Congress stares at crisis in Odisha as leaders refuse to contest polls
Ahead of the first phase of elections next week, a crisis hit the Odisha Congress on Wednesday with former MP and party candidate from coastal Jagatsinghpur district, Bibhu Prasad Tarai resigning from the party in protest against a murder accused being fielded as a candidate in the Assembly polls.
Tarai, the Congress candidate from Tirtol assembly constituency, sent in his letter of resignation after the party decided to field labour leader Arindam Sarkhel alias Bapi Sarkhel from the Paradip assembly constituency. In November 2016, Sarkhel was arrested along with noted businessman Mahima Mishra, for his involvement in the sensational murder of Mahendra Swain, an executive, in October 2016.
A labour leader in the port town of Paradip, Sarkhel has been involved in several controversies. In December 2011, he was arrested over the death of a labourer during a fight between villagers opposed to the now-shelved Posco steel project and labourers of a transport firm owned by him.
“I am feeling ashamed that the party has given a ticket to a murder accused like Sarkhel. Besides, Congress seems to have signed a secret deal with the Biju Janata Dal by fielding weak candidates across the state to allow the BJD a easy victory,” alleged Tarai.
Similarly, senior Congress leader and candidate from Pipili assembly constituency, Yudhistir Samantray said he would not contest as the PCC took too much time in the announcement of his candidature. “PCC chief Niranjan Patnaik took money from others and delayed announcement of my name; I cannot organise my campaign within such a short span of time,” he said.
Like Samantray, the son of three-time CM JB Patnaik too announced that he would not contest hours after the party decided on his candidature for the Begunia assembly constituency. Prithvi Ballabh Patnaik, son of late JB Patnaik, who earlier wished to contest from Begunia, said he had decided against it due to personal issues. Last month, Muktikanta Biswal, who was given a party ticket from the Rourkela assembly constituency following his 1500 km long walk to New Delhi for several demands of Rourkela, last year, returned the ticket.
In a separate development, several senior Congress leaders, including PCC general secretary Laxman Meher, former Bolangir district Congress committee president Bhagwan Bagarti and DeogaonPanchayat Samiti chairman Reena Meher resigned from the party expressing their discontent with leader of opposition Narasingha Mishra.
The dissidence in the party took a bitter turn after Odisha Pradesh Mahila Congress president Sumitra Jena on Wednesday hinting at stepping down from the post, protesting lack of tickets to women. Jena, who was eyeing a party ticket from Bhadrak district, said she would take a decision on his resignation from the Mahila Congress president post.
“If we are not consulted on such matters at crucial times like the elections, I don’t think that I deserve to stay in the post as a ‘dummy’ president. I feel extremely sad that I have failed to fulfill the promises I had made to Mahila Congress leaders. I had recommended names of 52 women candidates for the upcoming elections, but most of them were not given due importance during the ticket allotment process despite having worked selflessly for the party. I think the president post of Mahila Congress is only a formality and has no real significance,” alleged Jena, who two days ago was reportedly manhandled by a group of women workers at the party’s state headquarters.