By Sandeep Sahu
It is clear that AICC general secretary in charge of Odisha BK Hariprasad was engaged in a desperate exercise in damage control when he said that Lalatendu Biduyadhar Mohapatra – Lulubhai to his legion of supporters – was offered the post of PCC president, but declined on ‘health grounds’. Having seen the kind of following the late leader had and the outpouring of emotions from all sections of people during his funeral, the AICC leader was obviously trying to make amends for his inexplicable and utterly insensitive decision to skip the funeral despite being in the city.
Since Lulu is no more, there is no way of ascertaining whether such an offer was ever made. But it is hard to believe that the combative leader, who continued to galvanise Congress workers till the very end despite his health problems, would have said ‘No’ to the challenge. After all, he was the architect of the ‘egg attack’ campaign launched against the BJD government last year and led it from the front despite lukewarm support – may be even hostility - from the state leadership. Hariprasad gave the game away somewhat when he claimed in the same breath that it was Lulu, who had proposed Prasad Harichandan’s name as the PCC president. This looked like an attempt to seek post-facto approval for the beleaguered PCC chief from the only genuine mass leader in the party well after his mortal remains had been consigned to the flames.
It is important to take note of the circumstances leading up to Hariprasad’s statement on Tuesday. First, he was heckled by a group of angry Youth and Student Congress leaders, the core supporters of the departed leader, who had barged into a meeting he was having with the PCC chief in a hotel room in Bhubaneswar and warned him against visiting the state. Livid at his insensitivity in not attending Lulu’s funeral, they had threatened to subject him to an ‘egg attack’, the patent devised by their departed leader, if he set foot in Odisha. Though the PCC disciplinary committee suspended Youth Congress secretary Naresh Mohanty and served a show-cause notice on a few others, the incident must have given Hariprasad a taste of the extent of anger simmering against him in the Congress youth brigade.
Secondly, the AICC leader could not have been unaware of the talk doing the rounds about Upasana, the young daughter of Lulu and widely seen as the inheritor of his political legacy, breaking away from the Congress along with a group of other leaders and forming a regional party. The belated singing of paeans to Lulu thus could well be a plea to persuade Upasana to stay put.
To say that Hariprasad has been a disaster as the AICC in charge of Odisha is to state the obvious. Forget disgruntled elements in the Congress. It is clear to any dispassionate observer of the Congress party that he has been a singularly uninspiring leader under whose watch the party has gone from bad to worse. Taking over with Jayadaev Jena as PCC chief a year ahead of the last general elections, he presided over the worst performance of the party in decades. Allegations of party tickets being ‘sold’ to the highest bidder and being denied to those who failed to pay up marred the party’s campaign in the run up the 2014 elections.
The result was there for everyone to see. For the first time, the Congress failed to win a single Lok Sabha seat even as it managed to win just 16 seats in a 147-member Odisha Assembly. The vote share of the party fell by a hopping seven percent - much of it going to a resurgent BJP – bringing into serious question its status as the principal opposition party.
Far from taking an upturn, the fortunes of the Congress party have gone rapidly downhill since then. Even as the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) is locked in a bitter battle of attrition with the PCC, Harprasad has been found wringing his hands, unable to put the house in order ahead of the crucial panchayat elections scheduled for February next year.
Ironically, Hariprasad replaced Jagdish Tytler under whose watch the Congress had shown some signs of revival. Not only did it organize one of the biggest rallies against the BJD government in Bhubaneswar in years, it had also tasted victory for the first time since going out of power 16 years ago when it won the election to three newly formed NACs. Just when the party was on the road to revival and the momentum was building up, Hariprasad, with his tendency to divide rather than unite the various factions, took the party on the road to nowhere.
It is now crystal clear that with him in charge, the party does not have a hope in hell of revival in the state.