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Congress a step ahead in Orissa poll fight

Troubled by infighting earlier, the opposition Congress party in Orissa has put its house in order this time and appears well prepared to fight the Lok Sabha and assembly polls on its own.

india Updated: Mar 05, 2009 12:59 IST

Troubled by infighting earlier, the opposition Congress party in Orissa has put its house in order this time and appears well prepared to fight the Lok Sabha and assembly polls on its own.

The party image has improved after the central leadership last month appointed former union minister KP Singh Deo as president of the state unit.

The keen poll preparations can also be gauged from the fact that All India Congress Committee general secretary Ghulam Nabi Azad, in charge of Orissa, is camping in state capital Bhubaneswar since Tuesday, holding meetings with party workers and chalking out the election strategy.

In comparison, the ruling Biju Janata Dal and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) combine is still struggling to finalise a seat sharing arrangement.

The Congress, meanwhile, has already begun the process of selecting candidates for both the national and state polls, which it is likely to fight alone.

The party had contested 133 of the 147 assembly seats in the last elections, leaving the other seats to the Communist Party of India, Communist Party of India-Marxist, Janata Dal-Secular and Orissa Gana Parisad. It contested 20 of the 21 Lok Sabha seats.

Apart from appointing KP Singh Deo, the Congress high command has also appointed three working presidents - Chandrasekhar Sahu, L.B. Mahapatra and Bhakta Charan Das. It has also appointed former union minister Srikanta Jena as campaign committee chairman.

The new office bearers have toured most of the state over the past month and tried to project a united face.

The party has also announced that it will name a new face as chief minister if it wins the assembly polls.

This latest announcement shows that the party wants to send a message that it will not encourage any of the old leaders for the top job. This has put the Congress party in a position of advantage, said a political analyst.

"Actually, we started the internal preparations at least a year ago," Bhakta Charan Das, former union minister and one of the three working presidents of the state Congress, told IANS.

"We conducted several surveys. We have a list of nearly 2,000 candidates for the assembly polls and nearly 300 for the Lok Sabha," Das said, adding that at least six committees are busy identifying candidates with winning possibilities.

"The names of candidates are most likely to be announced before March 15," he said.

On the other hand, the ruling BJD-BJP's seat sharing talks have not reached a consensus so far.

Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik toured the state and announced that his BJD will perform well, but he has not yet made clear if the party will continue its alliance with the BJP.

After winning in majority of the seats in the recently concluded civic polls, the BJD leaders are of the opinion that the party can win the elections on its own.

"The BJD can win on its own strength," Pyari Mohan Mohapatra, a senior BJD MP, said at a public meeting.

Both BJD and BJP leaders have held meetings over seat sharing in the past several weeks, but they remained inconclusive after the BJD said it wants to contest more Lok Sabha and assembly seats compared to the last elections.

The BJD and BJP fought the Lok Sabha polls jointly in 1998, 1999 and 2004 and the assembly elections of 2000 and 2004.

In both the assembly polls, the BJP contested 63 seats and BJD 84. In the Lok Sabha elections, the BJP contested nine seats and BJD 12. BJP leaders have said they want the old ratio maintained.

The state will go to the polls over two phases - April 16 and April 23 - to elect 147 members to the state legislative assembly and 21 members to the Lok Sabha.

According to political analyst Debendra Prusty, the BJD is facing a problem of over-confidence, and if the alliance with the BJP collapses, the Congress would stand to benefit.