In stunning upset, Odisha CM defeated by former daily wager turned BJP candidate

BJP candidate Laxman Bag’s victory over incumbent CM Naveen Patnaik delivered a powerful statement on the ineffectiveness of the BJD’s welfare programmes?

Published - June 05, 2024 10:08 pm IST - BHUBANESWAR

BJP candidate Laxman Bag was a daily wage labourer some fifteen years ago before he made his foray into active politics.

BJP candidate Laxman Bag was a daily wage labourer some fifteen years ago before he made his foray into active politics. | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

The results of the Odisha Assembly election was watched with bated breath, particularly the electoral battleground on Kantabanji in Odisha.

The counting process, which extended over 28 rounds and lasted into the late evening, delivered a shocking outcome. The seemingly invincible outgoing Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, who had never faced defeat in his illustrious political career, experienced his first loss. The victor was Laxman Bag, a man who, just fifteen years ago, was working as a daily wage labourer.

Mr. Bag, the Bharatiya Janata Party candidate, garnered 90,878 votes, while Mr. Patnaik received 74,532 votes in the Kantabanji Assembly segment, resulting in a victory margin of 16,344.

Watch: Odisha Assembly elections 2024 | Key winners and losers

Considering the strong influence of the outgoing Odisha CM, this defeat and its margin were unimaginable. According to confidantes, Mr. Bag’s win was not a stroke of luck; his consistent efforts to support people in need within the Kantabanji constituency played a crucial role in his decisive victory.

Born into a poor farming family, Mr. Bag was one of six siblings struggling to make ends meet. In addition to working on his family’s farm, he started earning money by assisting a truck driver for a meagre wage. Eventually, he became a daily wage labourer to support himself.

Although Mr. Bag is rumoured to have connections for sending workers to other States, he has never admitted to it. Over time, he managed to improve his situation by purchasing trucks. In 2023-34, he filed income tax return on income of ?4.89 lakh.

His first foray into politics was in the 2014 Assembly election, where he finished third. In the 2019 Assembly election, he narrowly lost by just 128 votes. Long before Mr. Patnaik announced his candidacy, the BJP candidate had already laid the groundwork and visited nearly every village, which worked to his advantage. In his affidavit, Mr. Bag declared 12 criminal cases pending against his name.

The victory of the 48-year-old Mr. Bag was more than just an election upset. It delivered a powerful statement on the ineffectiveness of the employment generation programmes implemented by the Biju Janata Dal government. The CM’s nomination from Kantabanji had triggered huge debate on labour migration. Though Mr. Patnaik held two public meetings during his campaign, he apparently failed to convince the voters about his plans to address the suffering of the migrant labourers.

Kantabanji is infamously known as a labour market where brick kiln operators hire workers at relatively low wages. The Kantabanji Assembly constituency, comprising the blocks of Tureikela, Muribahal, and Bangomunda in Balangir district, is home to thousands of families who annually migrate to southern States to work in harsh conditions. The region has previously made headlines for unfortunate reasons such as starvation deaths and child trafficking.

Politics in Kantabanji has been centred around labour issues. Politicians with ties to influential middlemen had won the Assembly seat.

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