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Column: Has Pradeep Majhi Started Thinking Of Life Beyond Congress?

By Sandeep Sahu

Pradeep Majhi is the last person you would expect to say the kind of things for which he has been at the centre of media attention for over 36 hours now. He is even more unlikely to stubbornly defend what he was caught saying on camera during the 12-hour Nabarangpur bandh organized by the district Congress to protest alleged police inaction in the Kosagumuda minor rape and murder case on Thursday. While his exhortations to party workers to keep ‘petrol and diesel ready’ and wait for instructions to set things on fire can be explained away, though not defended, as a spur of the moment outburst of someone who has reached the end of the tether, the same cannot be said about his subsequent defence of the act and flat refusal to apologise for it. If nothing else, at least the fear of censure and action by his party should have made him see reason and express regret. The fact that it did nothing of the sort points to the possibility that it was not an impulsive outburst but part of a well thought out game plan.

The point to note in the whole affair is that the uncharacteristically intemperate utterances and its inexplicable defence has done enormous damage to the Congress – not just in Odisha but nationally – at a time when the Modi-Shah government is doing everything it can to attribute the violence during the nationwide protests against CAA/NRC to the party. For Pradeep Majhi is not an ordinary worker but a working president of the state unit and a former MP of the party. As someone who has been around for quite some time, he couldn’t possibly have been unaware of the harm his conduct is doing to the party’s cause. As was only to be expected, the BJP has pounced on his misdemeanor and used it to paint the entire Congress party as a votary of violence while proclaiming to be a party that believes in the Gandhian principle of non-violence. Conversely, it has provided a heaven-sent opportunity to the BJP to present itself as an apostle of non-violence!

In the circumstances, the only explanation for his conduct one can think of is he has made up his mind to part ways with the Congress and possibly – and this is only in the realm of conjecture at the moment – join the BJP. Significantly, the Congress is yet to take any action against him or, at the very least, publicly censure him, more than a day after the incident. Rather than promise action, PCC chief Niranjan Patnaik chose to apologise on his behalf! It is possible that the party has already got wind of his plans and is being soft on him in a desperate bid to keep him in the party. Majhi, after all, has been a rare bright spot for a party that has been in a state of rapid and constant decline in the state for nearly two decades. He is among the few leaders in the party who still have substantial grassroots support in undivided Koraput district in general and Nabarangpur in particular. Though he eventually lost, he was among the two or three Congress candidates from the state in the last Lok Sabha election who were being talked about as possible winners. His act thus has put the Congress in a real dilemma.

It is not without significance that Majhi, normally at the forefront of most public demonstrations organized by the party, has been completely silent for the last six months – till he decided to hit the streets on the Kosagumuda gang rape and murder case. At a time when the Congress is busy organizing protests across the country against CAA/NRC, its man for all seasons has remianed totally silent on the issue. If he has suddenly decided to break his silence now – and that too with an open call for violence – it can mean only one thing: he certainly knew what he was doing.

The young leader has obviously weighed the pros and cons of his action well. If the party acts against him, he would go down as a martyr to the cause of the honour of tribal girls, which would stand him in good stead in future elections. He could go to town claiming his loyalty to the tribal cause is greater than his loyalty o the party. If it doesn’t, he could still go to town claiming that the party didn’t act against him because the cause he took up was just.

Either way, it’s a win-win situation for the young tribal leader.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same)

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