Odisha royal challengers line up for the Aam Aadmi challenge
Sitting on the front seat of a minivan, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) candidate Saraswati Nanda repeats the line like a mantra as she crisscrosses Balangir on her campaign trail. The slogan goes down well with voters in this cultural hub as the old town loved to showcase its status free of royal trappings.india Updated: Mar 31, 2014 20:50 IST
Sitting on the front seat of a minivan, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) candidate Saraswati Nanda repeats the line like a mantra as she crisscrosses Balangir on her campaign trail.
The slogan goes down well with voters in this cultural hub as the old town loved to showcase its status free of royal trappings.
But this elections, Odisha royals still rule the political battlefield -- altogether 14 royal family members are contesting the Lok Sabha and assembly elections in the state.
The family-fight of one of wealthiest royalty, the Singhdeo, is ironically in one of India's poorest districts.
Kalikesh Narayan Singh Deo, the BJD's sitting MP in Balangir Lok Sabha seat is again in the fray. His father Ananga Udaya is a BJD MP in Rajya Sabha but contesting the assembly poll with an eye to become a state minister.
The BJD has roped in Arka Keshri Deo (Kalahandi royal clan) and Hemandra Singh (Nayagarh princely state) as candidates.
The family rivalry of the Odisha royals has now seeped into the political arena.
Ananga Udaya's nephew Kanak Vardhan is the state BJP president. Kanak's wife Sangeeta Kumari is pitted against Kalikesh.
The BJP's prime minister-pick Narendra Modi is set to visit Balangir on April 4 to campaign for Sangeeta.
While former Congress state president KP Singh Deo is related to Ananga Uday, Arka's father Bikram Keshari is a former BJP state president. Arka's uncle Udit Pratap and his wife Padma Manjari joined BJP just two weeks ago.
"We know they are tested leaders. They enjoy a lot of goodwill and loyalty is also an issue," admitted Bibhu Mishraa, a Balangir veteran. "These royals are also able to spend a lot of money on the voters. Money power, in any election, is a big factor," said a hotel-owner.
Balangir is a part of the infamous KBK (Kalahandi, Balangir, Koraput) region and one of the poorest districts in India. It witnesses mass exodus of labour and lacks in industrial footprint. The 2001 Census shows the literacy rate of the district was far below the state as well as the national averages.
Kalikesh, the youngest of the royal challengers, said that the "the lineage definitely helps in the first election. But in the second test, individual performance will be judged."
He also claimed that vindictive politics and not the royals' apathy, was a key reason for the underdevelopment of the region.
"We are trying to build infrastructure, communication and irrigation facilities to improve the living conditions here. Because, in today's election, these issues matter," said Kalikesh.
The high and mighty who's who of royalty
Name/ relation Party Seat
Kalikesh Narayan Singh Deo BJD Balangir
sitting Lok Sabha MP
Sangeeta Kumari Singh Deo BJP Balangir
Ananga Udaya Singh Deo BJD Bolangir assembly
Rajya Sabha Kalikesh's father
Hemandra Singh BJD Kandhamal
Scion of the Nayagarh princely state
Arka Keshri Deo BJD Kalahandi
Kalahandi royal clan