On December 5, over 2.5 lakh voters of Padampur Assembly Constituency comprising three Blocks- Jharbandh, Paikmal and Padampur- close to Chhattisgarh, would cast their votes in what is viewed with a lot of interest as the last political battle in Odisha before the state goes to polls in 2024. The constituency had returned in 2019 to a BJD candidate, Bijay Ranjan Singh Bariha whose closest rival, Pradip Purohit of BJP had lost by a margin of 5734 votes. BJD had polled 44.16% of votes in 2009 Election, 36.13% in 2014 and 41.29% in 2019. It emerged winner in 2009 and 2019, while BJP won the seat in 2014. BJP’s vote share has been 19.28% in 2009, 38.66% in 2014 and 38.45% in 2019. Vote share of Congress was 32.41% in 2009, 17.49% in 2014 and 16.25% in 2019.
This by-election comes just days after the ruling BJD tasted defeat in Dhamnagar Constituency. It was a defeat it suffered after winning all by-elections since 2008. In Dhamnagar, the BJP retained its seat by winning with a comfortable margin of 9881 votes. Padampur seat was held by the BJD and a BJP victory here would be significant for many reasons. BJD, therefore, would try its best to ensure it doesn’t happen.
The ruling Party has fielded the 29-year-old daughter of former MLA Barsharani Singh Bariha, Barsha Singh Bariha. Barsha, a law graduate, makes her maiden entry to electoral politics. Interestingly, she is the daughter-in-law of a senior BJP leader of the area. BJP has fielded 57-year-old Pradip Purohit who had won the seat in 2014, but lost in 2019. Voter turnout in this constituency in 2019 was high, at 79%.
The Constituency continues to remain economically backward even after over two decades of BJD remaining in power in the state. All the three Blocks Jharbandh, Paikmal and Padampur in Bargarh district continue to be highly deficient in irrigation facility and suffer in the absence of industrial activity. Handloom sector has wilted, little value-addition activity is in place for produce like Mohua, Mohua Seeds and Chironji. The area has no meaningful cash crop. In this zone of entrenched deprivation, skirmishes of extremists have been noticed and distress induced migration of people continues to be the most noticeable economic activity.
In this grim environment, development hardly has emerged as an election issue. There is liberal pampering to emotions. Parties are talking about a separate District for Padampur, about a rail line passing through the area. The ruling Party has taken recourse to showering of promises. Assurances have been held out to Krushak Sathis that their jobs would be made permanent; ASHA workers have been assured of improvement of compensation package. Self Help Groups are hopeful of interest free loan of Rs 5 lakh, there is talk that Jungle Suraksha Committee Members would soon get an allowance, unorganized labourers have started hoping that they would get financial help for meeting expenses on marriage of their children.
It’s now an avalanche of promises that’s flooding the Constituency through high-voltage campaigning with a number of Ministers and more than twenty legislators camping in the area. The recent raids of Income Tax authorities on some traders and the raids of GST authorities have made the atmosphere rather too hot. A few Central Ministers have been campaigning for the BJP. Largesse has been announced carefully that could impact the election outcome. These include the Kulta Samaj getting an acre of land in Puri for a Dharmshala and a piece of land in Bhubaneswar for a Centre in memory of the celebrated Poet, Gangadhar Meher. Just three days before the poll, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik on Friday made a visit to the Constituency to address a few public meetings.
In the final analysis, the electioneering in Padampur looks like a grand seasonal festival – a festival for winning friends for a favourable verdict for the contesting Parties for a seat in the Assembly. The outcome of the by-election would have absolutely no impact on the stability of the government; but it could send loud signals on the invincibility or otherwise of the Biju Janata Dal and could even set the mood for the general Election. A convincing victory of the BJD would strengthen the widely held impression that the sole objective of the BJD government is to win election rather than ensuring worthy governance. A victory could even prompt the BJD leadership to go for an early Election in the state in order to deny the BJP enough time to gain strength to successfully emerge as the alternative to BJD.
After the heat and fury of electioneering in Padampur is over, the itinerant merchants who had had brisk business would pack up and return home richer, leaving the over 2.5 lakh voters again to their fate. While the verdict of Padampur on December 8 would mean gain to one of the contesting Parties, it is most unlikely that flowers would bloom any sooner in this area of acute deprivation.
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