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5-min read

Poised For Revival Till Month Ago, Congress Actions in Odisha a Lesson on How to Lose an Election

Revolt and dissidence, under the lid for a while now, bubbled over and threatened to sink the Congress, and shows that no depth is too deep for the party in Odisha.

Sandeep Sahu |

Updated:April 20, 2019, 12:39 PM IST
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Poised For Revival Till Month Ago, Congress Actions in Odisha a Lesson on How to Lose an Election
Congress chief Rahul Gandhi at a public meeting in Khurda, Odisha, (Photo Credit: PTI)
The Congress in Odisha has flattered to deceive, yet again. With two of the four rounds of polling over, the grand old party has all but abandoned its hopes of coming back to power in the state after nearly two decades.

Worse still, it is in serious danger of being relegated to the third position after the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and the BJP – an unenviable position from which it has not been able to find its way back to power in any state so far.

In hindsight, it is hard to believe that the Congress was on a high just a month ago. It state unit chief, Niranjan Patnaik, appeared to have asserted his authority in the party with his conscious efforts to carry everyone along. Dissidence, the perennial bugbear of the Congress in Odisha, was down to a minimum. The morale of the party cadres was high after the victories in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh in December.

Frustrated with the apathy of both the BJP and the BJD to their sorry plight, farmers in the state, who constitute nearly 70% of the population, were beginning to look up to the party as their saviour. The waiver of farm loans and the bonus of Rs 750 per quintal of paddy announced by the Chhattisgarh government had created positive vibes among farmers on this side of the border.

Suddenly, Rahul Gandhi had started appearing sincere and earnest in his utterances and promises during his four visits to the state between January and March. Last but not the least, amid talks of a secret arrangement between the BJD and the BJP for a possible post-poll understanding, the Congress appeared the only party unshackled by such compulsions. In short, the decrepit Congress house was being rebuilt brick by brick and pretty fast at that.

But all it took for the house under reconstruction to come crashing down with a thud was the start of the most important – and contentious – process of elections: distribution of tickets. The party that had boasted about announcing 50% of its candidates at least six months ahead of the election turned out to be the last to name them – and that too in fits and starts and often at the eleventh hour.

As the names were announced in instalments, it became clear that the party had also buried its other boast: the much-touted ‘One family, One ticket’ principle.

Almost every senior leader, including the PCC chief, wrested two tickets for his family. Niranjan himself is contesting from two Assembly seats – Ghasipura and Bhanadripokhari – while his son is the party candidate for the Balasore Lok Sabha seat. Sagar Das, the son of senior leader and Kalahandi Lok Sabha candidate Bhakta Charan Das, is the candidate for the Bhawanipatna Assembly seat, part of his father’s parliamentary constituency.

The other father-son duos in the fray are Narasingha Mishra (Bolangir Assembly seat) and Samarendra Mishra (Bolangir Lok Sabha) and George Tirkey (Sundargarh LS) and Rohit Joseph Tirkey (Biramitrapur).

The father-daughter duo of Ananta Sethi (Simulia Assembly) and Madhumita (Bhadrak LS) completes the travesty of the ‘One family, One ticket’ principle.

As if this wasn’t bad enough, the party also had to face the embarrassment of having to change its nominees in at least five constituencies after the original choices led to a virtual revolt in the local party unit.

Confusion reigned supreme and things reached ridiculous levels as last minute changes were made. In Dharmashala Assembly seat, for example, Kishan Panda, who replaced the original choice Smrutirekha Pahi, had to file his nomination as an independent after failing to get the ticket even on the last day of nomination.

As a result, Pahi remains the ‘official’ candidate while Panda is fighting as an independent! The party also ended up with egg on its face as five candidates refused to contest even after getting tickets because the tickets came too late.

No wonder revolt and dissidence, under the lid for a while now, bubbled over and threatened to sink the party.

Sumitra Jena, the president of the Mahila Congress, first sat on a dharna and finally quit the party to protest the raw deal given to women in ticket distribution. Party spokesperson Sonali Sahu followed suit while accusing Niranjan and his son of ‘selling’ party tickets. The heads of Seva Dal and the party’s youth and farmers’ wings also resigned from their position.

Far from stemming the fast spreading rot, the PCC chief has virtually thrown in the towel, saying he had no role in the distribution of tickets. In private conversation, Congressmen themselves are saying the party would be ‘lucky’ to get into double digits in the Assembly this time (It had 16 in the outgoing house).

Just about the only silver lining for the party at the moment is the fact that there are a few leaders still in with a chance of winning – not because of the party but on the strength of their own standing in the electorate.

Prominent among them are Pradeep Majhi in Nabarangpur, George Tirkey (Sundargarh) and Bhakta Das (Kalahandi) (all Lok Sabha) and Suresh Routray (Jatni) and Taraprasad Bahinipati (Jeypore) in the Assembly election.

Around this time five years ago, it had seemed the Congress had reached the pits and could only go up from there. Jayadev Jena, who was at the helm of party affairs at the time, had to take all the blame for the downslide. But Election 2019 has proved that who heads it is irrelevant when the party itself is possessed by a death wish. And that no depth is too deep for the Odisha Congress!

(The author is a senior journalist. Views are personal)
(Get detailed and live results of each and every seat in the Lok Sabha elections and state Assembly elections in Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim to know which candidate/party is leading or trailing and to know who has won and who has lost and by what margin. Our one-of-its-kind Election Analytics Centre lets you don a psephologist’s hat and turn into an election expert. Know interesting facts and trivia about the elections and see our informative graphics. Elections = News18)
| Edited by: Aakarshuk Sarna
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