Does that mean people in the region are pro-industrialisation as claimed by victorious Biju Janata Dal candidate?
The POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS), which has been leading the people's movement against land acquisition for the POSCO steel plant in Jagatsinghpur district of Odisha, suffered a severe set back in the just concluded state election. Their candidate, Abhijit Sahoo, who is the son of PPSS president Abhaya Sahoo lost in the election. He even lost his deposit as he polled only 5,260 votes from Earasama- Balikuda Assembly segment.
Six polling booths in Dhinkia gram panchayat, the epicentre of the anti-POSCO movement, had recorded the highest polling of 92 per cent. The other two gram panchayats affected by the steel project, Nuagaon and Gadakujang, had also recorded around 85 per cent polling. Abhijit, the the CPI candidate supported by PPSS, got more votes in only Dhinkia gram panchayat. But in the other 54 gram panchayats, the majority of voters preferred to vote in favour of the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) candidate, Prasant Muduli, who was elected after he polled 69,335 votes.
The resentment in Dhinkia, Nuagaon and Gadakujang gram panchayats against the proposed steel plant had grown into a violent agitation, literally converting the area into a war zone in the recent years. Riding on the anti-land acquisition protests, Congress and CPI tried their best to woo large sections of the rural masses. But voters rejected them.
Muduli insists the results vindicate his stand that people in the constituency are for industrialisation. “Few persons with an ulterior motive have been opposing the proposed steel plant of POSCO in our areas. In this election, large number of people voted in favour of BJD as the state government has already acquired 2,700 acres (one acre equals 0.4 ha) of land for the steel project after paying them proper compensation. Large numbers of unemployed youths will get jobs in the steel plant,” he said. The district administration will soon organise Rehabilitation Periphery Development Advisory Committee ( RPDC) meeting is being held shortly in Jagatsinghpur to sort out land acquisition, compensation, rehabilitation and other issues, said Mudali.
"The green flag of BJD fluttered unhindered in Earasama- Balikuda assembly segment. This poll was, nevertheless, an acid test for the BJD as many considered it as a referendum on the Naveen Patnaik government's industrial policy,” added Mudali.
PPSS says it will continue with its fight. “We have already started organising residents against the decision of the government to divert water from the river Hansua. to POSCO. BJD spent crores of rupees to defeat our candidate. Even the government machinery has been used to its fullest to ensure the defeat of Sahoo,” said the president of PPSS.
In 2008, large number of anti-land acquisition brigades had barricaded all the entry points to keep officials out. For this reason, the authorities opened polling booths outside Dhinkia during the last election in 2009; the Sarapanch election was not held at all in 2012. However, the protesting residents had agreed to cooperate with the officials for holding polls this time. In this year's elections, officials established six booths in the villages of Gobindapur, Trilochanpur and Dhinkia under Dhinkia gram panchayat, which led to massive voter turnout.
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