, BJD leader Nrusingha Sahoo, tried to explain, saying, ”Leaders upset over tickets are also leaving their parties. This is a routine process before elections. There is nothing new in it."

BJP consolidating tribal vote bank?

On the other hand, the BJP is making all-out efforts to consolidate its base in tribal-dominated states and pockets at a time when the tribal leaders are bidding adieu to the BJD in Odisha.

BJP’s resounding electoral success in the recently concluded Assembly elections in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh indicates the party’s priority on tribals. Of the 101 ST-reserved seats, the BJP won 53 seats in the three states.   

Also Read: BJP reiterates claim to form ‘double engine’ government in Odisha 

The BJP has already played a masterstroke by making tribal woman leader like Droupadi Murmu as the President of India. Presently, the BJP in Odisha has 22 MLAs and 50 per cent of them belong to tribal communities. 

Senior journalist Rabi Das observed, ”Various schemes are being launched to grab the tribal votes. If the tribal leaders in tribal-dominated districts like Keonjhar, Koraput and Nabarangpur are not with the party, it will create problems.”

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