Column: Congress Must Grab This Opportunity With Both Hands

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: For all practical purposes the contest in Bijepur will be a duel between ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP). But for the Congress, which no more enjoys the status of state’s main opposition party, it is extremely important not only to be in the fray but to fight this by-poll battle with all sincerity.

The bye-election has given the party the first opportunity after the general elections to test its strength and make the required course correction. The Congress, if it has to have any realistic hope of a revival of its fortunes in the state, must take this by-poll seriously and try to do its best.

The party also has other reasons for trying to make a battle of Bijepur. The seat was won thrice in a row by former Congress MLA, Subal Sahu before it fell vacant following his death necessitating a by-poll. The by-election saw his wife, Rita Sahu contesting and winning the seat on BJD ticket in a major blow to the Congress whose candidate lost his security deposit.

In the last general election chief minister, Naveen Patnaik contested from Bijepur in a bid to boost his party’s fortunes in western Odisha. This by-poll has been necessitated by Patnaik ‘s decision to give up the seat in favour of his traditional seat of Hinjili in Ganjam district. This time Bjd has once again made Rita Sahu it’s candidate.

From that point of view, it should be a grudge battle for the Congress and it should fight with all determination to wrest Bijepur back from BJD. That is an added incentive for the party to give its best this time though given its present strength it’s best may not be enough.

However, it is important for the party to demonstrate that it is doing its best in Bijepur for symbolic reasons as well. This will send a message down the ranks that the party’s top leadership is serious about reviving Congress in the state where it has been out of power since 2000 when Naveen Patnaik led the BJD-BJP combine to victory for the first time.

Ever since the Congress has been on the downslide in the state. Riven by dissension and factionalism the party has been lurching from one disaster to another. It’s vote share has been declining consistently and following one of its worst performances in the last general elections it has also lost its status as the main opposition party, conceding that honour to the BJP.

The election was a disaster whose signs became visible even before the party announced its list of candidates. Two powerful party MLAs—Naba Kishore Das and Jogesh Singh—quit the party and joined the BJD. Later another legislator, Prakash Behera dealt a blow to Congress by jumping on to the BJP bandwagon.

Das and Singh were among the staunch supporters of Pradesh Congress Committee chief, Niranjan Patnaik but driven by self-interest they changed sides when he needed them most. The party never recovered from these blows and when the results were announced it was reduced to a single digit in the state assembly.

That is why it is important for the party to take the Bijepur contest seriously, treating it as an opportunity to get back into political reckoning. It cannot afford to miss this opportunity.

(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.)