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The Congress in Odisha resembles a long-distance runner that breaks away from the pack, sets the pace and loses steam before the last laps. It hit rock bottom in the three-tier panchayat elections in February 2017, when it officially conceded the No. 2 position to the BJP since being voted out of power in 2000. But the party was showing signs of revival of late. There was a spring in its step, particularly after victories in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Factionalism, for long its bane, had come down to a great extent. The farm loan waiver and the Rs 750 a quintal bonus on MSP for paddy announced by the new Congress government in Chhattisgarh had started creating positive vibes among the farming community on this side of the border. Rahul Gandhi had struck a chord with the people during his back-to-back visits to the state.
And then, for reasons that one cannot fathom, the house under renovation came crashing down. Three of the 15 Congress MLAs in the current assembly left the party. Two of them—Naba Das from Jharsuguda and Jogesh Singh from Sundargarh—joined the BJD and were promptly nominated as the ruling party candidates in their old seats, while Prakash Behera joined the BJP and was fielded as the candidate in his assembly seat of Salepur. A fourth legislator, Krushna Chandra Sagaria, who was expelled along with senior leader and former Union minister Srikant Jena for anti-party activities, joined the BSP and was nominated by the party as candidate from his constituency of Jeypore.
Factionalism is back with a vengeance. PCC chief Niranjan Patnaik, who appeared to be in control, looks clueless now. Old failings that had put the party in the doghouse for two decades are back. Nothing proves this better than the scenes at Congress Bhavan last Saturday when supporters of Amir Mohammed, a ticket aspirant for the Ekamra-Bhubaneswar seat who lost out, went on a rampage breaking furniture. All this can mean one thing: no one believes the Congress is a party worth investing in. This perception, more than the illogical choice of candidates, may ultimately prove to be the undoing for the party.
By Sandeep Sahu in Bhubaneswar