Congress eyes power in Odisha sans groundwork

The Asian Age.  | Akshaya Kumar Sahoo

India, All India

Niranjan Patnaik claims ‘disenchantment’ of the voters with the BJD would naturally benefit the Congress

Mahila Congress members during a protest rally demanding expulsion of state's agriculture minister Pradeep Maharathy in Bhubaneswar. — PTI , charged with sheltering the accused in the Pipili case, as they march towards the chief minister's residence, in Bhubaneswar, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019. (PTI)

BHUBANESWAR: Having lost power in the state in 2000 to the regional Biju Janata Dal (BJD), India’s grand old party Congress is making its last-ditch effort to reclaim the province, not only to regain its preeminence here but also ward off its decimation in eastern part of the country.

Brimming with its successes in the Assembly elections in the neighbouring Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, the party now sees chances of victory in the coming state polls which will be held alongside the Lok Sabha elections in May.

Niranjan Patnaik, the Odisha Pradesh Congress Committee (OPCC) president, contends that since the people want a change in the state, Congress will be the ultimate choice for them as a “credible alternative”. People, as he argues, would not vote for BJP which has “diluted” its stand against the ruling BJD.

“The BJP which presents itself as an alternative to the BJD is no different. Both the parties have a tacit understanding to walk together to protect each other’s interests. There are plenty of examples, including the election of the President of India and Rajya Sabha deputy speaker, introduction of Goods and Services Tax (GST) and demonetisation, in which the BJD extended its support to the BJP-led NDA government. Both the BJD and BJP are the two sides of the same coin. It implies that if you vote for BJD, you also vote for the BJP and vice versa,” mocks the OPCC chief.

Mr Patnaik claims the “disenchantment” of the voters with the BJD would naturally benefit the Congress. He, however, proffers no logic how the voters will switch their allegiance in favour of his party. The ground realities are different and carry no hopes and promises for the party.

While the BJP and BJD have been on their top gears for over year now by organIsing public rallies, hartals and strikes, Congress has lagged far behind. It has apparently failed to match the activities of the rivals.

“The BJP and BJD have organised farmers’ rallies, organised big events of women, dalits and tribals to strengthen their positions. On the other hand, the Congress is almost silent, except undertaking some token activities involving very few party activists. Secondly, the office-bearers are yet to fan out in the state to revive their old cadres. While the BJP and BJD have successfully wooed a large number of potential leaders into their fold, the Congress is failing in this respect.

On the other hand, some of the 16 Congress MLAs are strongly contemplating to quit the party to join the BJD before the forthcoming visit of party president Rahul Gandhi to the state.

When former Union minister All India Congress Committee leader Jitendra Singh took charge of Odisha in March 2018, it was expected the party state unit would stand united and prepare for the big showdown with the BJD.

However, no major political movements have been organised in the state capital nor other parts of the state to tap the support of youths, farmers, women, dalits and tribals or any other groups that play a significant role in deciding the fate of political parties in poll exercises.

The Congress president Rahul Gandhi, who effected a change of guard in the PCC leadership by bringing in the seasoned Niranjan Patnaik in place of Prasad Harichandan, is going to visit the state on January 25 to address a public meeting. This will be his first public meeting in the state in 2014 general elections. In 2014, the Congress which in the past used to send 19 to 20 members to the Lok Sabha from the 21 seats in the state suffered the worst-ever poll disasters.

While the Congress still dithers on the issue of poll preparation, as the political analysts point out, its principal rival BJP and BJD have marched ahead by organising segment-wise state-level programmes. They have organised farmers and women conventions, besides assembling tribals and dalits on different occasions.

“The Congress has already missed the train. It has to find a faster mode of communication to reach to the voters. Or else, it will not register any different results even this time,” says political commentator Prasanna Mohanty.