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Royal dare for first-timer

- Heavyweights cross swords in Balangir

Balangir, April 8: Royal scion A.U. Singh Deo is fighting the battle of his life in this constituency, once considered his pocket borough. The challenge to his uninterrupted reign here since 1990 comes from Congress veteran Narasingh Mishra, who, incidentally, is contesting the seat for the first time.

A heavyweight, Mishra, who started out in politics as a communist, has been a vocal critic of the royal family. His fight is for upholding the self-esteem of the Balangir people, who had been under the royal yoke for a long time. But, this former cabinet colleague of Singh Deo is also talking of development. “Janm mati mor Balangir, tar bikas mor lakhya abhimukhya (this is my land of birth, its development is my aim),” sport his posters which are ubiquitous in the town.

As the poll temperature rises, the Congress and the BJD, led by Singh Deo, are engaged in a war of words over the need for peace in the constituency. “There has been too much lawlessness in the past few years. We want ruling party goons to be reined in and peace to be restored,” said Congress worker Gobind Sahu. That draws an immediate and angry retort from BJD leaders, who allege that the Congress has initiated the politics of terror in Balangir.

With recrimination taking the centre stage, real issues such as the slow progress of Lower Suktel project, construction of a bypass road around the town and a medical college are getting sidelined. “The Lower Suktel irrigation project is crucial to the people of this town, because the dam will result in a rise in the groundwater level here. The work on the project must be expedited,” said Balbhadra Sarangi, a betel shop owner in the town.

The people are also talking about the urgent need for a bypass road in Balangir, which has expanded on all sides with the volume of traffic increasing phenomenally. “The bypass will check the entry of bigger vehicles to the town during busy hours, thus reducing accidents which are becoming frequent,” said Drona Charan Patel.

The demand for a medical college has also been revived by the elections with people seeking a categorical assurance from the leaders. “It has been hanging fire for a long time. We are not prepared to wait any longer,” fumed resident Parasuram Pradhani.

Compared to Mishra and Singh Deo, BJP candidate Basudev Pati is a lightweight, but he, too, is hopeful of making a fight of it due to the Modi factor. The turnout at his rally in the town notwithstanding, Modi seems to be gaining ground here with each passing day. “The crowd was thin at the rally because of the heat. To gauge Modi’s popularity here by the response to his rally would be wrong. He is quite a force, and our candidate is bound to gain from his popularity,” said BJP worker Hadu Seth.

But, the more the BJP gains, the more difficult it might become for Singh Deo to save his fiefdom. The BJP, as it is, will gain only at the cost of the BJD, the party with which it had ruled the state in tandem for nearly 10 years. The advantage in that case will shift to the Congress, which is eagerly waiting for a split in the Opposition votes. A veteran of many battles, Mishra, the Congress candidate, is keenly aware of this and also the fact that there is also a bit of sympathy in his favour, because he is contesting from the Balangir Assembly constituency for the first time.

As Mishra goes for the kill, the only hope of Singh Deo is his royal charm, but even he cannot be sure if it will work for him this time.