Op-Ed: Congress has only flattered to deceive

Till a few weeks ago, it looked like the Congress, which has been in the doghouse for the better part of two decades now, was beginning to rediscover its moorings. The victories in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh – the latter, in particular – had provided just the spark the moribund party organization needed to spring back to life. The farm loan waiver and the Rs. 750 a quintal bonus on MSP for paddy announced by the new Congress government in Chhattisgarh had started creating some positive vibes among the farming community all along this side of the border and even beyond. Shorn of hyperbole, Rahul Gandhi’s earnest, matter of fact and no nonsense approach to electioneering during his visits to Bhubaneswar, Bhawanipatna and Bargarh had forced a long disenchanted electorate to sit up and take notice. Bickering within the party, for long its bane, had become conspicuous by its absence. In short, the comeback had begun.

And then, it all came crashing down in one fell swoop. As if possessed by a death wish, the party appeared to have undone in a matter of a few days all the good work done over the past several months. Factionalism is back with a vengeance. The exodus of party leaders in search of the elusive – and all-important – ticket continues unabated. The much touted ‘one family, one ticket’ norm has sunk without a trace. Confusion reigns supreme at each level. Suddenly, it is back to square one!

Nothing proves this all-pervasive confusion better than the fiasco over the induction-that-wasn’t of Pratyusha Rajeswari Singh. Asked if Singh, the sitting Kandhamal MP who left the BJD after being denied re-nomination, would join the Congress, PCC chief Niranjan Patnaik went on record on Thursday saying it was ‘almost certain’ and she would join at a rally in Nayagarh in a day or two. Lo and behold! The scion of the Nayagarh royal family joined the BJP two day later!

The clearest possible signal that the Congress has started sinking again, however, came not from within, but from outside. Almost every BJD leader rebuffed at Naveen Nivas has headed straight for the Ram Mandir square without so much as having a cursory look at the white building at Master Canteen square on the way. As if that was not bad enough, some in that white building too have joined the procession. This suggests no one believes the Congress – which looked set to put up a serious challenge to the BJD juggernaut, if not upstage the BJD just a few weeks ago altogether – is worth investing in. The exit of the likes of Naba Das, Jogesh Singh and Prakash Behera suggests that even those in the party have lost faith in their alma mater. Politics, as we all know, is a battle of perception more than anything else. And there is little doubt that the Congress is losing it – and pretty fast at that!

The trigger for the house under reconstruction coming down in a heap, as always, was the list of candidates. Forget the fact that the Congress had promised its first list of candidates as early as October last year. All hell appears to have broken loose even though it has managed to ‘finalise’ the names of candidates for just 61 Assembly seats and eight Lok Sabha seats so far. The ugly scenes at Congress Bhavan created by supporters of Amir Mohammed, an aspirant for the Ekamra-Bhubaneswar seat, on Saturday evening was a throwback to the worst days of hooliganism that we all thought the party had left behind. Similar ugly scenes were seen from Balasore to Koraput and from Sundargarh to Kandhamal.

“Winnability”, Niranjan Patnaik kept repeating over the past few weeks, “is going to be the sole criterion for selection.” But scanning through the list released so far, one wonders if it was a consideration at all, let alone being the ‘sole’ consideration. There is no need to assess every case. Just one example will suffice. Klesha Pradhan, the losing Congress candidate in Baliguda in 2014, was ‘punished’ and denied the ticket for his ‘crime’ of securing 34, 910 votes, just 2696 less than the winner Rajib Patra, while Siman Mallick was ‘rewarded’ for his wonderful ‘feat’ of managing just 36 votes in the zilla parishad election in February, 2017!

The man at the centre of it all – PCC chief Niranjan Patnaik – suddenly appears clueless amid the ruin all around. The man who seemed to have restored a semblance of order in the unruly party till just a few weeks ago, all of a sudden looks like he has lost control. And the people, who had begun to see the Congress as an alternative of sorts, have been thoroughly disillusioned.

Forget defeating the BJD; the Congress would need a miracle of sorts to hold on to its No. 2 position in the state.

Alas, the Congress has only flattered to deceive.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are 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)