Giridhar Gamang, one of the country’s best known tribal leaders and a former chief minister of Odisha, resigned from the Congress on Saturday citing “humiliation” and “loss of self-respect”.
Speculation was rife that Gamang might join the BJP in view of his recent meeting with Union tribal affairs minister Jual Oram, who also belongs to Odisha.
“Since 1999, I have been humiliated in public for bringing down the (Atal Bihari) Vajpayee government (at the Centre) with a single vote of mine. Till today neither my party nor my leaders have come out with the truth and protected me from public criticism. I feel that my loyalty to the party has turned into a liability for the party,” Gamang said in a letter to Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
The 72-year-old veteran leader clarified he had not taken ‘sanyas’ (retirement) from politics and he might consider offers to join any other party.
BJP spokesperson Suresh Pujari said if a senior leader like Gamang had resigned from the primary membership of the Congress after so many years of service, one has to realise how hurt he might have been.
“He has been in touch with us socially but has not yet shown any intention to join the BJP. If an offer comes from his side, the party may take a considerate decision,” Pujari said.
Prasad Harichandan, president of the Odisha unit of the Congress, described Gamang’s resignation as unfortunate because he has cited an incident that occurred 17 years ago as the reason. Gamang had achieved everything and got all respect from the Congress, he said.
“Clearly it is not his decision. He has been pressured by somebody to take the step,” Harichandan said, hinting at the role of Gamang’s son Sishir Gamang.
During his 43-year association with the Congress, Gamang won from Koraput Lok Sabha constituency nine times during 1972-2004. Eight of those victories were consecutive. He was a Union minister for 11 years in governments led by Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and Narasimha Rao.
He served as chief minister of Odisha from February 18, 1999 to December 6, 1999 and resigned after a super cyclone in the state claimed about 10,000 lives.
On April 17, 1999, Gamang voted against the NDA government during a confidence motion moved by then prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, bringing it down. But the single vote became controversial because though Gamang was then chief minister of Odisha, he was still the MP from Koraput and had not become a member of the state assembly.
Gamang now clarifies that the Vajpayee government lost the confidence motion not because of his vote, but due to cross voting by Saifuddin Soz of the National Conference, who went against the whip of his party and voted against the motion.
But the Congress never came out with the truth to protect his honour, Gamang said.