Royalty is rarely seen on rugged roads with dust flying around, mingling among the people in the heat and humidity, but it’s a common sight in Balangir these days. The stakes are high — the result will decide the fortune of four members of the erstwhile royal family of Singh Deos in the Balangir Lok Sabha seat.
While Kalikesh Narayan Singh Deo, incumbent MP of the Balangir Lok Sabha constituency, is facing a tough challenge from his sister-in-law Sangeeta Singh Deo, a three-time Bharatiya Janata Party MP, his brother Arkesh Narayan Singh Deo is making is electoral debut from the Balangir Assembly segment.
Senior BJP leader K.V. Singh Deo, Ms. Sangeeta’s husband, who has remained undefeated for five consecutive terms, is seeking re-election from the Patnagarh Assembly segment, which falls under the Balangir LS seat.
The Singh Deo family has been controlling the political narrative of Balangir for three generations over the past seven decades.
From R. N. Singh Deo, former Odisha Chief Minister, to the newest entrant Arkesh Narayan Singh Deo, Balangir has rarely moved beyond the former rulers of the princely State of Patna when it comes to fighting its electoral battles.
Incidentally, former State BJP President K. V. Singh Deo and his uncle A. U. Singh Deo, who is a Biju Janata Dal Rajya Sabha member and the father of Kalikesh and Arkesh, are locked in a bitter property dispute. In their case, the electoral battle appears to be an extension of the rivalry.
Brimming with confidence, Ms. Sangeeta Singh Deo, Balangir’s reigning “queen”, said she would win back the Balangir Lok Sabha seat after two defeats in 2009 and 2014. Kalikesh Singh Deo is more candid. “In which country do the next generation of political families not enter the electoral fray? Then why blame only us? Examples of dynastic politics are plenty in the Congress.
Even in the BJP, the father of Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan is Debendra Pradhan, who was a Minister in the Centre. The father of Narasingha Mishra, the Congress MLA candidate in Balangir, was also an MP,” he said. Royalty is also deeply entrenched in voters’ minds in Balangir’s rural heartland. “If we choose anyone other than royals, he or she would take decisions along the lines of caste, religion or region. Everyone is the same before the royals. They will not discriminate while implementing development programmes,” said Rajan Gual, a resident of the Kharkhara village under the Patnagarh Assembly constituency. The royals are also facing a challenge from a father-son duo of the Congress.
Leader of the Opposition and Congress leader Narasingha Mishra is seeking a re-election from the Balangir Assembly, while his son Samarendra Mishra is the Congress nominee for the Balangir Lok Sabha and has plunged into the elections for the first time.
Although Balangir is going to the polls on April 18, excitement conspicuous by its absence on the ground, making it difficult to gauge the voters’ mood.