It was a conclave attended by more than a lakh women drawn from among the poorest sections of Kendrapara and Cuttack districts of Odisha. The speaker read out from an Odia text written in English. His accent, though foreign, was familiar to the crowd and did not hamper his ability to connect with them. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik told the women belonging to self-help groups that he would be giving 33% of his Biju Janatal Dal (BJD)’s tickets to women. And the crowd roared in approval.
The move is only the latest in Naveen Patnaik’s longstanding strategy of wooing women voters. It is a strategy handed down by his father, Biju Patnaik, who reserved 33% of seats for women in Panchayati Raj in the state.
Patnaik has already taken his first steps. The BJD recently nominated three women on its first candidates list for Lok Sabha elections. In Koraput, the party has replaced BJD MP Jhina Hikaka, who faces anti-incumbency, with his wife Kaushalya Hikaka, a high school teacher. The Sundergarh Lok Sabha ticket has been given to new entrant Sunita Biswal, daughter of veteran Congress leader and former Lok Sabha member from Sundergarh Hemananda Biswal. Of the 21 Lok Sabha constituencies in the state, Sundergarh is the only one held by the BJP.
Patnaik has given a ticket for the coveted Aska seat – from where he made his political debut – to social worker Pramila Bisoyi. Hailing from a farming family in Ganjam, Bisoyi has been working as a social worker for 18 years now. Associated with the Sata Sankha SHG of Nalabanta in Ganjam district, she has been a leading figure in the formation of several SHGs in the district and in the emancipation of women. Patnaik in a tweet had attributed Bisoyi’s candidature as a tribute to millions of women working under his flagship Mission Shakti programme for women.
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