By Sandeep Sahu
In a first for a senior Congress leader, Rahul Gandhi hit out at the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) for facilitating the loot of mineral Rs 60, 000 crores – the figure quoted by the Justice MB Shah Commission report – at a public meeting in Bhatapada village near Cuttack on Sunday. But his decision to hit BJD where it hurts the most may well turn out to be a case of too little, too late.
For one thing, even as the AICC vice president decided to cross the self-imposed lakshman rekha of his the party, the Congress-led UPA government at the Centre, which has itself been severely indicted by the Commission for allowing the loot, is engaged in a desperate exercise to hide behind the Naveen Patnaik government’s excuse to make a case against the CBI inquiry into the scam, which most people believe is worth much more than the Rs 60, 000 crore quoted in the Commission report.
Secondly, the Gandhi scion was evasive on the questioning of pressing for a CBI inquiry into the scam during an ‘off-the-record’ interaction with select media persons in Bhubaneswar in the evening.
“You must realise that I am in the party, not in the government. I will see what can be done once I return to Delhi,” he kept pleading even as the journalists bombarded him with questions on the scam. This, as everyone present noted, was in sharp contrast to the way he reacted to what has now come to be known as the ‘nonsense’ bill.
While state Congress leaders may have interpreted Rahul’s decision to go for the most vulnerable spot in the BJD as an exhortation to go hammer and tongs at the Naveen Patnaik government in the run up to the 2014 elections, it has the potential to cause serious embarrassment to the UPA government, which is doing the best it can to bail out the Naveen Patnaik government (and itself in the process) from a Supreme Court monitored CBI probe – even refusing to submit the report of the Commission to the apex court citing parliamentary privilege.
The decision to venture into forbidden territory has clearly not been thought through. Even Rahul admitted as much during the interaction with media persons on Sunday evening when he candidly admitted that he does not know much about the scam and had only been ‘briefed’ about it before his departure from New Delhi. He also pleaded ignorance about the contents of the Shah Commission report.
This begs the question: why did he do it then? Was it just an act of impetuosity that the he has become notorious for in the recent past or part of a well thought out plan to distance himself from the acts of the government led by his party?
There is a third possible answer to this question as well. At least one senior state Congress leader believes it was aimed at dispelling the impression that Naveen Patnaik has some kind of a ‘secret understanding’ with the Congress high command, something that has caused severe embarrassment to state leaders of the party.
Ironically, Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) President Jayadev Jena himself helped buttress such an impression when he accused, soon after being named PCC chief, Naveen Patnaik of conspiring his ouster from the same post just before the poll last time. Union minister Shashi Tharoor also contributed his bit to strengthen such an impression when he, during a visit to Bhubaneswar for a literary festival a few months back, said he admired the leadership qualities and secular credentials of Naveen Patnaik. “The doors of the Congress are always open for him,” he added for good measure.
With Naveen-baiter Srikant Jena as his principal interlocutor in the state, the third reason looks the most plausible. It remains to be seen though whether the Congress is only willing to hit or hurt Naveen too? And more importantly, even if it is willing to hurt, will that be enough to halt the Naveen juggernaut?