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National - Elections 2004 Printer Friendly Page   Send this Article to a Friend

Candidate Watch

Balgopal Mishra, Independent candidate, Bolangir

It took 25 years for Balgopal Mishra to tell the world about his dream of a separate State carved out of western Orissa. Having made his intentions public, Mr. Mishra has now decided to launch a full-fledged crusade for Koshal Rajya.

For the coming Assembly and Parliamentary elections, Mr. Mishra has fielded candidates who will contest independently but will be supported by the Koshal Rajya Kriyanushthan Committee, a social organisation run by Mr. Mishra. "We do not hope to win seats but yes, we will be the deciding factor in the elections because the issue is so close to the peoples heart," Mr. Mishra told The Hindu. Once the elections are over, a political outfit — Koshal Mukti Morcha — will be launched. Mr. Mishra himself will contest from the Bolangir Lok Sabha seat challenging the present MP, Sangeeta Singh Deo of the Bharatiya Janata Party. His son, Akash, is contesting from the Louisingha Assembly seat.

It was hardly a coincidence that Mr. Mishra raised the demand for a separate State when the elections were announced. "Had I raised the demand 25 years ago when I was elected to the State Assembly for the first time in 1980 on the Congress ticket, no one would have heard me. Today, the issue has crystallised and I am confident that the State shall be formed. It is just a question of time," he says and adds that the movement is getting tremendous support in the region.

The Koshal region will include at least 10 districts of western Orissa and adjoining areas that continue to be extremely backward and poverty-stricken. These are Bolangir, Nuapada, Sonepur, Sambalpur, Bargarh, Jharsugudha, Devgarh, Kalahandi, Kashipur block in Rayagarh, Keonjhar, Sundergarh, Bodh, Dhenkanal. It is proposed to include Koraput district too. "Though British imperialism has ended, we are still under coastal colonisation. This region has been thoroughly discriminated as compared to the coast belt. All the development has taken place in the coastal region and it is politicians from that side who have dominated the political scene of the State. While here, were have been deprived and oppressed," he says.

Mr. Mishra also accuses successive State Governments of totally neglecting the region. "We are being used as a begging bowl for Orissa. The Governments exhibit our poverty and helplessness to collect international aid. They want to keep us poor and present us as beggars." Many Prime Ministers have visited the region and announced huge packages but there has been no change in the condition of the people, he says.

According to Mr. Mishra, the region's deterioration began after Independence and its merger with Orissa. "Bolangir was one of the most advanced princely States with electricity, a college, a forest policy and even a Regional Research Centre. The High Court of Kalahandi and adjoining Patna State came directly under the jurisdiction of the British Crown." At the time of Independence, the region was merged with Bengal and subsequently with Orissa though it has nothing common with either, whether linguistically or socially. "The 100-year-old Nagpur-Raipur-Titlagarh-Vizag railway line is now being used for migration and the region has become synonymous with starvation deaths, child sale and prostitution," says Mr. Mishra.

Having joined the Congress in 1974, Mr. Mishra won his first Assembly election in 1980. He then quit the party and was elected to the Assembly three times as an Independent. He was also elected to Parliament in the elections from 1989 to 1991. Mr. Mishra joined the BJP four years ago as the party promised to support his cause. "Unfortunately, the party betrayed me and the BJP now says that in principle it supports smaller States but they are not on its agenda."

Mr. Mishra says irrigation and industry are the two major factors that can change the face of the region. Job opportunities will end exploitation and migration that in turn will improve the social status of the people, he adds.

— Aarti Dhar

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