Himansu Shekhar Rout

With the first phase of the 2024 Elections in Odisha scheduled on May 13, tribals hold the key to the electoral fortunes of the three major parties the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and the Congress in the tribal-dominated Nabarangpur, Koraput, Rayagada and Malkangiri districts. 

As per reports, there are 8,52,524 voters in Nabarangpur with four Assembly constituencies. Of them, 6 lakh voters are tribals. About 50 per cent of the tribals belong to the Bhatra community. 

Moreover, a major chunk of the electorate in Koraput belongs to the Bhatra community and their number is 7 lakh. Given their dominant population, this tribal community will play a crucial role in deciding the fates of the parties and their leaders. 

‘No development of tribals’ 

The tribals are said to be unhappy with the state government over its apathy towards implementation of the Central government’s Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) (PESA) Act of 1996. The PESA Act aims to allow Gram Sabhas and Panchayats at various levels of Scheduled Areas to implement self-governance systems for issues like minor minerals, minor water bodies, customary resources, minor forest produce, selection of beneficiaries and project sanctioning.

Harishchandra Muduli, president of Undivided Koraput Zilla Parja Samaj said, "Special Development Council is only for the name’s sake. No development project is being carried out for Bondas, Sauras and Parajas.”   

Expressing displeasure over some unresolved issues, Arjun Bhatra, District President of the Akhil Bharatiya Bhatra Parishad, Nabarangpur said, "We have raised issues and demands at different times, but they have not been sorted out. Tribals are not given loans for business and housing.”

Malkangiri boasts of its primitive tribe Bondas, who form the major part of the electorate. Besides Bondas, the district plays host to other tribal communities like Didai, Bhumia, Paraja, Kondh and Durua, who play a decisive role in elections.
In the Chitrakonda Assembly seat, there are 2,04,000 voters and of them 50,000 voters are Bhumias and 40,000 voters are Parajas. Here, more than 50 per cent of voters are tribals.

‘Tribals are conscious now’

Rabindra Madhi, a tribal leader said, "Tribals have become more conscious. They are not looking at the political parties. But they will vote for the eligible candidate.”

In Rayagada, tribal voters constitute a dominant force. A majority of the population are Dongrias, Jhodias, Parajas, Kondhs, Parajas, Lanjias and Souras. There are 7,098 Dongrias living in Niyamgiri hills, who are said to be the deciding factor in the Bissam Cuttack Assembly seat. 

Jalandhar Pusika, a tribal leader said, "Tribals are conscious. They will not vote for any particular party. They will vote as per the instructions of the village and community heads.” 

Parties optimistic about tribal votes

However, leaders of the BJP, BJD and Congress are optimistic of their victories. 
Congress leader Taraprasad Bahinipati asserted that all tribal and Christian voters are siding with Congress as the BJD and BJP have done nothing for them. 

BJD leader Rabi Nanda claimed, "The real development of tribals has become possible in the last 25 years of the BJD rule. We have seen the miserable condition in which tribals of Kashipur used to live prior to 2000.”  

BJP leader Balabhadra Majhi said, "The BJD government has become lethargic and is doing no work for the tribals, who will play a decisive role in changing the government.”

  • Reported by:
  • T GOURISHANKAR , JITENDRA BEURA , Naba Ghana Bishoi , Maudi Barik