Odisha parties close ranks, field consensus candidates to ‘protect’ villages claimed by Andhra

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In the Kotia gram panchayat, disputed by Odisha and Andhra Pradesh, parties have buried their differences to put up consensus candidates for local polls to “protect” the disputed villages from Andhra Pradesh’s “frequent infiltration attempts”.

The decision to field consensus candidates for the ruling BJD, the BJP and the Congress was taken on January 21 at an all-party meeting. “The agenda behind selecting consensus candidates is to protect the disputed areas of Kotia from frequent infiltration attempts of Andhra Pradesh. All political parties stand in unity irrespective of our political affiliations to protect our land,” said BJD district president Iswar Chandra Panigrahi, who was also the convener of the all-party meeting.

Of the 28 villages in the panchayat, 21 are under dispute. Elections to the zilla parishad and the posts of one samiti member, one sarpanch and 13 ward member in the gram panchayat will be held on February 18. There are over 5,000 registered voters in the panchayat.

The parties have collectively fielded Mamata Jani, a graduate from the Thuria village of the panchayat, for the post of zilla parishad member of Zone 1, the Pottangi block. While they convinced an independent candidate to withdraw her nomination, another one refused to oblige them. Consensus candidates have also been put up for 13 ward posts. For the post of sarpanch, seven candidates have filed their papers.

“To protect the Kotia region from any infringement from the Andhra Pradesh side, it is important to have leaders who are united for the cause. We are campaigning for all our consensus candidates and urging people to elect them. Workers of all the parties are together visiting the villages and campaigning for the candidates. We have kept aside all our political differences because our only agenda here is to safeguard Kotia and interests of the people here,” former MP and senior BJP leader Jayram Pangi said.

Reflecting the camaraderie for Kotia, posters with photos of senior leaders from all the three parties have come up in the region. Apart from the candidates, the posters featured the BJD’s Naveen Patnaik, the chief minister, and the BJP’s and the Congress’s state chiefs, Sameer Mohanty and Niranjan Pattnaik respectively.

The elections assume significance also because they are conducted by the Odisha government this time. Last year three of the 21 disputed villages of Kotia went to the polls as part of the rural elections in Andhra Pradesh.

The chief minister of both the states recently held a meeting to discuss Kotia and formed a committee to resolve the dispute, which had reached the Supreme Court in 1968. In 2006 the apex court held that interstate boundaries did not fall within its jurisdiction and that only Parliament could resolve them. But there has been no resolution yet.

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