New solidarity in the grand old party has virtually ruled out chance of its leaders being poached by rivals.
Bhubaneswar: Odisha Pradesh Congress Committee (OPCC) seems to be ahead of the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and BJP in preparation for the 2019 Lok Sabha and Assembly elections. The party, which has been out of power in the state since 2000, has identified “potential candidates” for 50 of the 147 Assembly segments.
The aggressive preparation by the Congress has left the ruling BJD surprised. Seeking power for the fifth consecutive term, the regional party headed by chief minister Naveen Patnaik apprehends that the revival of the Congress would make a significant dent in its vote bank.
Shrinking and sinking since 2000, the Congress is slowly emerging as a strong political force in state politics, especially after party president Rahul Gandhi brought in veteran leader Niranjan Partnaik as the Pradesh Congress Committee president.
Mr Patnaik, elder brother of former chief minister J.B. Patnaik’s son-in-law Soumyaranjan Patnaik, has strong organisational skills as well as financial strength to lead the party. Besides, his strong social connects with the masses and party cadres at the grassroots, according to analysts, has put him in an advantageous position. In 2004 and 2009, the Congress had polled 34.82 per cent and 29.1 per cent votes, respectively. Its fortune further nosedived in 2014 and the party had to be content with 25.7 per cent votes and its strength in the Assembly dropped to 38 seats in 2004, much because of the mess in the selection of candidates, alleged sale of party tickets and lack of coordination among the office-bearers. Statistics reveals that the majority of the Congress voters shifted to the BJD, mainly because of ideological issues. What perplexes the BJD and BJP is the newfound unity in the state Congress leaders led by All India Congress Committee general secretary and former Union minister of state for defence Jitendra Singh.
A hard taskmaster, the Alwar royal Jitendra Singh has held several rounds of discussions with all the tall leaders of the state and successfully forged a strong bond of solidarity and cohesion among them.
The new solidarity in the Congress stands to deprive the rivals, mainly the BJD, of the opportunity to exploit the loopholes and poach the potential leaders of the former party.
The BJD had, in fact, poached around 40 potential candidates from the Congress and BJP in 2014 Assembly polls.
Apart from the BJD, the BJP, the erstwhile ally of the BJD and currently its principal rival, is also worried as its dream to achieve the target of 120-plus seats in the 147-member Assembly in 2019 elections seems distant. Cruising along steadily towards its goal until recently on the bogey of alleged corruption and nepotism during the Naveen Patnaik regime, the saffron party now finds the Congress as its main contender.
Matching the “Mo booth sabuthu majbhoot” or “My booth is the strongest one” programme of the BJP in almost 36,000 booths, the Congress has also launched a booth-contact programme.
In order to infuse fresh energy into the party, the party has decided to give tickets to youths. Leaders who have lost their deposits in the last elections will not get tickets either.
“Going by the current poll preparation of the Congress, the party cannot be discounted in 2019 elections, Party leaders now present themselves as a strong bunch of spirited fighters. Unless the BJP and BJD redraft their strategies, their plan to emerge victorious in 2019 would fail,” says political analyst Prasanna Mohanty.
In the 147-member Assembly, the BJD has 117 MLAs, Congress has 16 MLAs and the BJP has 10 lawmakers.