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Congress Losing Ground

Bhubaneswar: Congress in Odisha has witnessed a former Chief Minister, a Leader of Opposition, one Working President quitting the party as the grand old political outfit gradually buried its own future. However, Rahul Gandhi was never worried and all along tried to revive the party in the state by appointing new leaders at the helm of the party affairs.

 But, Pradeep Majhi’s resignation from the primary membership of the party has given shock of the life to the Gandhi scion as he did not believe that a soft spoken and dedicated tribal leader from Nabarangpur would also desert him.

Rahul had seen Sushmita Dev and Jyotiraditya Scindia quitting the party and joining rival parties. His efforts to keep the youth blood united apparently failed after Majhi, whom he had made the OPCC’s Working President, also left the party giving a big blow to him.

Insiders in AICC are aware how Rahul Gandhi was reluctant to appoint Niranjan Patnaik as the OPCC President in 2018 ahead of the 2019 General Elections. After a lot of churnings and based on the suggestion of Congress veteran Kamal Nath, he agreed to appoint Niranjan as the OPCC Chief. He was told that Niranjan was the lone leader available in Odisha who was resourceful.

However, with passing of time, Niranjan has apparently failed to meet AICC’s expectations. Anyway, Rahul had a great hope that new leaders will emerge and he would not depend on Patnaik family members. Pradeep Majhi was one among them. He promoted Majhi from the Nabarangpur District Zilla Parishad Member to a MP in 2009 and later the top post like Working President of the OPCC.

Barely three weeks ago, Pradeep Majhi met Rahul Gandhi accompanied by Bhakta Charan Das and assured his mentor that he would continue to remain in Congress. Rahul developed an impression that his team was intact. Pradeep’s resignation came as a shock for Rahul.

Majhi, a young and vibrant tribal leader, however, had alternative. The former MP had to quit the party as he is a career politician and not a businessman or a mines owner. His life revolves round politics and that he saw no such future in the Congress. This was evident from his letter where Majhi wrote to Sonia Gandhi saying, “Now the party has almost lost its credibility which may take a long time to revive. I have a great desire to serve my people at whatever position I am which is now lacking in the Congress party. As such I am painfully quitting the party for which I may kindly be excused.”

The tribal young leader’s apprehensions are clearly visible. Though he tendered apology for quitting the party, Majhi concluded that it would not be possible to wait till the party is revived. He also pointed out that “It (The party) has now declined due to recalcitrant persons occupying the pivot posts at different level.”

Majhi’s resignation is not just a single development in the party, but it speaks more about the feelings, fear and apprehension of the Congress rank and file beginning from the Panchayat to Parliament level. Not a single Congress man and woman now sees any future in the party thanks to Niranjan Patnaik who has not been able to infuse confidence among the senior leaders, leave alone the party men working in the village level.

During Niranjan’s tenure, another OPCC Working President Naba Kishore Das had also quit the party and joined BJD. Das marched to Delhi several times and he was instrumental in convincing Kamal Nath that Niranjan Patnaik will take Congress to great heights. But at a later stage Naba Kishore was frustrated and left the party. He is now Minister for Health & Family Welfare, the most crucial sector during COVID-19 pandemic. Similarly, former Leader of Opposition Bhupinder Singh quit the party and joined the BJD and became a Rajya Sabha MP before being an MLA. A couple of days ago, the party’s former Laxmipur MLA Kailash Kulesika had joined the ruling BJD after quitting the Congress. The list is unending.

Niranjan’ tenure has also witnessed the number of Congress MLAs coming down to single digit and just one MP incidentally won the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The party candidates, except in Tirtol, have lost deposits in three other by-elections held after 2019 general elections for the State Assembly and the Lok Sabha. In all such cases, a section of party leaders have raised voice against Niranjan and even some of them rushed to Sonia and Rahul Gandhi to change the guard. Niranjan said his resignation letter given after 2019 elections, is still pending for the approval of the Congress high command.

There is a lot of hue and cry over the sorry state of affairs in the Odisha Congress. Even the people in ruling BJD are worried over the Congress losing its base in Odisha which ultimately helps the BJP to grow in the nook and corner of the state. But, nobody knows how to overcome the crisis. “None can help Congress, at least in Odisha because its own leaders are making holes in the party’s prospect,” said a BJD leader while senior Congress MLA Suresh Routray admitted that infighting is a chronic disease in the party and crabs are there to pull a leader down.

After Majhi’s resignation, Jeypore MLA Taraprasad Bahinipati was all in joy and claimed that the Congress has got rid of a liability. It is good that Majhi quit the party before being sacked, the policeman-turned-politician said which indicated the poor bonding among the Congress leaders in the state. This is high time that the Congress should learn a lesson or two.

Now, the time has come for the AICC to think seriously on Odisha as it is only state from where the party can start its victory journey. Governing BJD would complete 24 years in government and it offers a good chance to motivate people to change their mindset. The Congress has already handed over its number two position to BJP which has come to a level to lock horns with the ruling BJD. It is high time that the Congress leaders must focus on Odisha because there is possibility of gaining ground, which it is losing fast.