In this year’s general election, out of the 21 Lok Sabha constituencies in Odisha, the Biju Janata Dal won 12 and the Bharatiya Janata Party won eight, while the Congress bagged just one seat. Saptagiri Ulaka, a 40-year-old computer engineer by training, is the Congress’s sole member of parliament and represents the state’s Koraput constituency. The Adivasi-dominated constituency falls in the state’s KBK region—Koraput-Bolangir-Kalahandi—which is considered one of the most backward in the country. The constituency is spread across the Koraput and Rayagada districts, where over 70 percent of the population is below the poverty line. This is a result, as well as a cause, of the various development and policy issues that plague the constituency, such as food insecurity, lack of education and development.
In his election campaign, Ulaka, an Adivasi, raised these issues and focused on the controversies surrounding the BJP during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first term. He hails from a family of Congress leaders—his father, Ramachandra Ulaka, was elected to the legislative assembly from Rayagada seven times and as an MP from Koraput twice; his mother, Ratnamani Ulaka, is the vice president of the women’s wing of the party in the state.
In an interview with the activists Abinash Dash Choudhury and Sweta Dash, Ulaka discussed deaths because of starvation in Odisha and the problems faced by Adivasis in his constituency. The imposition of Aadhaar to avail benefits and subsidies, he said, “is nothing but the state’s arrogance towards the poor.”