**Bhubaneswar:** With the exodus of Congress leaders on, either to Biju Janata Dal (BJD) or Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), prior to and post 2014 general elections and even now after the recently concluded Panchayat polls, the grand old national party is evidently not only losing its past glory, but also appears inching forth engraving its own political epitaph in Odisha.
Sources in Odisha Pradesh Congress Committee (OPCC) informed that scores of senior leaders and even the youth brigade are bracing themselves up to switch sides with BJD and BJP in near future.
As the ruling BJD led by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has been consecutively ruling the roost since 2000, Congress has been away from power in Odisha for the last 17 years.
In the fourteenth Odisha Assembly, the number of Congress MLAs was 28 while in the fifteenth (2014 Assembly Elections), the number got curtailed to 16.
To add fuel to fire, the recent Zilla Parishad election has further relegated Congress to the back burner while BJP, that was third in position, has been able to supersede it across the State in the rural polls.
Congress held 128 Zilla Parishad seats in the 2012 Panchayat Polls. But, the tally has abysmally come down to 60 out of the total 853 ZP seats in 2017. Congress which retains more MLAs (16) than the BJP (10) in the present Odisha Assembly and retains the post of leader of opposition, the three-tier rural polls have now pushed it to the third position.
Adding to the BJP’s growing political prowess in the State, several well known faces, including some from Congress joined the saffron party on April 2 at the BJP State headquarters. The joining ceremony was held in the presence of Union Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan at the State party office here.
Former Congress MLA Sitakant Mishra and former Angul District Congress Committee president Pratap Pradhan also joined the saffron party along with their supporters.
Ahead of the Panchayat polls this year, more than 200 Congress and Youth Congress leaders from western Odisha region had joined ruling BJD in January 2017 in the presence of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik at his Naveen Nivas.
Prior to the 2014 Assembly Elections, the then leader of opposition Bhupinder Singh and Congress legislature party secretary Anup Sai had defected to ruling BJD.
Singh had even resigned from the post of Leader of Opposition as well as his Narla MLA seat and primary membership of the Congress. Same had been the case with Sai, the then Brajarajnagar Congress MLA.
Notably in 1979, Brundaban Nayak, who was then opposition leader, had quit Congress and joined Janata Party and subsequently became a minister.
On June 18, 2015, former Odisha Chief Minister Giridhar Gamang and his son Sishir Gamang formally joined the BJP at its State party headquarters here in the presence of Union Ministers Jual Oram and Dharmendra Pradhan and Odisha BJP leaders.
The veteran tribal leader was earlier associated with the Congress for nearly 43 years.
The nine-time Congress MP from Koraput quit the party after accusing it of humiliating him. He had then met BJP national president Amit Shah in New Delhi on June 12, 2015.
Giridhar Gamang, who had been the Odisha Chief Minister as well as Congress MP, had shot to fame when his single vote led to the defeat of the then Atal Bihari Vajpayee government during the confidence motion in Parliament in 1999.
Senior journalist Prasanta Pattnaik opined, “Since long Congress has lost its position in Odisha. The main reason is its internal wrangling. The Congress leaders are yet to learn from the past bitter experience. Instead of setting the organisation right and winning the hearts and confidence of the people, it is being discussed that some of the Congress leaders are trying to spell doom on the party. It’s further being discussed that some of their leaders are anxiously waiting to join BJP during BJP’s national executive meeting here. Even the BJP leaders are also directly or indirectly admitting the fact. Since long, Congress is on ventilator. Earlier they were on coramin. The day the ventilator is removed, Congress party will die here. Leader of Opposition Narasingha Mishra, Congress Chief Whip Tara Prasad Bahinipati and Odisha Pradesh Congress Committee president Prasad Harichandan are yet to be in sync with each other as their respective attitudes stand poles apart. Hence, Congress in Odisha is a divided house.”
In her reactions, Sandhya Mohapatra, Chairperson, Discipline Committee, Odisha Congress said, “If one wishes to quit Congress, no bar, if one wishes to join no objection. Our door is open to welcome one and also bid farewell with a happy note. Earlier also leaders have left Congress as they hoped to gain more. Let them.”
Senior Congress leader Sarat Rout remarked, “Those who hanker after power, they resort to such practice. It’s usual. It’s now being observed in every party. Following the recent results, BJP is highly elated and excited. That’s why their national executive meeting here. A handful of Congress leaders who are apprehensive of the party’s future prospects are by chance joining BJP. But, take it sure there won’t be an exodus nor Congress party will crumble down.”
BJD spokesperson Surya Narayan Patra said, “During last elections, many Congress leaders had joined BJD. Even now, if any Congress leader wishes to join and BJD supremo approves it, there is no problem inducting into our party fold.”
Odisha BJP vice-president Samir Mohanty said, “Despite being in Congress, many young Congress leaders are not hesitating to accept Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s able leadership. The way an inefficient and inactive government is in power for the last 17 years in Odisha and on the other hand, the way Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan is delivering the goods for the betterment of Odisha, scores of leaders, both from the BJD and Congress, have been influenced by him and are seeking to join hands.”