Sundargarh Lok Sabha seat: A fight between two candidates who are stars in their own right

Legendary Indian hockey captain Dilip Tirkey is pitted against Jual Oram, India’s first Tribal Affairs Minister, in the parliamentary seat

Published - May 17, 2024 04:17 am IST - BHUBANESWAR

Union Tribal Affairs Minister Jual Oram at a press conference in New Delhi.

Union Tribal Affairs Minister Jual Oram at a press conference in New Delhi. | Photo Credit: Shiv Kumar Kumar

Legendary Indian hockey captain Dilip Tirkey is not giving up like he has done defending goalposts during his career and continues to stand solid for a second time against a strong opponent in the form of ex-Union Tribal Affairs Minister Jual Oram on his home turf.

The Sundargarh Lok Sabha constituency, where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Biju Janata Dal (BJD) are locked in a direct contest, is garnering significant attention from political enthusiasts. Both parties have fielded candidates who are stars in their own right, particularly considering their ascent to national prominence from Odisha’s tribal-dominated Sundargarh district.

Ace hockey player

BJD candidate, Mr. Tirkey, who is currently Hockey India president, has many firsts to his credit. He is the first and only hockey player to breach 400 national caps and the first Indian hockey captain from a tribal community. He is one of the most trusted defenders India has ever produced.

Hockey India president Dilip Tirkey at a press conference in Chennai.

Hockey India president Dilip Tirkey at a press conference in Chennai. | Photo Credit: PTI

After losing the 2014 Lok Sabha election narrowly, the legendary player is taking this year’s electoral encounter aggressively in Sundargarh – widely acknowledged as the cradle of hockey in the State. Interestingly, it is the hockey, which Mr. Tirkey considers his precious asset to edge out his opponents. He did not fight the 2019 Lok Sabha election.

Way of life

Sundargarh has probably contributed more hockey players to India’s men’s and women’s national teams than any other district in the country. In Sundargarh, hockey is more than just a sport; it is a way of life. Children in the district see hockey not only as a source of entertainment but also as the best career option. Mr. Tirkey stands out as the most prominent player ever to emerge from both Sundargarh and the State of Odisha. After retirement, the BJD had sent Mr. Tirkey to the Rajya Sabha in 2012.

He is focusing his campaign on massive sports infrastructure development taken up by the Naveen Patnaik-led government. Birsa Munda International Hockey Stadium, Rourkela, which was built in record time and considered the largest hockey stadium, was one of the venues for the 2023 Men’s FIH Hockey World Cup. In the run-up to World Cup, Rourkela city had got an unbelievable facelift stoking euphoria and a sense of pride among hockey-loving people of Sundargarh.

He is up against Jual Oram, India’s first Tribal Affairs Minister after the ministry was set up following bifurcation of Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment in 1999. Mr. Oram is the senior-most BJP MP, who has represented Odisha in Lok Sabha five times since 1998 and remained a tribal face of the saffron party in the country for a long time. He has also headed the Odisha unit of BJP.

Straight shooter

Known for his straight talk, Mr. Oram is facing a tough fight from Mr. Tirkey this time, especially after winning the 2019 election by over two lakh votes. To register his third straight win, the veteran BJP leader is banking on the mass following of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Sundargarh.

Of the seven Assembly constituencies falling under the jurisdiction of Sundargarh, three seats — Biramitrapur, Talsara and Sundargarh — have sitting BJP MLAs. In addition to this, the entry of Dilip Ray, famous hotelier and a politician since the days of late Biju Patnaik, has made the fight interesting. Mr. Ray, who was convicted in the coal block allocation irregularity, had received a reprieve when a Delhi court allowed him to contest the election. The veteran leader, who is contesting from Rourkela Assembly segment on a BJP ticket, has made Mr. Oram confident of facing the challenge from Mr. Tirkey.

Community support expected

Tribals comprise close to 50% of Sundargarh’s total population while the BJP leader’s Oran community accounts for more than 25% among the tribals. According to senior BJD leaders, Mr. Tirkey is likely to get the backing of the Christian community to which he belongs to. Christians constitute over 18% of Sundargarh’s population. Besides, the former hockey captain would have the backing of BJD’s solid cadre strength.

The Congress has fielded Janardhan Dehury as its MP candidate. Though Congress MP Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra passed through Sundargarh district, local leaders appear to have failed to carried the momentum to the ongoing elections. Both Lok Sabha and Assembly elections will be held in Sundargarh on May 20.

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