Column: Factions Rule The Congress

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: Unity continues to elude the Congress in Odisha where the party has been out of power since 2000 when it faced a popular backlash for failing to handle the situation arising out of 1999 super-cyclone that had left behind a trail of death and destruction in the coastal plains of the state.

Party’s mishandling of the rehabilitation and reconstruction work in the wake of the gale left people fuming and intent on change they voted overwhelmingly in favour of the Naveen Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal-Bhartiya Janata Party alliance. Though the alliance fell apart in 2009 Patnaik continues to stay put as the chief minister of the state with an unprecedented electoral record.

While Patnaik’s electoral success is sought to be projected by BJD, of which he is also the president, as popular approval for his programmes and policies it has a lot to do with near complete absence of opposition which, for a long time, was represented primarily by the Congress. Unfortunately for the party instead of making amends for its past mistakes it continues to sink deeper into the morass of factionalism.

The unruly scenes witnessed at the state Congress office in Bhubaneswar recently while senior leaders including state party chief were holding a meeting are an example of how the party continues to be divided with factions ruling the roost. Pradesh Congress Committee president, Niranjan Patnaik, who had himself taken over the reins of the party following the culmination of a bitter war between the groups supporting him and his predecessor, Prasad Harichandan, is now facing calls for ouster with dissidents demanding the installation of a younger and more dynamic leader at the helm of affairs.

It is obvious that uncertain of their future in the party, which has faced a succession of electoral defeats in the last 20 years, younger generation leaders are becoming increasingly desperate. They want a charismatic leader who can not only keep the party united but also turn it into a force capable of regaining its old glory in the state.

Despondency has been growing in the party with Congress losing even its known bastions to the ruling BJD. Three successive defeats in Bijepur, the western Odisha constituency which was once considered to be its fortress, has thoroughly demoralised the cadres. Twice party candidates from the constituency lost their deposits.

To make things worse Congress put up one of its worst performances in the state in the last elections with its tally in the assembly being reduced to just 9 seats while it was able to win only one Lok Sabha seat. With this it also lost the honour of being the main opposition party in the state.

However, such humiliation notwithstanding the party refuses to learn. Factionalism has reached such a stage that recently there were allegations of bouncers being deployed at the Congress Bhavan to keep trouble-mongers at bay. These are ominous signs for a party that has ruled the state for the longest period following Independence but has been out of power for the last two decades. The Congress must put its house in order if it has to have any realistic chance of making a comeback in Odisha.

(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)