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Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Bhubaneswar, Jan 19:

Odisha unit of Congress is likely to include common men and social activists in its 40-member star campaigner list which is mandatory to be submitted to the State Election Commission (SEC) before the panchayat polls.

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Even though rival Biju Janata Dal and BJP have already submitted their star campaigner lists before the SEC, Congress, however, is yet to finalise the names.

According to a source in the party, Keshamati Pradhan – a rights activist and an anti-liquor campaigner from Kandhamal district and Rahul Naik — whose parents were killed in an alleged police encounter in Kandhamal district figure in the star campaigner list of the party that is still in works.

Both Naik and Pradhan wield significant influence in the tribal dominated areas of the state.

Reacting to the development, Keshamati said that she would support any party that supports her campaign

“I am not aware of being included in the star campaigner list of Congress. However, I have been working towards making Kandhamal a liquor free district. I will campaign for the party that supports our cause,” said Keshamati.

Even though Naik was not available for comments, Congress, in the past, used him as the face of protests that erupted after a shootout in Gumudumaha last year.

According to reports, a couple Dhugeswara Naik (45) and his wife Bubudi Naik (40), residents of Pangala-Padara village, were killed in an alleged encounter in the Madaguda reserve forest under Tumudibandha police station in Kandhamal district on July 26, 2015.

Their son Rahul Naik subsequently attended several rallies against the State Government and police operations and claimed that her parents had no connection with the Maoists and that they were shot when that had gone to open space to get clearer cell-phone signal.

Apart from Naik and Pradhan, Congress plans to include at least one name from a farmer family of drought-hit Bargarh district whose member committed suicide.

“Congress will include common men in its campaign. We are planning to include people who have been victimised by this government,” said Odisha Congress treasurer Mohd Moquim without getting into specifics.