Congress, BJP try to make a mark in Odisha

  • Saubhadra Chatterji, Hindustan Times, Phoolbani/Sambalpur
  • Updated: Apr 02, 2014 00:40 IST

In 2012, Congress president Sonia Gandhi pushed for a rail factory in Odisha's Kalahandi. Around that time, party vice-president Rahul Gandhi visited Kalahandi to be the 'sipahi' (soldier) of tribals in the state.

The party high command has been showering attention on Odisha, but the state organisation seems to be struggling to reap dividends. Reasons: factionalism and exodus of leaders to other parties, primarily the ruling Biju Janata Dal.

At least nine heavyweights including Bhupinder Singh, leader of opposition in the state assembly, left Congress in the past few weeks. Five of the party's 30 district presidents and more than 20 block presidents went to BJD. And last year, the Congress expelled former chief minister JB Patnaik's son-in-law Soumya Ranjan Patnaik.

The party is putting up a brave front. "The infighting issue is irrelevant now. Rahul Gandhi has formed a new team and it is working to bring change in Odisha," said Bhakta Charan Das, Congress spokesperson and a candidate from Kalahandi.

The 'new team' credo saw Jaideb Jena (scheduled caste) replacing Niranjan Patnaik as Odisha PCC chief in 2013. "This strategy will fail as Odisha doesn't vote on caste lines," Soumya Ranjan said.

The Congress too is skeptical about experimenting with the state leadership. They recall the party's poor show in the 2009 polls under three working presidents and a campaign committee chairman. Besides, as party MP Pradeep Majhi puts it, "We have failed to give good candidates in two-three seats."

The scenario for the BJP appears a tad brighter, having come up with a 'look west' policy to recover from the shock of losing BJD as an ally a month before the 2009 polls. The divorce cost BJP dearly that year; it failed to win any of the state's 21 Lok Sabha constituencies.

This time, the saffron party is banking on its strategy for western Odisha – it covers seven parliamentary constituencies straddling districts like Balangir, Nawapara, Sundergarh, Bargarh and Sonepur – to stage a comeback. Narendra Modi is set to campaign in Sundargarh and Balangir on April 4.

"People of Odisha want a change and the Congress is not in a position to provide an alternative. If its organization does well, the BJP may get a few seats," said Aditya Prasad Padhi, former vice chancellor of Sambalpur University.

The RSS has a foothold in western Odisha and the BJP is playing its Modi card to the hilt. Just as all BJD's campaign material carry photos of chief minister Naveen Patnaik's photos, BJP's are Modi-centric.

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