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Tuesday, November 24, 2020

In fray for Odisha bypoll, an 80-year-old-barber campaigning on a cycle

The oldest of six candidates in a seat that is witnessing an intense tussle between the BJP and BJD, Barik does not stand much of a chance. There are some, however, who are listening to his message.

Written by Aishwarya Mohanty | Bhubaneswar | October 25, 2020 7:53:43 am
Benudhar Barik, 80, is fondly known as Benu mausa (uncle).

Clad in a plain white dhoti, a pale yellow kurta and a gamcha, Benudhar Barik, 80, is on one of his usual rounds in and around Odisha’s Balasore town. As he slowly cycles along well-trodden routes and beyond, some come forward to talk. Others touch his feet.

Benu mausa (uncle), as he is fondly known, is an independent candidate contesting the November 3 by-election to the Balasore Sadar seat. Bent, wizened and lost in the din of rallies and elaborate campaigning by political heavyweights, Barik is charting his own, lonely course—with just a poster carrying his picture, name and election symbol fixed on the handle of his cycle.

“I never thought I would contest a election because I never had the funds to do so. But I am aging and my only pursuit in life is to be able to help people in need. If I win the election, I can do better for the people as a people’s representative. Irrespective of whether I become an MLA or not, I would continue to do so,” he told The Indian Express.

Barik is a barber for by profession. On usual days, he goes village to village around Balasore, setting up shop under trees. More than six decades of doing this have made him an instantly recognisable figure among residents—many of them underprivileged. “It has also given me an innate understanding of the troubles in individual hamlets and settlements,” he adds.

With no movable or immovable assets to his name, Barik has borrowed Rs 10,000 to file his nomination. According to his affidavit, he has never been to school, but can read or write.

Every so often, he manages to hire a tempo which goes around town announcing: “Kettli chinha ku vote dei, Benu mausa ku diya jitai (Vote for the kettle symbol and help Benu mausa win).”

A resident of Gudipada in Balasore, Barik lives in a small one-room hut all by himself. After his wife’s death 30 years back, he began volunteering with non-profit organisations to help those in need.

This is not his first election. Around a decade back, he had unsuccessfully contested civic body elections. “The civic polls were a disaster. I wanted to save money so I could contest an assembly elections, but I still could not and had to borrow some money to hire a tempo, create a poster this time. I did not want to wait anymore,” he said.

The oldest of six candidates in a seat that is witnessing an intense tussle between the BJP and BJD, Barik does not stand much of a chance. There are some, however, who are listening to his message.

Says one resident: “MLAs come and go when they like. Their promises fall flat. After elections most of them are nowhere to be seen. But we know for sure that Benu mausa will be around in sad and happy times both.”

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