Bhubaneswar, Mar 30:
Nine candidates will wrestle it out in Koraput Lok Sabha constituency, where veteran Congress leader, nine-time MP and former Odisha chief minister Giridhar Gamang is aiming to enter the Lok Sabha for a record tenth time.
However, this time it’s not going to be a cakewalk for Gamang in this tribal dominated constituency, considered until 2004 as a very safe citadel of the Congress.
Gamang faces a major challenge from two young and fresh faces-one from the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and the other, from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) here.
The BJD has fielded Laxmipur MLA Jhina Hikaka, who had shot to limelight following his abduction by the Maoists in March 2012, while BJP has nominated a former Congress youth leader Siba Shankar Ulaka for this constituency. Ulaka happens to be son of the late Congress leader and five times minister Ramchandra Ulaka. He had quit the Congress and joined the BJP after the elections were announced.
Since the first Lok Sabha polls in 1951, the Congress had continued to win from this Lok Sabha seat until 2009 elections when its winning spree was broken by Jayaram Pangi of the BJD who defeated Gamang.
Like in 2009, this time also his own family would be a stumbling block for Gamang. His wife Hema Gamang, who had won from Koraput Lok Sabha constituency in 1999 when he was the chief minister, is no more with the Congress. Hema has joined the BJD and is contesting from Laxmipur Assembly constituency which is part of Koraput parliamentary constituency, in place of Hikaka.
Hema wanted to contest her husband on a BJD ticket. Although that did not happen, her open revolt against Gamang came as a huge embarrassment for him and there are apprehensions that it could impact on his support base in Gunupur, Rayagada and Laxmipur assembly segments.
It would have been relatively easy for Gamang if BJD had fielded the sitting Jayaram Pangi who had become highly controversial over a number of issues both within and outside the party. That explains why Naveen chose to play safe by replacing him with the young Laxmipur MLA Hikaka.
But Hikaka too has his own set of problems to grapple with. With no contact base beyond Laxmipur or no familiarity with the grassroots level workers and leaders he is clearly out of sync with the ground realities. While he is seen as an ‘outsider’ by his own partymen he has also lost a lot of ground in his home constituency Laxmipur after he preferred to spend all his time in Bhubaneswar after his release from Maoist captivity in April 2012.
Secondly, the Maoists as well as the radical local outfit Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh who wield considerable influence on a large chunk of the parliamentary constituency are cut up with Hikaka for going back on his promise to quit as Laxmipur MLA- a major condition set by Maoists before releasing him from their captivity in April 2012.
Hikaka, however, appears to be banking heavily on the charisma and image of chief minister Naveen Patnaik and the BJD brand value to cross the troubled waters.
But it will be the BJP candidate Sibasankar Ulaka’s performance at the hustings that would decide the fate of both Gamang and Hikaka. Being a former Congress leader and the son of the popular tribal leader Ramachandra Ulaka, Sibasankar may cut heavily into the Congress vote bank. If that happens, the electoral arithmetic in this Lok Sabha constituency could tilt in favour of Hikaka, who appears a little too vulnerable as of now.