Ahead of civic and panchayat polls, BJD to hold sports tournaments to woo youths
- The party would host football and cricket tournaments at tribal-dominated Mayurbhanj district under Mayurbhanj Premier League.
Ahead of the civic polls later this year and gram panchayat polls next year, Odisha's ruling Biju Janata Dal is planning to organise football and cricket tournaments from panchayat to the district level in places where its base is under siege from the BJP.
Beginning February 8 and 9, the party would host football and cricket tournaments respectively at tribal-dominated Mayurbhanj district under the name of Mayurbhanj Premier League and then follow up with similar tournaments in the districts of Koraput, Malkangiri, Kalahandi and Nuapada. In all these districts, the BJP is proving to be its biggest challenger.
BJP MLA Pranab Balabantray unveiled the logo, jersey and trophy for the Mayurbhanj Premier League at a function held at Baripada town. He said the party will later extend the programme to other districts after witnessing the success of the MPL. "The chief minister would launch some programmes to platform to the budding talents," said BJD MLA Amar Satpathy.
At least 32 teams will be formed in every district for the premier league. The party has appointed an observer to select players who will take part in the tournaments. The tournaments will be organised by the youth and students wings of the BJD without the party's election symbol of conch and will carry the picture former chief minister Biju Patnaik.
The hosting of such tournaments comes in the wake of the state government building a brand-new hockey stadium - the largest in the country - in the steel city of Rourkela of Sundargarh district. With a seating capacity of 20,000, the stadium to be built on 15 acres of land will act as the second venue for the 2023 Hockey World Cup alongside the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar.
Incidentally, the districts where the BJD is promoting sports are the places where the BJP is seeing an upsurge in its electoral fortunes. In Mayurbhanj district, the BJP won the Lok Sabha seat in 2019 general elections as well as 6 of the 9 assembly seats. In 2017 panchayat polls, the BJP had won 49 of the 56 zilla parishad seats. Similarly, in Sundargarh district, the BJP had won 3 of the 7 assembly seats and the lone Lok Sabha seat. In Malkangiri district too, it won one of the 2 seats.
Describing the tournament as another poll gimmick, BJP spokesperson Golak Mohapatra said the BJD usually comes up with such ideas to garner public support just before the elections. "These announcements come just before the elections. In 2019 elections, the BJD had given mobile phones to youths in the name of Biju Yuva Bahini and distributed crickets bats and balls, but once the elections are over, the party doesn’t remember the youngsters who worked for them during the polls,” said Mohapatra.
However, BJD leader Subrat Chhatoi said there was no politics in holding such tournaments. "If the BJD is holding such tournaments it is only to help youngsters," he said.
Political analysts said the new plan may not succeed as the youths in these districts want employment rather than sops.
“It is doubtful if the youths in these districts can be wooed with football and cricket tournaments. At best, they are just short-term measures," said Gyana Ranjan Swain, political science professor at Gangadhar Meher University in Sambalpur. "The government should instead focus on creating a culture of sports across schools and colleges through various schemes."
Political analyst Rabi Das said youngsters and students were seen inclining towards the BJP during last elections. "So, the programme might be a plan of the BJD to revalidate its support base among youth mass. At a time when youths are in a dire need of job, the plan of the ruling party may not yield many fruits,” he said.