A tough battle ahead for Tirkey at Sundergarh

A tough battle ahead for Tirkey at Sundergarh

Dilip Tirkey is familiar with hard battles. As captain of the Indian hockey team, he had fought many formidable foes on the turfs across the globe. He knows what it was to play under pressure in important tournaments like the World Cup.

The political field is just as challenging for Tirkey, if not more, as he takes on heavyweights in the prestigious Sundergarh Lok Sabha constituency in western Odisha, where he is the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) nominee.

Unlike the hockey field, victory in the race to Lok Sabha seems far-flung for Tirkey, as he is pitted against sitting Congress MP and two-time state chief minister Hemananda Biswal and three-tivme MP and former union minister Joel Oram of the BJP.

As a novice, Tirkey, a Padmashree awardee, is yet to learn the nuances of politics, whereas his opponents have honed their skills for several years in both the state and national stage.

In fact, this would be the first time Tirkey is foraying into electoral politics. Two years ago, the BJD roped him in and sent him to the Rajya Sabha. Tirkey certainly will not be helped by the general weakness of BJD’s base in western Odisha, especially in the Parliamentary constituencies like the tribal-dominated Sundergarh.

BJD’s organisational weaknesses in the constituency were brutally exposed in 2009, when the CPI(M) nominee it backed, Saloni Minz, was pushed to the ignominious fourth position.

In fact, it was a direct contest between Biswal and Oram, the two candidates who are back on the fray this time. The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) finished in the third place.

Biswal had then trounced his BJP rival by 12,000 votes.

However, Tirkey could benefit from the desire for a fresh face among Sundergarh voters. “He is also having a clean slate,” pointed out Kailash Bagarti, a retired school teacher in Sundergarh town.

“The other two principal candidates, Biswal and Oram, had their chances before. Both have a dismal record when it comes to developmental activities in the constituency. So Tirkey should be given a chance,” he added.

Despite being home to a major government-run steel plant, Sundergarh had remained backward for several years.

Most of the major developmental work in the tribal-dominated district has taken place so far in and around Rourkela township, home to the country’s oldest steel mill run by the Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL). The BJD nominee is also banking on the visible “wave” in favour of the Naveen Patnaik-led regional outfit, which captured the local urban bodies in  Assembly segments under the Sundergarh Lok Sabha constituency such as Rajgangpur, Talsara and Sundergarh town in the municipal polls late last year.

All of those Assembly segments were won by the Congress in 2009 Assembly polls.
Being a Roman Catholic, Tirkey can unify the Christian votes in the constituency which had divided their loyalties between the Congress and the BJP last time. Neither Biswal nor Oram is Christian. Tirkey, who now lives in state capital Bhubaneswar, was born in one of the villages near Sundergarh district.