Op-Ed: Congress in Odisha Needs A Thorough Overhaul

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: The AICC-appointed Odisha Congress in-charge, Jitendra Singh recently dropped clear hints about a through revamp of the party structure in the state. Such an exercise seems to have become imperative following Congress’s crushing defeat in the recent Lok Sabha and assembly elections in the state.

While in the Lok Sabha the party could manage to win just one seat its assembly tally has slid to 9 from 16 seats in 2014. Embarrassingly enough the Congress has lost its main opposition party tag to the BJP which now has 23 MLAs in the state assembly.

The need for introspection and corrective steps to put the party back on the track cannot be overemphasized. Changes at the top level would be most important in this regard but the biggest challenge for the party in the state is to find a leader with charisma who can change its electoral fortunes. Equally important for the new leader would be to ensure complete unity in the party by sorting out the differences between various factions.

The failure of Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) president, Niranjan Patnaik to deliver is a lesson for the party. He had been anointed as the PCC chief ( he has offered to resign owning moral responsibility for the party’s defeat) in the wake of a long and acrimonious campaign by party MLAs against his predecessor, Prasad Harichandan whose tenure was marred by a constant war between PCC and the Congress Legislature Party (CLP).

Harichandan’s slogan of “ mun nuhen amen” ( We not I) lay in tatters within months of his taking charge as the party president as differences between him and the CLP began widening over a number of issues. Factionalism assumed serious dimensions within the party which failed to put up a united show in elections.

The MLAs insisted on a change with their obvious choice being Niranjan Patnaik who, apart from being resourceful also had past experience of handling PCC president’s responsibility. Patnaik began with a bang but soon familiar problems began plaguing him and his team of office bearers. Former Koraput MLA, Krushna Chandra Sagaria was one of the first to raise the banner of revolt followed by his mentor and former union minister, Srikant Jena. Both had to leave the party.

The bigger blow to Patnaik, however, was the election-eve resignation of two the then senior Congress MLAs—Naba Kishore Das and Jogesh Singh. Both joined the Naveen Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and contested the election on its ticket. Das is now the health minister of the state.

It was an utterly demoralising development for Patnaik and the party as a whole. Soon another legislator quit the Congress to contest the election on BJP ticket. Besides Patnaik faced a plethora of complaints from ticket seekers who accused him of being unfair and partial towards some leaders.

Given this backdrop the defeat of Congress in the elections was expected. But now that the party is looking for resuscitation by taking corrective steps the big question is will it be able to find a leader who can really unite it by putting an end to the nagging problem of factionalism?

(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.)