BHUBANESWAR: With the victory in three Hindi heartland States as recently as December, the Congress in Odisha had much going in its favour in the run up to the General Elections. Having captured the neighbouring State of Chhattisgarh with a landslide, the party had gained a head start while the repeated visits of Rahul Gandhi and his promises of farm loan waiver along with minimum income guarantee had found resonance among the people in the State.
However, as the elections drew closer, the party seems to have lost the plot. Thanks to the internal wrangling and the mess made out of candidate selection, the Congress already finds itself almost out of the electoral race in the State. The resignation of the party leadership to the fate is also writ large all around.
A spate of resignations and refusal of candidates to contest elections after being given tickets have pushed the grand old party to a corner. It has created a perception of the party quitting the field even as ballots were yet to be cast.
Congress had, however, started on a positive note in the State by announcing that candidates will be announced at least six months before elections to give enough time to the nominees to assess their constituencies. But the selection process dragged on till the last hour in a substantial chunk of the seats as the party failed to find suitable candidates.
Not that the grand old party did not try to infuse new faces. According to Odisha Pradesh Congress Committee (OPCC) president Niranjan Patnaik, Congress has fielded new faces in 83 Assembly seats out of the total 147 constituencies in Odisha and changed candidates in several Lok Sabha seats. However, this turned out to be a failed gambit.
More than injecting freshness and new energy into the rank and file, it led to an almost incessant stream of desertions from the party much to the joy of BJD and BJP who embraced them instantly. Even as the first phase polls started for four Lok Sabha and 28 Assembly constituencies in the State, a spokesperson Sonali Sahu quit the party targeting the OPCC president over distribution of tickets.
The OPCC chief is at the centre of the hapless situation that the party finds itself in the State. He is facing accusations of nepotism and furthering dynastic politics with aggrieved leaders pointing at his candidature from two Assembly seats and fielding his son Navajyoti Patnaik from Balasore Lok Sabha seat.
The number of father-son, father-daughter candidates from the party has also grown significantly lending credence to the allegations. Senior leader Anant Narayan Sethi and his daughter Madhumita Sethi have been fielded from Simulia Assembly constituency and Bhadrak Lok Sabha seats respectively. Leader of Opposition Narasingh Mishra is contesting from Loisingha while his son Samarendra Mishra has been fielded from Balangir Assembly seat. Besides, in Kalahandi, former Union Minister Bhakta Charan Das and his son Sagar Charan Das are contesting from the Lok Sabha and Bhawanipatna Assembly seats respectively.
To see the facts, Congress is not the only party which has perpetuated dynastic politics by fielding family members as there are a number of such examples in the ruling BJD and BJP. But there has been large-scale resentment in Congress over selection of candidates leading to a spate of resignations from Kalahandi, Sambalpur and Balangir district units.
Senior leaders who resigned from Congress include Bibhu Prasad Tarai who joined BJP and was fielded as the party’s candidate from Jagatsinghpur Lok Sabha seat.Tarai was chairman of the Congress SC cell and was fielded from the Tirtol Assembly seat. Pruthvi Ballav Patnaik, son of former chief minister JB Patnaik, was fielded from Begunia Assembly constituency, but he refused to contest.
Several senior party leaders and MLAs had resigned from Congress before the announcement of elections. Former working president of OPCC and ex-Congress MLA from Jharsuguda Naba Kishore Das joined BJD and is contesting from the same Assembly seat on a ruling party ticket while another former Congress MLA Jogesh Singh has also been fielded by the regional outfit from Sundargarh Assembly constituency. Another sitting MLA Prakash Behera, who switched over to BJP, has been fielded from Salepur Assembly seat.
Former president of Odisha Pradesh Mahila Congress Sumitra Jena, who resigned from Congress over the issue of inadequate representation to women, has also joined BJD.