Rejuvenated party now looking to poach potential BJD leaders to pay back the ruling party in the same coin.
Bhubaneswar: The recent changes in Odisha Pradesh Congress Committee (OPCC), which came much later than expected, seem to have rejuvenated the party and brought it back into the contest for the Assembly polls in 2019.
The newly-appointed OPCC president Niranjan Patnaik and three working presidents are working at the grassroots to lift the party from the morass it has gone into in the past two decades due to disarray and factionalism.
Unlike previous years when the top OPCC office-bearers behaved as lords to establish their supremacy and pose as future chief ministerial candidates, this time around all the leaders are working in unison, leaving no chinks to be exploited by the ruling BJD.
The three new working presidents — Chiranjib Biswal, Naba Kishore Das, Pradeep Majhi - since their appointment on April 19, have covered almost 50 per cent of the 30 districts, holding discussions with local leaders and convincing the workers to prepare for the “final battle” against the BJD.
The grand old party, which ruled the state for nearly four decades before being decimated in the 2000 elections by the BJD, has seen its fortune plummeting with a majority of its ambitious leaders nourishing the dream to become the chief minister. The factional fights had hit the morale of the party workers, most of whom switched loyalties to the BJP and BJD.
According to political analysts, with most Congress workers shifting to the BJD, the boost worked wonders for the regional party, which performed admirably in the Assembly elections. While it won 103 of the 147 seats in 2009, BJD’s tally increased to 117 in 2014.
On the other hand, the Congress, which won 27 seats with 29.1 percentage of votes in 2009, slipped to 16 seats and got voting percentage of 25.7 in 2014 polls, indicating the mass exodus of the Congress voters to the BJD, analysts pointed out.
The new OPCC president said the worst phase is over and good days are ahead for the party. “But there is light at the end of the tunnel; I am confident, we would make substantial addition to our voting percentage in 2019 elections and come back to power in the state,” said Mr Patnaik.
“It’s true the Congress has suffered huge losses in the past few years because of our own faults. But it has certainly not died… it will rise from the ashes,” he added.
Analysts contend that the BJD would be hit hard if the Congress succeeds in wooing back its leaders, workers and voters. The regional party, which garnered 43.3 per cent votes in 2014 might lose 20 to 30 seats if it fails to retain the Congress voters it had wooed in the past few years.
The BJP, which had won 18 per cent votes in 2019 Assembly polls, is steadily eating into the BJD’s vote bank. This was evident in the rural local body polls in 2017. The BJP grabbed nearly 100 Zila Parishad seats from the BJD.
Since the BJP is less possible to dent the traditional vote bank of the Congress, the latter looks at benefiting from the growing unrest among the BJD voters at the grassroots level.
The Congress, as grapevine has it, is now looking for opportunities to poach potential BJD leaders to pay the latter in the same coin. In 2009 and 2014, the BJD had poached several Congress leaders thereby sending a message to the public that the Congress was disintegrating.
Overcrowded with MLA ticket seekers for 2019 Assembly elections, the BJD is struggling hard to keep its herd together, say analysts.
The aspirants, if denied tickets, might switch over to the Congress along with their supporters to cause problems for Mr Patnaik’s party, they said.