At a time when the Aam Aadmi Party is threatening to occupy its political space in Odisha, the Congress is hit by intense infighting with all its 16 legislators revolting against state chief Prasad Harichandan.
The legislators, led by Congress Legislature Party leader Narasingha Mishra, have been camping in Delhi since last week to persuade the central leadership to go for a change of guard. They have even reportedly threatened to resign from the assembly.
Congress sources said the disgruntled legislators had sought an appointment with party vice-president Rahul Gandhi, but he called only Mishra for a meeting. It is learned that Mishra conveyed the “sentiments” of all the legislators, who later sought an appointment with Congress chief Sonia Gandhi.
The legislators argue that Harichandan’s failure to stem the rebellion in the state unit and carry everybody along could impact the party’s performance in next year’s panchayat elections.
Harichandan had replaced Jayadev Jena as the state chief after the drubbing in the 2014 Lok Sabha and assembly elections. The Congress managed to bag just 16 out of 147 assembly seats and drew a blank in the Lok Sabha polls.
A senior central functionary said the legislators are pitching for former state chief Niranjan Patnaik’s name, but the party leadership appears unwilling to oblige them at this moment. He said the Congress high command is not in favour of immediate change of guard in the state, as it “will send a wrong signal” that the leadership has “succumbed to the pressure” from dissidents. “But in politics, you never know what will happen tomorrow,” the leader said.
In a statement recently, Patnaik had said the “rats” wrecking the Congress from within need to be shown the door.
Former Odisha chief minister Hemanand Biswal is another contender for the top party post in the state. Biswal, a former Pradesh Congress Committee chief, had met Rahul Gandhi in June to convey his displeasure over Harichandan.
Officially, the Congress legislators were in Delhi to meet President Pranab Mukherjee over the Mahanadi river water dispute between Odisha and Chhattisgarh.
The rise of the AAP, which is projecting itself as a viable alternative in 2019 state polls, has prompted the Congress to take corrective steps. The party last month named different panels for the upcoming civic polls, a move seen as a first step towards strengthening its organisational structure across Odisha.