Congress eyes chance in Odisha, gets poll ready before others
The Odisha Congress appears to be first off the block for next year’s assembly elections with the party deciding to announce candidates for one-third of seats by August end and appointing office-bearers at district and block level to strengthen the organization at the grass roots level.
The Congress in-charge for the state Jitender Singh last week said that the party would announce candidates for 50 of the 147-membered state assembly by August-end, which a senior party leader said was meant to send a message that Congress was no longer an “indecisive party”.
The Congress had taken weeks to decide on fielding the widow of sitting Congress legislator Subal Sahu as the party candidate in the bypoll to Bijepur Assembly constituency in western Odisha district of Bargarh in February this year. Sahu’s widow contested on Biju Janata Dal (BJD) ticket and won by a handsome margin of over 40,000 votes. The Congress’ last minute candidate Pranay Sahu lost his security deposit.
Also, the party’s fortunes have been on a slide since 2000 when it lost power to the BJP and BJD alliance in the assembly polls. The worst came in 2017 panchayat polls when the Congress managed to get 18% of the total votes and was pushed to third position by the BJP which cornered 32% votes. The Congress has also seen high profile desertions including former union minister Chandrasekhar Sahoo joining BJD in recent years.
But, the Congress leaders in Odisha sense a chance of revival after the BJD supported the NDA candidate Harivansh Narayan Singh in the election for deputy chairperson of Rajya Sabha.
“In the changed circumstances, BJP in Odisha may not go hammer and tongs against Naveen Patnaik as seriously as they were doing earlier. We would go to people with the message that BJD and BJP have an unholy nexus and only Congress can voice their grievances,” said Satya Prakash Nayak, Congress spokesperson.
Taking an early call on its election strategy, the Congress has also decided that candidates who had lost their security deposits in 2014 assembly elections will not be given tickets. In the last assembly election, 40 of the party’s 147 candidates had lost their security deposits.
“Winnability and new faces will be our preference while selecting the candidates,” said Odisha Congress chief Niranjan Patnaik, while claiming that the “relentless journey” to restore the pride of Congress has started.
The party has also announced presidents and working presidents of 33 organisational district committees and presidents of more than 90% zonal Congress committees. The party is also in the process of finalizing booth level workers and will run a campaign, ‘my booth my pride’, similar to the one in Rajasthan to strengthen organization at the village level.
The Congress has also become proactive on social media with the party leaders tweeting memes criticising the ruling BJD and the BJP. Last week Patnaik tweeted photographs of Bollywood actor Sunny Deol with the tagline --- “Sirf scheme milti hain anjaam nahin”, a take-off from Deol’s famous courtroom dialogue “Sirf tareekh pe tareekh” from the popular Hindi film Damini.
Political analysts, however, don’t see prospects of Congress doing well in the assembly polls despite the party trying to set its house in order. “The party is on a steady decline in Odisha and the 2017 zilla parishad polls proved that it no longer strikes a chord with rural electorate. Besides, its failure in rallying around opposition parties to form a Mahagathbandhan at Centre would have an impact in Odisha too,” said Prof Brahmananda Satpathy, political science professor of Bhubaneswar’s Utkal University.
BJP’s national secretary Suresh Pujari said Congress can choose to live in illusion of occupying the opposition space. “Their vote base is shrinking rapidly over the years. I hope they are able to hold onto the 18% cent vote they got in the panchayat polls,” he said.