Penury as his ally, rural activist enters poll fray to help poor

ROURKELA: He is a self-proclaimed priest, does not have a name, fame or money. Jagabandhu Oram does not even have a regular source of earning, yet this 43-year-old rural activist has entered the fray for the prestigious Sundargarh Lok Sabha (LS) constituency.

While heavyweights like BJP’s Jual Oram and Dilip Tirkey of the BJD are hogging the limelight, Oram away from the spotlight aspires to end poverty in the region which he has experienced all his life.

“I am very poor and throughout my life, I have experienced the pangs of poverty. Rural tribal families face immense hardship for survival. I am fighting to help them come out of the suffering of poverty. My task looks impossible but, with the blessing of Lord Jagannath, it is achievable. It’s why I am contesting,” he says.

Oram leads the life of a vagabond and works as a daily wager to make both ends meet. However, he has managed to save Rs 12,500 over a long period of time for the mandatory security deposit for filing of nomination. He, in all likelihood, will lose his security deposit but Oram is undeterred. Nor is he worried about how many votes he would poll.

A native of the Badadalki panchayat in Lathikata block under Brahmani Tarang police limits in Sundargarh, Oram is the only Independent candidate among the eight contestants in the fray. And poorest among all, of course.

Oram said for many years he has been fighting at the grassroots level to protect the poor from exploitation and helping them get the benefits of poverty alleviation and welfare programmes in Lathikata block and nearby areas.

In his affidavit, Oram has declared he owns no cash or movable properties, while his immovable assets comprise an acre of agriculture land and a small village house with a total present valuation of about Rs 5.25 lakh.

He completed his intermediate education in Arts from Gurundia Plus II College in 2010. Oram claims his wife is a government school teacher and has a son but he stays away from them at Tainsor for personal reasons.

If Oram is to be believed, he worked with different political parties in minor roles. He claims to have spent considerable time at the Jagannath Temple in Puri in assisting priests and sevayats and learnt the nitty-gritty of worship rituals. Oram says he volunteers services at different local temples and in return, they offer him food and small donations.

“If I get opportunity, I will ensure not a single poor man is left out of the government benefits, explore ways to help them get a livelihood, promote health and education,” he said.

Asked how he funds his campaign and plans to cover the vast LS constituency spread over 9,712 square kilometres with about 15.67 lakh registered voters, Oram said his election expenditure mostly comes from willing and acquainted donors.

“I am personally contacting as many as people as possible in Lathikata block. Due to funding and mobility constraints, I may not be able to reach out to voters in the rest 16 blocks. I am using social media platforms as a campaign tool,” he added.

A semi-literate tribal woman Sushila Tigga is managing his social media outreach through WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook posts. Tigga said in her leisure time she posts short videos and photos of Oram and whenever possible she accompanies him for campaign.

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