Congress in Odisha: high on RG, low on synergy | india | Hindustan Times
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Congress in Odisha: high on RG, low on synergy

india Updated: Mar 31, 2014 21:43 IST
Saubhadra Chatterji
Saubhadra Chatterji
Hindustan Times
Rahul Gandhi

Congress president Sonia Gandhi is never heard of intervening in a government's budget-making process at the last moment. But in 2012, barely an hour before the railway minister read out his reply to the rail budget debate in Lok Sabha, Sonia had sent a special request for a rail factory in Odisha's Kalahandi. Her wish was granted.

Kalahandi, about 400km west of Bhubaneswar, is Odisha's finest rice bowl. The tribal-dominated district, however, is more known for stories of hunger, child sale and migration.

Two years ago, Rahul Gandhi (RG) had visited Kalahandi and announced that he was the "sipahi" of Odisha's tribals.

Even though the Congress brass is active for Odisha, its state organisation may struggle to reap the dividends of these political initiatives.

The reason: in poll-bound Odisha, the Congress is high on 'RG' but low on synergy and energy!

In no other state the Congress is facing factionalism and mass exodus like it is facing in this coastal state.

In last one month, at least nine heavyweights including the leader of Opposition in the state assembly have deserted the Congress. Five out of 30 district presidents and more than 20 block presidents have joined the BJD.

The party had expelled one of its prominent faces and former CM JB Patnaik's son-in-law, Soumya Ranjan Patnaik, last year.

"These talks of infighting of the Congress are irrelevant now. Rahul Gandhi has formed a new team and it is working to bring a change in Odisha," says Bhakta Charan Das, Congress national spokesperson and the candidate from Kalahandi.

The party had experimented with its Odisha leadership. State unit chief KP Singh Deo worked with three working presidents and a campaign committee chairman in the 2009 elections.

Result: the party registered its second-lowest vote share since Independence at 29.1%. In 2011, Niranjan Patnaik was made the state Congress head. In 2013, Jaideb Jena, a leader from the Scheduled Castes, replaced him as Rahul set up a new team.

"Rahul's plan will fail because he does not understand that unlike many other states, Odisha doesn't vote on caste lines," says Soumya Ranjan Patnaik, who is now the president of the Amo Odisha Party.

Dilip Panda, a columnist and a retired college professor, says, "(Chief minister) Naveen Patnaik wins because of the disarray in the Congress."

Bhakta Charan Das claims the party has given good candidates this time. But Congress MP Pradeep Majhi tells HT, "We have failed to give good candidates in two-third of the seats."

Leaders who deserted the Cong ship in Odisha:

Bhupinder Singh Leader of Opposition in assembly
Sarat Kar Former speaker and minister
Ramkrushna Patnaik Senior leader, popularly known as 'lion of Ganjam'
Kumudini Patnaik Former Congress MP
Umesh Swaine Veteran leader in Baliguda
Arya Kumar Gyanendra Longest-serving spokesperson
Abhinav Hota Party's social media unit chief
Hema Gomango Former CM Giridhar Gomango's wife
Nityanand Malik Senior leader
Kartikesh Patra Former MP, now Trinamool Congress candidate

Except Karkitesh Patra, all others in the list have joined the Biju Janata Dal, Odisha's ruling party