Rajendra Prasad Mohapatra

Major political parties have started chalking out master strategies for the forthcoming by-election to the Padampur assembly constituency in Bargarh scheduled to be held on December 5. Ruling BJD, Opposition BJP and Congress are eying tribal votes as it holds the key for victory in the ensuing bypoll which will set the tone for the next assembly election.

As per reports, Padampur constituency has a total number of 2,57,000 voters, and out of those more than 80,000 belong to the tribal community. They constitute around 29 per cent of the total voters who will exercise their franchise to seal the fate of the candidates.

As per 2011 census, the constituency has three tribal-infested blocks. Padampur, Paikmal and Jharbandh blocks have 17000, 35000 and 29000 tribal voters respectively. Though Padampur constituency was not reserved for any category, tribal leader and five-time MLA Bijay Ranjan Singh Bariha had a dominating run there. 

Aiming to garner ‘sympathy’ votes, BJD has announced Barsha Singh Bariha, elder daughter of the late MLA, as its candidate for the bypoll. The ruling party has also included tribal leaders like MP Ramesh Majhi, Pradeep Majhi and Manohar Gandhari in their star campaigners’ list to woo tribal voters.

“Our Chief Minister has one determination and that is to serve the people of Odisha. We are confident that Padampur voters will shower their blessings on our candidate Barsha and she will come up with flying colours,” said State Health Minister Naba Das.

Meanwhile, Opposition BJP has also left no stone unturned to attract tribal voters. Union Tribal Minister Arjun Munda, Bishweswar Tudu, MP Jual Oram, former Chief Minister Giridhar Gamango, party stalwarts Rabi Naik, Mohan Majhi, Shankar Oram, Nityananda Gond and Kusum Tete are star campaigners for the saffron party.

“Tribal voters are with BJP. BJD has not done any kind of developmental work for them. BJP will carry out many welfare activities for them if voted to power,” said Tudu.

Congress is also chasing the tribal voters. Senior party leaders MP Saptagiri Ulaka, Sushila Tiria, Dasarathi Gamango and C S Raazen Ekka have joined the campaigning bandwagon for the grand old party.

“Tribal vote will play a key role in the bypoll. We are confident that the tribal voters will vote in favour of Congress. We have prepared a special strategy for it,” said Congress leader Santosh Singh Saluja.

Meanwhile, following scrutiny of nominations, campaigning by candidates of major political parties has gained momentum. 

BJD’s candidate Barsha has started door-to-door campaigning in the constituency with many senior leaders and woman workers. Bariha is making emotional appeal for votes in the name of her father Bijay Singh Bariha, whose demise necessitated the bypoll.

On the other hand, BJP candidate Pradip Purohit has also kick-started his campaign from Jharbandh. While the party workers are actively mobilising people from several villages under the block to attend public meetings, Purohit is running from pillar to post to address multiple gatherings in rural areas.

On the other hand, Congress, under the leadership of PCC President Sarat Pattanayak, has prepared the poll strategy and allotted responsibilities to different party workers.

The bypoll is considered politically significant as most likely it will be the last major electoral battle in the state before the 2024 general elections. 

With BJD targeting to bag the seat and seek revenge from BJP for its loss in Dhamnagar and the Congress trying to regain its former fort, Padampur bypoll is going to be a keenly contested affair.