Around 1,000 houses at this village in Ganjam district under Hinjli assembly segment represented by Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik remain locked as the owners who are migrant labourers have not returned to caste their vote.

Migration of labour force of Odisha, especially those from Ganjam district, has become a major election issue for political parties. In his Bhubaneswar election meeting the prime ministerial candidate of the BJP, Narendra Modi had attacked the ruling BJD in Odisha for failing to provide jobs due to which people from the CM’s own district were migrating to Gujarat in search of work.

This statement had been vehemently protested by the BJD president and CM Naveen Patnaik in his speeches. Most political parties in Odisha in their manifesto have come up with promises to end the problem of labour migration.

Ironically most of these migrant labourers have not returned to vote. Some of them who have returned have come back for the harvesting season or for the ‘Danda Nata’ festivities. In the 2009 election the migrant labourers were compelled to return due to the economic recession in the textile and gem stone industries in Surat . In the 2004 assembly polls, BJD leader Niranjan Pradhan had used these migrant labourers as catalysts for his win from Kodala assembly seat. He had managed to get migrant labourers of his area to return and vote for him. . In 2014 there is a slim chance that they will return, said Baburam Dakua of Saru village.

Till now there has been no documentation of migration of labour from Ganjam district or any other part of Odisha. As per an unofficial estimate there are around five lakh migrant labourers from Ganjam district. After the devastation caused by cyclone Phailin , migration has also been witnessed from Berhampur and Gopalpur assembly segments, where it was miniscule in the past.

Saru village has around 4,200 households and out of them 1,365 are of migrant workers. According to the villagers 25 per cent of these migrant labourers have returned during this election season. Purna Das, a migrant labourer who has returned said he has returned not due to elections but to oversee the harvest of his parental paddy field and to enjoy ‘Danda Nata’ festivities.

According to Lokanath Mishra, a social activist who works with the migrant labourers, an interesting thing to note is that most of the migrant labourers who have returned back are from lower castes, who take part in ‘Danda Nata’ in large numbers and have to monitor the harvesting from their small patches of land. Return of upper caste migrants is low in comparison, said Mr. Dakua.

Some of these migrant labourers accept that they are dual voters as they have their names enlisted in the voter list in the State where they work as well as in the voter list at their villages.


Constituency watch: OdishaMarch 7, 2014