Congress President Rahul Gandhi is visiting Odisha on January 25 at a real critical juncture. His visit is on the heels of Prime Minister Narendra Modi touring the state three times in as many weeks, unveiling a string of developmental projects for the people. Modi has set a new political narrative- that of development months ahead of the impending elections- a departure from the BJP’s customary politics suffused with distaste for the Opposition. What’s more, on the last three occasions, Modi has set the record straight on synchronising both optics and delivery- this is where Rahul faces a key challenge to counter him, more so at a time when the BJP seems to have sharpened its Look East focus.
Grapevine has it that Modi may be fielded from Puri, popular pilgrimage town in Odisha. Of late, the media has also floated Kolkata, currently Mamta Banerjee’s citadel for Modi to contest his Lok Sabha election. Rahul is supposed to address a public rally from one of the coastal districts in Odisha- a counterpoint to Modi’s growing influence in the belt. But his immediate concerns are to save the Odisha Congress unit from crumbling. The party is a divided house yet again, emasculated by exit of some of its towering leaders. Congress expelled old warhorse and long-time Gandhi family loyalist Srikant Jena on grounds of discipline. Jena has alleged there is a Mahagatbandhan (Grand Alliance) between Rahul Gandhi and Naveen Patnaik and vowed a Mahasangram (Grand Movement) to root it out. He has promised to unleash some explosives at his press conference scheduled on January 25, coinciding with Rahul’s visit. Krushna Chandra Sagaria, a promising youth icon from the undivided KBK (Kalahandi-Bolangir-Koraput) region has also been weeded out from the Congress. In western Odisha, a leader of notable consequence Jogesh Singh too faced the axe from the party for dubbing Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik ‘an extraordinary leader’. Congress lost a genuine heavyweight recently when sitting Jharsuguda MLA Naba Kishore Das resigned, claiming that people of his constituency were rooting for the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and desired that he contested the next elections on a BJD ticket. Das is supposed to join the BJD on January 24 when Patnaik visits his constituency to inaugurate a cancer hospital. Discrediting the Congress, Das held that every single development project in Jharsuguda was possible because of Naveen’s towering leadership and his diligent efforts on the ground.
Judging by the turn of events that have unfolded over the past couple of weeks, the Odisha unit of Congress has sunk into disarray. At the crossroads of a revival post the anointment of Niranjan Patnaik as its chieftain, the Congress has again regressed into its detestable status of factionalism and in house squabbling. As the national president, Rahul realises he has to right many wrongs. He has to ensure the party’s state leadership is acceptable to all without scruples. Recurring episodes of indiscipline and the party’s dirty linen exposing in public glare has wrought much damage. In his brainstorming session with the party workers in Odisha, Rahul should be ready with his pep talk and words of wisdom to keep the flock together.