Soumya’s expulsion could cost Congress dear

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    By SANDEEP SAHU

    Bhubaneswar, Oct 7 :

    The gloves are off. Unshackled by the expulsion order handed out to him by the AICC last Tuesday, media baron and politician Soumya Ranjan Patnaik has given plenty of indications in the time since then that he is not going to take it lying down.

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    Even before the public stand-off between his supporters and those of PCC president Jaydev Jena at the Congress Bhavan in Bhubaneswar, Patnaik had made it amply clear that he is not about to fall at the feet of the party leadership and seek forgiveness.

    The day after the expulsion order, he did something that is considered blasphemy in the hallowed Congress culture: mock Rahul Gandhi, no less.

    In a scarcely veiled dig at the Gandhi scion, the former Bhubaneswar MP described his expulsion as ‘nonsense’ and ‘something that deserves to be thrown away’ in an interview to a local channel. Nobody missed the allusion. That he prefaced this indignant outcry with a disclaimer about how it was not in his grains to use ‘intemperate language’ did not take away anything from the vehemence of his attack.

    The choice of words was obviously decided upon after careful deliberations, coming as they did a full 24 hours after he was expelled from the party for six years.

    In choosing to hit out at the Congress vice president himself and not the PCC leadership, the former Bhubaneswar MP left no one in doubt about who he thinks took the decision to summarily sack him from the party. The tone and tenor of his statement suggested that his barbs are going to be more stinging in the days to come.

    Notwithstanding his assertion in the same interview that “I am very much a part of the Congress, the original Congress”, the enfant terrible of state politics has openly revolted against the party he has been associated with for nearly a quarter of a century. The events at Congress Bhavan over the last two days and the spate of protest demonstrations and resignations all over the state provide ample proof of that.

    This show of defiance appears to have unnerved Jaydev Jena, who just the other day was bragging that it was he who sent the recommendation for Soumya Ranjan’s expulsion to the high command. He had clearly not bargained for the fall-out when he was plotting the expulsion. His problems have been compounded manifold by the fact that he has not been able to convince senior leaders of the party about either the need or the desirability of expelling Soumya Ranjan.

    For that matter, neither the PCC nor the AICC has been able to convince the people at large – and not just Congress supporters – about the wisdom of the decision. The official version – running a parallel body in the party by organising the Sankalp Yatra – does not explain why Congressmen have been let off with nothing more than a gentle rap on the knuckle for doing much worse – as was eloquently pointed out by senior leader and former Speaker Sarat Kar.

    Though no Congress spokesperson would ever say it openly, the motivation for the expulsion of Soumya Ranjan appears to be the same that had led to the removal of Niranjan Patnaik as PCC chief a few months earlier. The high command has apparently been persuaded to believe that the Congress does not stand a ghost of a chance of coming back to power in the state till the members of what is known as the ‘JB Patnaik clan’ continue to wield power and influence in the state Congress.

    It was one more episode in a long list when Soumya Ranjan had to pay a price for happening to be the son-in-law of the former Chief Minister. Far from providing his son-in-law the elevator that many believe he has, JB Patnaik has actually been a hurdle, a stumbling block – and an albatross round his neck, if you please – every step of the way in Soumya Ranjan’s rise up the political sweepstakes. Had that not been the case, the sheer number of years he has spent in the party and public life at large and the mind-boggling range of his philanthropic, social and cultural activities (not to speak of his stature as the editor-owner of the leading Odia daily ‘Sambad’) would have ensured a far more exalted position for him in the party hierarchy than he has ever come to occupy.

    In its anxiety to divest the Odisha Congress of the last vestiges of JB Patnaik, the party Central leadership may have done some lasting damage to its cause in the state. With elections due in the next six months, it cannot bury its head in the sand and pretend that Soumya Ranjan’s expulsion would have no impact on the party’s performance.

    The decisions of the all-powerful high command in matters related to the state unit in the last few years have been so utterly devoid of logic and rationale that one can hardly be blamed for believing conspiracy theorists who hint at a secret deal between it and BJD boss Naveen Patnaik to ensure that the latter continues to rule the state and – if the occasion comes – help the Congress return to power at the Centre in 2014.

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