Kandhamal Lok Sabha Elections: Will Recent Inroads Help BJP Breach the BJD Bastion?


The Kandhamal Lok Sabha constituency will vote in the fifth phase of general elections on May 20, 2024. (PTI/File)

The Kandhamal Lok Sabha constituency will vote in the fifth phase of general elections on May 20, 2024. (PTI/File)

Despite challenges posed by its former ally, the BJP, which has expanded its influence in the constituency, the BJD remains the dominant force in Kandhamal

Kandhamal Lok Sabha constituency is one of 21 parliamentary constituencies in Odisha. It is a general category seat and comprises entire Kandhamal and Boudh districts as well as parts of Ganjam and Nayagarh districts. Seven Assembly segments fall under the Kandhamal Lok Sabha seat — Baliguda-ST, G Udayagiri-ST, Phulbani-ST, Kantamal, Boudh, Daspalla-SC and Bhanjanagar — all of which were held by the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) in the outgoing Assembly.

Polling Date — May 20, 2024; Phase 5

Sitting MP — Achyutananda Samanta (BJD)

Candidates — Achyutananda Samanta (BJD), Sukanta Kumar Panigrahi (BJP), Amir Chand Nayak (Congress)

Political Dynamics

  • Overview: The Kandhamal Lok Sabha constituency was created following delimitation exercise in 2009 and since then it has only elected BJD candidates.
  • It’s a three-cornered contest in the tribal-dominated seat this time between Naveen Patnaik-led BJD, the BJP and the Congress.
  • Despite challenges posed by its former ally, the BJP, which has expanded its influence in the constituency, the BJD remains the dominant force in Kandhamal.
  • The Congress is not being counted as a serious contender in Kandhamal given its dwindling support base in the seat and the state.
  • BJD: The ruling party has entrusted the ticket with popular sitting MP Achyuta Samanta. If Samanta wins, he would be the first MP to win back-to-back terms in Kandhamal.
  • Kandhamal ranks among the top nine aspirational districts in NITI Aayog’s ranking and much of the credit has been given to Samanta’s work here.
  • Samanta is an educationist, philanthropist and was a member of the Rajya Sabha from 2018 to 2019.
  • In the 2019 elections, he had defeated nearest rival, Kharabela Swain of the BJP, by a wide margin of over 1.5 lakh votes.
  • He is the founder of the Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology (KIIT) and Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences (KISS) and has been a leading free education initiative for tribal children from not only Kandhamal but remote areas of the state, making him a much-loved leader among youth.
  • Samanta is a popular figure in Kandhamal, having worked in the last five years towards education, tribal upliftment, healthcare and rural development. This explains why the BJD has repeated a candidate in Kandhamal for the first time.
  • Samanta’s support base coupled with Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s popularity and clean image despite ruling for over 24 years make the BJD a formidable force in Kandhamal.
  • While Samanta has the youth enamoured, Patnaik’s initiatives and schemes for women empowerment have created another solid vote-bank for the party.
  • BJP: Since divorcing the BJD in 2009, the BJP had remained a non-performer in Odisha for around a decade. Since 2019, however, it has been gradually creating its base with rise in the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It is now the main opposition party in the state.
  • The saffron party, however, is seen lacking a state leader matching the image and stature of Naveen Patnaik. Its leaders are mostly limited to certain constituencies.
  • In Kandhamal, the party is going all out to breach the BJD bastion and has fielded Sukanta Kumar Panigrahi, who was the party’s candidate in the 2014 general elections as well. Back then, he stood third behind BJD winner and Congress runner-up, polling 12.95% of the votes.
  • Panigrahi has been associated with the Sangh Parivar for a long time. He has been fielded from Kandhamal after Kharabela Swain, the BJP’s candidate in 2019, refused to contest from the same seat. Swain was interested in the Balasore Lok Sabha constituency. Five years ago, Swain had lost to BJD’s Achyuta Samanta by a margin of 1,49,216 votes.
  • Besides promising much-needed development in Kandhamal, Panigrahi has been raising issues like poor road connectivity and lack of drinking water and irrigation facilities in the region.
  • The BJP’s biggest strength in Odisha is Prime Minister Modi. Several opinion polls have concluded that Modi is the most popular national leader in Odisha.
  • His leadership and pro-Hindu measures, particularly the opening of the Ram Temple in UP’s Ayodhya, have strengthened the BJP base in the state.
  • Turmeric Cheer: The Narendra Modi government’s move to set up a National Turmeric Board in October last year has massive resonance among the turmeric farmers of Kandhamal.
  • Kandhamal is one of the largest turmeric-producing districts of India. An estimated 60,000 tribal families are engaged in turmeric cultivation on more than 13,700 hectares.
  • In 2019, Kandhamal haldi (turmeric) produced by the tribal farmers had even received the Geographical Indication (GI) tag.
  • Kandhamal haldi cultivation is environmental resilient having low risk, high productivity and the crop is sustainable in adverse climatic conditions. The Kandhamal turmeric is also famous for its medicinal properties.
  • Wooing Tribals: Despite this being a tribal-dominated seat, all three major candidates in the fray are from the General category. BJD’s Achyutananda Samanta may corner a good share of the tribal votes given his work for the community in the education and healthcare sectors.
  • The BJP is banking on the fact that it chose a member of the Adivasi community, Droupadi Murmu, to be the President of India. Murmu belongs to Uparbeda village in the Baidaposi area of Rairangpur in Odisha.
  • It is also emphasising on schemes such as the PM Janjati Adivasi Nyaya Maha Abhiyan. PM Modi had launched the Rs 24,000-crore project for vulnerable tribal groups on the birth anniversary of tribal icon Birsa Munda last year.
  • To woo tribal-dominated belts in states like Odisha and Jharkhand, the BJP has promised in its manifesto that it would celebrate the year 2025, the 150th birth anniversary of tribal icon Birsa Munda, as the ‘Janjatiya Gaurav Varsh’ if re-elected to power.
  • Another initiative the BJP hopes would play to its electoral advantage among tribals is the Janjatiya Gaurav Corridor which aims to improve rail infrastructure, connectivity, and economic progress in tribal regions.
  • Congress: The Congress needs no introduction in Kandhamal, but, like the BJP, has never managed to win the constituency.
  • It had been hoping that the BJP and BJD would announce an alliance before elections in the state so it can consolidate the anti-establishment votes but that was not to be.
  • One of its major disadvantages in Kandhamal is the apparent lack of importance given to the constituency by its national leadership. As a result, its base has been shrinking in the constituency and cadre morale is low.
  • This time, the Congress has fielded Amir Chand Nayak from the Kandhamal constituency.
  • Uniform Civil Code: After the abrogation of Article 370 in J&K and the construction of a Ram Mandir at the Ram Janmabhoomi in Ayodhya, a central UCC is the only remaining promise among the BJP’s holy trinity of election promises. BJP-ruled Uttarakhand has already enacted its own Uniform Civil Code and speculation is rife that the saffron party may follow suit in other states or at the Centre in its third term.
  • While the Uttarakhand UCC had kept tribal communities of its ambit amid much political controversy, tribal groups in Odisha are wary at the prospect of a central UCC.
  • With the Law Commission’s consultation on the UCC going on, some tribal groups have demanded that they be kept out of the statute while opposition parties have accused the ruling BJP of taking up the issue as a poll gimmick.
  • Sources say that while the issue of UCC is not a much discussed one in Kandhamal, some tribal activists have been apprehensive and are reiterating in the election season that the community be kept out of the speculated UCC.
  • No Fears Over Reservations: With the Congress not as active in Odisha as it is in other tribal-rich states, allegations by its national leadership that the BJP is angling to change the Constitution and end reservations if it wins a third term doesn’t have many takers in Kandhamal.

Key Constituency Issues

  • Gopalpur-Phulbani-Sambalpur Railway Line: Citizens’ forums in Kandhamal district had long been demanding that Phulbani town be included in the proposed railway connectivity from Gopalpur to Rairakhole under the Janjatiya Gaurav Corridor.
  • In its representation to the central government in September 2023, the citizens’ forums said that the East Coast Railway had prepared a detailed project report (DPR) for the 245-kilometre new railway line from Gopalpur to Rairakhole.
  • Their letter complained that the corridor had 18 stations, including Phulbani, but in the revised DPR, the station at Phulbani was dropped as the line was diverted from Chakapad (Kandhamal) to Madhapur (Boudh) over “technical and economic reasons”.
  • The committee had urged the government to reconsider its demand to include Phulbani, the district headquarters of Kandhamal, in the proposed railway project.
  • In January this year, Union Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw announced that the demand to include Phulbani in the Gopalpur to Rairakhole has been accepted.
  • Media reports on May 6, 2024, however, said the project has run into delays with the central and state governments unable to agree on its alignment.
  • In November last year, the Kandhamal Vikash Parishad (KVP), supported by the District Railway Action Committee, had held a dawn-to-dusk bandh in Kandhamal demanding a railway station in Phulbani town.
  • Protesters alleged that Phulbani was delinked in the revised detailed project report (DPR) of the 241-km railway line between Gopalpur in Ganjam district and Rairakhole in Sambalpur proposed by East Coast Railways.
  • In the initial DPR, however, there was a station in Phulbani town, the KVP had claimed.
  • Left-Wing Extremism: Anti-Naxal operations have borne big results in Odisha in the last decade or so, but the Kandhamal-Kalahandi axis remains a cause for concern with several incidents of firing reported since last year.
  • On December 24, 2023, two jawans of the elite Special Operations Group (SOG) of Odisha Police were injured when an improvised explosive device (IED) planted by Naxals exploded in a forest in Kandhamal district during a combing operation.
  • On January 5 this year, three jawans of the SOG suffered injuries in an IED blast planted by suspected Naxals at Batepanga forest on the border of Boudh and Kandhamal districts.
  • Reports say the CPI(Maoist) strength in Odisha under the Kandhamal-Kalahandi-Boudh-Nayagarh (KKBN) division is depleted with only 242 active cadre and that Naxals are using the Bastar corridor of Chhattisgarh to move back and forth into Odisha districts like Malkangiri, Koraput and Kandhamal.
  • Before the 2022 Panchayat elections, suspected Naxals had killed a tribal man accusing him of being a police informer.
  • Naxal banners and posters had also surfaced in several villages warning people to boycott the panchayat elections.
  • Water Scarcity: Water scarcity is a common thread running through the tribal villages of Kandhamal.
  • To alleviate suffering, the Odisha government had promised tap water connections under the centrally sponsored Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM) to all schools and anganwaadi centres by 2022. However, that promise is yet to be fulfilled.
  • The situation is particularly dire in Sapari tribal hamlet, which is home to 165 people in 38 households, but never has access to safe drinking water during scorching summers.
  • Malnutrition: The official statistics of the Odisha government in 2018 listed about 3,500 malnutrition deaths in Kandhamal in the previous five years.
  • The district has over 53% tribal population, which is among the top communities that report higher incidences of malnutrition in the state.
  • There has been some progress in this tribal hinterland which has recorded a significant improvement in malnutrition over recent years.
  • According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5) 2019-21, stunting in Kandhamal has decreased significantly from 38.4% to 34.2%. The percentage of underweight children has reduced from 43.1% to 35.40%.
  • But these figures are all still below the state average.
  • Jeebika Suraksha Mancha, a people’s collective working in Kandhamal, has been educating the villagers about the health benefits of eating green vegetables and fruits and the importance of building a kitchen garden.
  • The nutritional kitchen garden initiative, with the additional support of Noida-based NGO, Atmashakti Trust, is helping rural communities in 267 villages under Kotagada and Tumudibandha blocks of Kandhamal district grow vegetables at home.

Voter Demographics

Social Composition

SC — 18.39%

ST — 27.91%

Religious Composition

Buddhist — 0.02%

Christian — 8.85%

Jain — 0.01%

Muslim — 1.8%

Sikh — 0.02%

Major Infra Projects in Kandhamal

  • Greenfield Railway Line Project: The Greenfield railway line project in Odisha is a Rs 6,700 crore project that passes through the Kandhamal district and five other districts in western Odisha.
  • The line will connect the East Coast port with the mineral and industrial clusters in western Odisha and provide shorter port connectivity for eastern Chhattisgarh’s industrial clusters.
  • The project is expected to improve the socio-economic development of the tribal areas in Kandhamal and Boudh districts and open up new industrial corridors.
  • Upgrading National Highway-59: In February this year, Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari announced allocation of Rs 718.26 crore for widening and strengthening of the Daringbadi Ghat section on National Highway -59, spanning Kandhamal and Ganjam district.
  • The project covers a total distance of 26.96km.
  • Gadkari said the Daringbadi Ghat segment currently experiences challenges due to a narrow carriageway and suboptimal geometrics, causing long-route vehicles from western Odisha to bypass National Highway 59.
  • As a prominent tourist destination, especially during winter, enhancing this stretch will elevate highway standards, bolster safety, and ensure all weather-connectivity along National Highway-59.
  • Hydro Power Project: The Odisha Hydro Power Corporation Limited (OHPC) is planning to build a 63 MW capacity hydro power project in Baliguda, Kandhamal district at an estimated cost of Rs 787.48 crore.
  • The State Level Single Window Clearance Authority (SLSWCA) of Odisha approved the project in February 2024.
  • Medical College and Hospital: In October 2019, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik had announced a medical college at Phulbani in Kandhamal, upgrading the existing hospital at the district headquarters.
  • The project was taken up at an estimated cost of Rs 655 crore.
  • In December 2023, 5T chairman VK Pandian had directed officials to complete the construction in keeping with the timeline decided.
  • As per reports, the government wants to enrol the first batch of MBBS students from 2024-25.

Explore in-depth coverage of voting in Telangana , Odisha , and Andhra Pradesh during Lok Sabha Election 2024 Phase 4 polling.



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