Is Odisha Cong Poll-Ready? 10 Months On, Sarat Patnaik Yet To Pick His Team

Bhubaneswar: More than ten months have elapsed since Sarat Patnaik succeeded Niranjan Patnaik as Odisha Pradesh Congress Committee (OPCC) president but he is yet to form his team, indicating that he has not been to strike the perfect balance between different groups in the party.

Party insiders said factionalism, which has been the bane of state Congress for decades, continues to play its part, forcing Sarat to do a tightrope walk. “The list of aspirants for office bearer posts are many. The OPCC chief has to keep in mind various factors and accommodate different lobbies before finalising his team,” a party leader said.

What is worrying for the Odisha Congress, whose performance has dipped considerably since 2000 when it was unseated by Naveen Patnaik & Co, is that the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections are only months away. But the party is yet to set its house in proper order. Though there has been an attempt to show a united face on various occasions in the past few months, the reality is the grand old party is struggling with credible and charismatic leaders eluding it.

Repeated electoral reverses, amid the struggle to stay relevant in state politics, have demotivated the cadres and leaders, promoting quite a few explore other options.

The Congress was relegated to the third position in the state in 2019 Assembly elections, when the BJP leapfrogged to become the main challenger to the Biju Janata Dal (BJD). In five of the seven by-elections held in the state since then, Congress candidates have not only been finished third but also lost their deposits. The party also had a poor run in the urban local body and panchayat polls in February last year.

While some of their prominent faces have in recent years joined the ruling BJD, a few others are said to be hobnobbing with the regional party. Besides, some of the old timers are aging and not in a position to inject fresh energy into the party.

Still, the veterans want to have a slice of the pie and want either their relatives or acolytes to have plum posts. One heavyweight leader is said to be lobbying hard to have his son as working president. The joining of former chief secretary Bijay Patnaik has also changed the dynamics as the party has to give him a position to match his stature.

Amid all this Sarat seems to be finding it hard to finalise his team and get the party high command’s nod. “Unless it is done quickly and the party gets its act together quickly, another poor show in the next elections seems a fair possibility,” admitted another party leader.

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