Will Congress Stage A Comeback In Odisha?
The appointment of Jayadev Jena as PCC (I) president replacing old warhorse Niranjan Patnaik of all powerful Patnaik family, has raised many eyebrows in Odisha Congress. Jena’s appointment came as a shocker and surprise for many in the state Congress when rejuvenated Congress was trying to fish in BJD’s troubled waters in the background of Congress’s win in Karnataka Assembly polls. Even though Niranjan Patnaik was not acceptable to many faction leaders and workers due to his family ties with former Chief Minister JB Patnaik and for the alleged involvement of the Patnaik family in mining activities, some how he was instrumental in galvanising state Congress by holding an impressive state rally and state-wide bandh.
AICC vice-president Rahul Gandhi has ostensibly done it to pacify factionalism in State Congress and bring all groups under one platform before the state goes to polls in 2014. Rahul and Sonia Gandhi have done it to send a message that the Congress stands for Dalits and minorities, though Odisha has never voted on caste lines.
Being a Dalit face in State Congress and former state minister and present AICC secretary in-chage of UP, Jena was also PCC president for four-and-half-year in 2004-09. Just before 2009 elections, he was removed and replaced by former Union minister and Dhenkanal king KP Singhdeo. Many in the state feel that the manner in which Congress high command replacing state chiefs before elections is reducing chances of party’s electoral victory. The party did it before the elections in 2000, 2004, 2009 and 2014.
The appointment of Jena has been seen as Union Minister Srikant Jena’s desperate attempt to take over and ensure his grip over the state Congress, though Jena is still not acceptable as a Congressman as he has joined the party lately after the collapse of Janata Dal.
Meanwhile, the Union Minister has almost taken over reins of Odisha Congress in Delhi because of his proximity with many senior Congress leaders in Delhi.
He is the only minister in Central government from Odisha from among six MPs (including very senior Congress leaders like former Chief Minister Hemananda Biswal and former Union Minister and now AICC spokesman Bhakta charan Das).
The factionalism in state Congress was visible on May 19, when Jena officially took over reins of State Congress in Congress Bhavan. The MPs, the MLAs and the workers owing allegiance to Patnaik family, all powerful youth leader Lulu Mahapatra and other senior leaders, including a dozen state MLAs did not attend the felicitation ceremony of Jayadev Jena.
Interestingly, a controversy has erupted following the statement of Jayadev Jena on his day of felicitation. Jena had said, “He was removed from PCC chief post just before 2009 elections at the instance of the conspiracy of Naveen Patnaik, because he was instrumental in Congress’s victory in two successive by-elections and Zilla Parishad polls”. This statement did not go well with his detractors, they have raised this issue alleging if Naveen decides everything in state Congress then what is the need of high command.
Karnataka shocker for Odisha
Meanwhile, Karnataka shocker has not only thwarted BJP’s future prospects, it also has sent shock waves to other ruling establishments and even non-Congress ruled states like Odisha where elections will be held in 2014. The state’s ruling BJD and its leader Naveen Patnaik who has been leading the government third time in a row are a worried lot as they are apprehensive of an ant-incumbency factor. That has prompted the Chief Minister to send emissaries to all 30 districts as observers to study the prospects of the sitting MLAs. Even Naveen is said to have lost faith over re-elections in several of his Cabinet colleagues or senior party legislators. That’s simply the reason he has asked his emissaries to identify new people to replace the old guards. The whole exercise of sending observers to districts has been meticulously planned in the name of massive signature campaign (1 crore) to submit the Union government in protest against the Centre’s step motherly treatment to Odisha for not declaring it as a special category state.
Not only this, day in and day out, Naveen is also facing stiff challenges from his bête-noire Pyari Mohan Mahapatra. Mahapatra, a former bureaucrat, has floated a new political party- Odisha Jana Morcha (OJM), a breakaway fraction of ruling BJD. Mahapatra, known as ‘uncle’, was the chief advisor to Naveen and was no.2 in the BJD. Mahapatra’s unsuccessful coup on May 29 last year, has been still giving sleepless nights to Naveen.
Though Naveen has successfully tided over that crisis, but Mahapatra under OJM banner has been rallying BJD workers in many places and political parties, like Congress and BJP, are also joining him.
However, amidst all these- the emergence of rejuvenated principal Opposition party Congress with new PCC (I) president Jayadev Jena, a Dalit face and the frequent visit of Rahul Gandhi to Odisha, has further added woes to Naveen. Besides this, the revamped BJP with whom Naveen had snapped ties just before last elections in 2009, has just appointed its western Odisha strongmen KV Singhdeo its state president; has also doubled Naveen’s concern. Apart from this, the Left parties which were in alliance with BJD during last elections, are in loggerheads with him over POSCO, Vedanta and Tata steel projects. His industrialisation, mining, agriculture, tribal and land acquisition policies have alienated the Left.
Meanwhile, a few more political parties and fronts have surfaced and all of them have been targeting Naveen and his policies. Despite his best efforts to woo voters by announcing Re 1/- rice per kg to BPL families every month, a new youth policy, agriculture policy, cycle for high school-going girl students, 5 lakh forest land patta for tribal and forest dwellers and numerous other schemes like BIJU KBK, Madhubabu Pension scheme still
look insufficient to thwart anti-incumbency factor.
According to political observers- only his bachelorhood and clean image has kept him going all these 13 years. But, causality will be his little knowledge in Odia language. Even when he is unable to speak the language of the state he has been ruling since the last three consecutive term.
By Sudarshan Chhotoray from Bhubaneswar