Did Leaders Deliberately Let Congress Drown In Odisha?

Bhubaneswar: Though the recent elections offered a great opportunity for Congress to prove its potential in Odisha, the grand old party was unable to put up an extraordinary show. As Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) snatched power from Biju Janata Dal (BJD) amid an unprecedented saffron surge in the state, Congress virtually remained a mute spectator to the entire show. The grand old party failed to derive any electoral benefit despite people’s mood against the 24-year BJD rule in the state. Congress could neither take political mileage out of the anti-incumbency mood in the state nor it was able to send necessary funds to the party candidates. Teamwork was missing among party workers and leaders at several levels in the organisation. After the crushing defeat at the hustings, party leaders have now started openly raising their voice against the leadership. Now, one has to see whether the Congress takes steps to thoroughly revamp the party organisation in the state.

Opportunity Missed

A strong wave against the Naveen Patnaik-led BJD was apparently sweeping across the state after the regional party remained in power since 2000. BJP effectively managed to take full advantage of the situation, while Congress was stung by inaction and lack of dynamism. BJP stormed to power by making Odia Asmita (Odia Pride) its main poll plank. The same issue had been raised by Congress leader and former bureaucrat Bijay Patnaik long ago, but the party failed to make it a major issue in the run up to the elections. Its top leaders were unable to be driven by imagination and think of issues that would appeal the masses. As a result, the party was pushed to the third place in the state though the Congress-led alliance put up an impressive show elsewhere.

Resentment Comes To Fore

Congress rank and file is now highly unhappy over the party’s inability to make any substantial electoral gain from the prevailing political scenario in the state. Leaders have started targeting Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) president Sarat Pattanayak and AICC state in-charge Ajoy Kumar. Several leaders claimed that the two were not seen anywhere during electioneering except at the meetings addressed by Rahul Gandhi and Mallikarjun Kharge. Even party funds were allegedly not made available to around 80 Assembly and 14 Lok Sabha candidates. Many aspirants for party tickets were also allegedly asked to make payment. Several leaders, including Shishir Gamang and Sharat Chandra Buruda had brought serious allegations against the party leadership.

Ticket Distribution Goof Up

It is also being alleged that the party leadership nominated weak candidates at many places at the instance of BJD. As a result, Congress was unable to put up a good fight in many constituencies. Even PCC chief Sarat Pattnayak faced humiliating defeat in Nuapada Assembly seat polling only around 15,000 votes. On the other hand, Ghasiram Majhi who contested as independent after being denied Congress ticket bagged more than 50,000 votes and gave a strong fight to winner Rajendra Dholakia. Delay in ticket allocation and repeated changes in nomination by Congress sent out a wrong signal to the people.

Leadership Change?

After Congress debacle in Odisha, leaders are raising fingers at PCC president and asking whether he deliberately neglected poll preparation. Party leaders and workers want to know as to why infighting and internal conflicts were not resolved before the twin elections in the state. They seek to know as to why the party failed to focus on key issues by making these its main poll plank. While the Congress Nyaya Patra immensely helped the party in other parts of the country, the party appeared to have failed to adequately highlight the manifesto in Odisha. They are eager to know if it was true that weak candidates were fielded at the instance of BJD. Though several heavyweight leaders quit the party, the leadership did not bother to persuade them to stay back.

After posting a dismal show in 2019 elections, Congress has improved its tally in the Assembly by winning 14 seats this time. The grand old party also managed to retain Koraput Lok Sabha seat, while BJD failed to win a single Parliamentary seat. However, observers maintain that the Congress candidates who contested and won the 2024 elections have tasted victory only because of their own strength. The need for a thorough post-mortem and post-poll analysis is being underscored to ascertain as to how BJP managed to win 20 of the 21 Lok Sabha seats. Observers underline the need for immediate corrective measures to stop the Congress from collapsing in Odisha. The party needs to revamp the organisation in the state from top to bottom in order to save itself.

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