Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi on Monday kick-started a consultation process on organisational restructuring in Odisha where growing dissent against state leadership threatens the party’s revival plan ahead of the 2019 assembly and Lok Sabha elections.
A final call on the change in state leadership is expected to be taken after the crucial meeting.
All the 16 Congress legislators and one Rajya Sabha MP, state unit chief Prasad Harichandan, apart from Niranjan Patnaik and Bhakta Charan Das who have emerged as strong contenders for the top party post, are in Delhi to meet Rahul.
The meeting comes a day after Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik revamped his council of ministers by inducting 10 fresh faces and elevating two ministers of state to the cabinet rank. The reshuffle was done following a slide in vote share of the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) in the recent panchayat elections.
The BJP pushed the Congress to the third position in the rural elections to occupy the space of the principal opposition party.
Rattled by the exodus of its cadre, the Congress has stepped up efforts to put its house in order.
In the past few weeks, Congress leaders, including general secretary in-charge of Odisha, BK Hariprasad, have repeatedly accused BJD and BJP of “poaching” its rank and file.
The infighting in the Odisha Congress escalated after the party’s rout.
Of the total 846 zilla parishad seats for which polls were held in five phases from February 13, the BJD won 473 seats while BJP bagged 297 and Congress managed to win just 60.
Apart from workers and leaders at various levels, all 16 Congress legislators have raised a banner of revolt against Harichandan.
These legislators, led by Congress legislature party (CLP) leader Narasingha Mishra, met the party’s central leadership on several occasions last year and even threatened to resign from the assembly if their demand for a change of guard was not met.
To address the grievances of the disgruntled leaders, Gandhi on Thursday met party leaders Niranjan Patnaik, Bhakta Charan Das and Pradeep Majhi.
They urged the party vice president to remove Harichandan from his position as “he had failed to resurrect the party and re-energise” the cadre.
They also told Gandhi that Harichandan’s failure to stem the rebellion in the state unit and carry everybody along had affected the party’s performance in the panchayat elections.
For his part, the Congress V-P stressed the need to have wider consultations on the issue and convened the Monday’s meeting to discuss the organisational rejig.