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AICC Ignores Odisha

Bhubaneswar: Ever since Sarat Pattnayak became the President of the Odisha Pradesh Congress Committee (OPCC), he has coined a slogan : 09 to 90. This means that the Congress will acquire 90 seats in Odisha Legislative Assembly from its present strength of only 09 MLAs. Shri Pattnayak’s slogan is not different from BJP stalwart Amit Shah’s popular 120 Plus Mission. Shri Shah had given this slogan ahead of the 2019 elections and now Shri Patnayak’s goal is set for the 2024 elections.

There is nothing wrong in dreaming and acquiring power in the state. But, what is not appropriate is that making statements having no basis. Though two general elections have passed since now, Shri Shah’s slogan has turned futile and political analysts feel that is Sarat Pattnayak is on the lines of BJP’s thinking? It appears so because of the present situation of Congress in the state. The party in subsequent elections since it remained out of power in 2000 and has been losing its vote base.

The Congress party in Odisha secured 37.78 per cent of vote and 26 seats in the 2000 elections. Since then, the party is losing both its vote share and seats while BJP replaced it as the state’s principal opposition party. Congress vote share which was 37.78 per cent in 2000 slightly improved to 38 .82 per cent and 38 seats in assembly in 2004. However, since then, the Congress vote share declined to 29.10 per cent and 27 seats in 2009, 25.7 per cent votes and 16 seats in 2014 and finally to 16.12 per cent and 9 seats in 2019.

The party has also lost all the by-polls and even lost security deposits in almost all the by-polls held since the 2019 general elections. On the other hand, the BJP has been growing at the cost of Congress and there has been little efforts from the side of the oldest party in the country to retain its vote base and seats. The party has changed its state President several times and there is little impact on the people of Odisha, who installed Naveen Patnaik as the Chief Minister for the five time in a row.

Why did the oldest party which ruled Odisha for several years remain out of power for about two and half a decade? The political analysts often blame it on infighting within the Congress for which its candidates lose in elections. This may be partially correct, but the fact remains that All India Congress Committee (AICC) has never given any importance to Odisha which has 147 MLAs, 21 Lok Sabha Members and 10 Rajya Sabha MPs.

Congress High Command’s approach towards Odisha is not new. Though the party has ruled the country for several years, the leaders from Odisha have not been recognized. Barring a few leaders, the Congress when in power had not made Odia leaders Union Ministers in big numbers like BJP.

The recent development is when the AICC reconstituted the Congress Working Committee (CWC), only one Odisha born leader Bhakta Charan Das was taken as a member of the committee. Though Shri Das hailed from Odisha, he was AICC in-charge for the states of Bihar, Manipur and Mizoram. The development has hurt the Congress leaders in the state forcing the OPCC President Sarat Pattnayak making an announcement that he would request the AICC to take at least 2/3 leaders from Odisha in the CWC. The veteran leaders like Niranjan Patnaik, Jaydev Jena and many others were denied a berth in the CWC. Congress MLA Suresh Routray said he would write to AICC President Mallikarjun Kharge and Sonia Gandhi.

Reacting over the incident, Niranjan Patnaik said that the AICC might be considering Odisha Congress leaders as required in the CWC. They have taken members as per the requirement, Niranjan said while many leaders admitted that Odisha was not in the focus of AICC.

The list of AICC neglect to Odisha is long. While the opposition BJP has been focusing on Odisha, the Congress High Command appeared to have no such attention towards this politically sensitive eastern state. The BJP leaders including its National President J P Nadda and senior leader Amit Shah’s frequent visit to Odisha proved that the saffron party attaches more importance to Odisha for which three saffron leaders – Dharmendra Pradhan, Ashwini Vaishnaw and Bisheswar Tudu- from the state were given berths in the Union Council of Ministers.

The Congress High Command appears to be maintaining different view towards Odisha as it is not considered as a politically important state. When Congress was in power at the Center, Odisha’s presence in Union Ministry was poor. And now also AICC did not take many veteran leaders as the CWC Members. While four leaders from Andhra Pradesh and 2 from West Bengal were taken as the CWC members despite the party having no representation the respective Assemblies in these states. Odisha was clearly denied its genuine place in CWC, despite having 09 MLAs in the State Legislative  Assembly. Similarly, Odisha has one Congress MP in Lok Sabha also. Saptagiri Ulaka, the lone MP from Odisha also could not get a berth in the CWC.

This is not all. Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra, also did not cross through Odisha. This also shows the attitude of Congress High Command towards Odisha, pointed out a senior leader who claimed that a little push by the AICC could have been much beneficial for the State Congress.

As the closeness between the BJD and the BJP are gradually becoming clear, the Congress should take advantage of this situation, feel insiders. However, the AICC is ignoring the state, which has killed the fighting spirit of Odisha Congress leaders. AICC President Shri Kharge has meanwhile visited several places, but there is no such program for Odisha.

However, Congress circle now discusses the possible visit to Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi. Rahul had last visited Odisha during the election campaign in 2019.This is high time for the Congress High Command needs to change its attitude towards Odisha and take advantage from the BJD-BJP friendly tussles, which is leaving people in general in a state of confusion.