Odisha's Nabarangpur Lok Sabha constituency, which is a reserved seat for Scheduled Tribes, drew the attention of the poll observers in 2014 for the second highest votes for NOTA. The Biju Janata Dal candidate won this seat by mere 2,042 votes while 44,408 votes were polled in favour of NOTA.
The NOTA votes were 42,000 more than the winning margin, the highest difference in any Lok Sabha constituency.
This election Nabarangpur will witness a triangular contest between the Bharatiya Janata Party, Congress and the Biju Janata Dal. In this tribal dominated seat comprising areas with low literacy levels and high poverty, converting the NOTA votes in their favour could be decisive for victory.
“In 2014 we had not formed booth level committees properly, so they had not been able to explain things to the voters. In this region, illiteracy among women is the highest in Asia. They don’t know how to vote. Now our booth committees have explained to them how to vote. We are hopeful that this time such high number of votes will not go to NOTA.”Pradeep Majhi, Congress Candidate
Sitting Member of Parliament Balabhadra Majhi who had won with a BJD ticket last time is contesting as a BJP candidate this time. The Congress has retained its 2014 candidate and former MP Pradeep Majhi while the BJD has fielded Cabinet Minister Ramesh Majhi.
Congress Favoured in Triangular Contest?
After his 2014 defeat the State Congress Vice President Pradip Majhi has mostly been in the constituency and he was seen leading many local mass movements. The sitting MP Balabhadra Majhi is contesting on a BJP ticket. He had won from BJD last time and this time the weak organisation of BJP is a big challenge for him. The BJP is banking heavily on the welfare schemes of the Modi government to get votes.
“Congress was looking strong as Pradeep Majhi has been working for the last five years. But after Ramesh Majhi’s entry, it could be a tough fight. As Balabhadra Majhi has changed parties, he does not have the support of a strong organisation. BJP does not look to be in a winning situation. They aren’t organised in at least five Assembly segments. BJP will get votes because of Modi wave only.”Hrushikesh Mishra, Local Journalist
The ruling BJD has fielded state SC and ST Development Minister Ramesh Majhi. A split of the votes of old BJD supporters between Balabhadra Majhi and Ramesh Majhi could be an advantage for the Congress candidate Pradeep Majhi.
In 2014 out of the seven Assembly segments, winning candidate Balabhadra Majhi had got more votes than his nearest rival Pradeep Majhi in four Assembly segments. Pradeep Majhi had got more votes only in three Assembly seats of Kotpad, Dabugam and Malkangiri against the winning candidate.
As there is a possibility of the split of same vote pool between Ramesh Majhi and Balbhadra Majhi, a consolidation of traditional Congress votes could give Pradeep Majhi an edge.
Tribals and Bengali Settlers Hold the Sway
The Nabarangpur Lok Sabha Constituency consists of four Assembly segments of Nabarangpur district, two segments of Malkangiri district and one segment of Koraput district.
In this reserved constituency for scheduled tribes, two tribal groups – Gond and Bhotara – are in dominant position. The Bhotaras constitute around 60% of the population in Nabarangpur constituency while the Gonds account for around 20%. The Gond tribes dominate in Umerkote and Jharigaon Assembly segments. In 2014 for the first time a candidate from Gond community won.
This time among the three Majhis both Ramesh Majhi and Balabhadra Majhi belong to the Gond community and Pradeep Majhi belongs to the Bhotara community. A consolidation of Bhotara votes and split of Gond votes between Ramesh Majhi and Balabhadra Majhi could be an advantage for Pradeep Majhi.
“Gond voters are in majority only in Raighar and Chandahadi blocks. Both the BJP and BJD candidates are from Gond community so votes will split and Congress will gain from this.”Pradeep Majhi, Congress Candidate
The Bengali migrants who settled in the Nabarangpur and Malkangiri districts after getting Indian citizenship in the early 1970s also constitute a large vote bank in this Lok Sabha seat. Around one lakh Bengali voters live in around 300 villages in these two districts.
“There are sizable Bengali voters in Umerkote and Malkangiri Assembly constituencies. They will mostly vote for Modi. But we are targeting at least 20-25% of their votes based on our work for them. This time the Bengali vote will be split between BJD and BJP, so we will be at an advantage.”Pradeep Majhi, Congress Candidate
The Bengali voters had played a key role in the victory of Congress candidate Pradeep Majhi in 2009 and that of BJP candidate Parsuram Majhi in 1999 and 2004.
The Nabarangpur constituency is among the four Lok Sabha constituencies where the polling will also be held for the corresponding Assembly seats in the first phase on 11 April.