Bhubaneswar, Nov. 2: The pro-tribal image of the Naveen Patnaik government today received a beating when the ruling BJD-BJP combine candidate was defeated in the bypoll to Talsara Assembly seat.
The outcome was a shot in the arm for the Congress, whose candidate Prafulla Majhi defeated the BJP’s Sahadeb Xaxa by 2,574 votes.
This was the first ever defeat of the ruling alliance in any byelection since it came to power in 2000.
Talsara is a tribal-dominated constituency in Sundargarh district.
The defeat has come in the aftermath of the January 2 Kalinga Nagar police firing in which 13 tribals were killed while opposing construction of a steel plant by the Tatas.
Chief minister Patnaik, who is suffering from toothache, went into a shell. His party leaders admitted in private that it was an ominous sign though they put up a brave front in public saying that Talsara was traditionally a Congress seat.
That the ruling coalition had made Talsara a prestige issue was evident from the fact that Patnaik and several ministers had campaigned extensively across this tribal constituency promising several development projects.
BJP state unit president and local MP, Juel Oram, owned up moral responsibility for the defeat. Oram was the chief election manager for the bypoll. “I think there have been some mistakes somewhere in election management and I own up my responsibility fully for the alliance candidate’s defeat,” he said.
However, there is remote possibility of his resignation since the organisational poll is due soon, said a BJP leader.
A senior BJD leader confided that the bypoll result could affect the prospects of the upcoming panchayat elections. “This has come as a warning for us and we have to strive hard to keep the tribal votes intact,” he said.
“This is the victory of the people against corruption, injustice and misrule of the BJD-BJP regime,” said an upbeat Majhi.