Rahul’s Visit A Mere Consolation For Odisha Congress

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Bhubaneswar: Can Rahul Gandhi’s visit to Balasore on Friday really make any difference to the sagging fortunes of the Congress in Odisha? Or, is it going to be a case of too little, too late?

The AICC president, who at a public interaction programme here earlier this year claimed he was serious about the party’s performance in the eastern state, seemingly kept Odisha among the least priority states when it came to electioneering. Else, how does one accept the fact that neither he nor any of his party’s star campaigners like former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Priyanka Gandhi, Kamal Nath, Sachin Pilot or Jyotiraditya Scindia  showed up in the state, when the BJD and the BJP were leaving no stone unturned to woo the electorate for the simultaneous four-phase elections?

Sad though for those who have believed in the Congress and wanted to witness a triangular contest in Odisha, the fact remains that the grand old party threw in the towel even before the fight started. Sad also because it didn’t show the guts and the gumption to face the challenge despite being the principal Opposition party and instead chose to meekly capitulate.

There are still some lone warriors who are battling the odds and trying desperately to ensure the Hand party does not suffer the ignominy of being reduced to single-digit presence in the state legislature. However, their efforts cannot possibly undo the irreparable damage the party central leadership caused by not canvassing for votes in Odisha. In the process, it let go of whatever chances it had in the state and, for all practical purposes, conceded the Opposition space completely to the BJP.

Consequently, revival of the Congress in the state after Elections 2019 has become more Herculean than ever before, with rival parties gradually taking over its traditional pocket boroughs.

While Rahul and Co were conspicuously absent during campaigning for the first three phases of elections in Odisha, the BJP paraded heavyweights like Prime Minister Narendra Modi, its national president Amit Shah, Union ministers Rajnath Singh, Uma Bharati and Nitin Gadkari at regular intervals. BJD president and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik also attended public meetings and conducted road shows across the state.

In March, when Rahul attended two public meetings – in Jeypore on March 8 and Bargarh on March 15 (the meeting was rescheduled twice) – there was an air of expectation that finally the Congress would set its house in order. It was very much needed considering that the party has been plagued by infighting and low morale for years. Even in the run-up to the polls, former Union minister Srikant Jena launched scathing attacks on OPCC president Niranjan Patnaik, leading to the former’s ouster from the party.

Ahead of the first-phase of elections, Rahul was scheduled to visit Phulbani on April 9, but it was cancelled in view of a possible thunderstorm in Kandhamal district. Finally, at the fag end of electioneering, Niranjan has succeeded in getting a date from his boss to campaign for party candidate and son Navjyoti Patnaik. But will it make any difference?

The party, which finished a poor third in the 2017 Zilla Parishad elections behind the BJD and the BJP, could certainly have served itself better during this election by pulling out all stops. Surprisingly, that was not to be. Worse, allegations of sale of party tickets, exodus of certain key leaders ahead of polls and a completely lack-lustre campaign (compared to the BJD and BJP’s high-voltage ones) has created a situation where the Congress chief’s trip would possibly do little good to the party’s electoral prospects.

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