It has been out of power in Odisha since 2000. Fourteen years later, the Congress is still beset with factionalism and infighting, leading to crippling defections ahead of elections.
More than a dozen senior leaders have switched over to other parties in recent days. Speculation is rife that more legislators and senior leaders are likely to follow suit.
The party received a major jolt when the leader of the opposition and its legislature party leader Bhupinder Singh and secretary Anup Kumar Sai joined the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) at the weekend.
“Some people with vested interests have captured the Congress and that is why we quit,” said Bhupinder Singh, a four-time legislator.
Singh and Sai are not alone. Well known Dalit leader and former legislator Sura Sethi, Sanatan Mahakud, former state finance minister Ramakrishna Patnaik, Alok Nayak and spokespersons Aryakumar Gyanendra and Ashok Samal are among the many who have left the Congress.
Four more legislators — Naba Kishore Das, Sadhu Nepak, Nihar Mahananda and Subala Sahu — Sunday threatened to resign over the distribution of ticket for the Lok Sabha election.
“If all the leaders are not taken into confidence, it will prove disastrous for the party,” senior Congress leader Niranjan Patnaik said on the desertions.
Polling will be held simultaneously for the 147-member assembly and 21 Lok Sabha seat in Odisha in two phases: April 10 and 17. The Congress won 27 assembly and six Lok Sabha seats in 2009.
The Congress in Odisha has two major factions: one led by Niranjan Patnaik and another by union minister Srikant Jena. Besides there are some leaders who do not belong to either group.
Patnaik, a relative of former chief minister J.B. Patnaik, was appointed the state Congress president June 2011. J.B. Patnaik was chief minister for 14 years – in 1980-89 and again in 1995-99.
The latest trouble seems to have started when the Congress leadership removed Niranjan Patnaik, 66, and installed 58-year-old Dalit leader Jayadev Jena, an associate of Srikanta Jena, as the state party chief in May last year.
The Congress also expelled Soumya Ranjan Patnaik, Niranjan Patnaik’s brother about five months later after he revolted against Jena’s appointment.
Soumya Ranjan then converted his NGO Ama Odisha into a political outfit.
The Congress seems to be heading for more trouble as many who do not belong to any faction are openly criticizing the party’s state leadership, accusing it of taking decisions arbitrarily.
Jayadev Jena, who heads the Congress, argues that those who have deserted the party will only harm themselves. “It won’t have any impact on the Congress,” Jena told IANS.
( An IANS Special Report by Jatin Dash )