BHUBANESWAR: The BJP might have lost ground in most parts of Orissa but in the hub of the communal cauldron of Kandhamal, its has been saffron all the way.
The strife-torn district has returned BJP candidates in two of its three Assembly segments, reflecting a deep polarisation of votes and angst among the local populace over the killing of Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati.
In G. Udaygiri, the BJP’s Hindutva mascot Manoj Pradhan pulled off an upset defeating sitting MLA and Congress candidate Ajayanti Pradhan by a margin of over 23,500 votes.
The BJD’s Luksuna Majhi has been relegated to the third position even as his party swept the polls across the State. An RSS pracharak and a protege of Swami Lakshmanananda, Pradhan fought the elections from jail. He was arrested in connection with 14 cases of rioting and murder which followed the murder of Swami Lakshmananda Saraswati.
Combined with the religious polarisation, Pradhan has been able to evoke a sympathy wave in his favour with the Hindu and tribal votes going en bloc for him.
The votes of the dominant Christian community in the segment have been divided between the Congress and BJD paving way for Pradhan’s victory, observers said.
At Baliguda segment too, the ground zero of the communal violence and home to Swami’s Ashram, the BJP emerged victorious with sitting MLA Karendra Majhi retaining the seat.
The slain seer had in fact pressed for his candidature in the last elections and this time too Majhi had to use all his resources to gain the party ticket. He defeated his nearest rival Congress candidate Sadananda Mallick by around 3,246 votes. BJD’s Dinesh Singh Pradhan came third in the segment.
However, the Phulbani Assembly segment has been retained by the BJD with Debendra Kahanr winning the seat by a margin of 8,701 votes over rival Deba Narayan Pradhan of BJP.
The Kandhamal district had witnessed large-scale violence in the aftermath of the killing of the Swami and his four disciples at Jalespeta Ashram on August 23 last year. More than 47 lives were lost with over 25,000 rendered homeless and shifted to relief camps. Most of them have returned to their houses though.
The elections to the constituencies in the district were also embroiled in controversy with Christian organisations demanding postponement of the polls on the plea that the situation was not conducive.
But the polls passed off peacefully with turnout of over 60 per cent. There was 80 per cent polling in the relief camps too.