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Rahul asks Odisha's Congressmen to put up a united front

Akash Bisht | Updated on: 5 September 2017, 19:20 IST

Bury the hatchet and come together to revive Congress in Odisha: that was the message from party Vice-President Rahul Gandhi to members of the Grand Old Party in Odisha.

Congress has been in disarray in the eastern coastal state for some time now. After a disastrous performance in 2014 General and Assembly elections, the party put Prasad Harichandan at the helm of the Odisha Pradesh Congress Committee (OPCC).

But Harichandan’s leadership hasn’t really been inspiring, and several leaders are now opposed to him. To get a sense of things, the party High Command sent Gaurav Gogoi, Jitendra Singh and Tamrdhwaj Sahu as observers to the state last month.

Tuesday the Gandhi scion met 35 senior party leaders from Odisha and told them to put up a united face. “Rahul said he has the report of the central observers with him and a decision will soon be taken based on it and feedback from stakeholders,” said a senior party functionary who is privy to the details of the meeting.

No one, however, got a chance to speak to him. This comes a day after Rahul launched Congress’s election campaign in Gujarat.

New chief

The party functionary quoted above said “a major decision” was expected in the next few days; which indicates a major overhaul of the OPCC may be on the cards, including Harichandan's ouster.

So who would be his successor? Suspense remains. There are speculations of changes like the ones done in party units in Gujarat and Karnataka so that multiple factions can be accommodated.

In these two states, faced with dissent, the Congress put several dissenters in prominent postings. It also appointed several working presidents.

Harichandan’s replacement will be someone with a better appeal, a source said. The current OPCC chief took over in December 2014. In elections in May that year, Congress failed to win a single Lok Sabha seat. In the Assembly its tally was a measly 16 out of 147 seats.

The dry run has continued under Harichandran: the party slipped to a distant third in Panchayat elections in February. The Bharatiya Janata Party, on the other hand, made significant inroads and emerged as the No2 party in the state. Interestingly, it wrested seats in areas earlier dominated by the Congress.

Since then Harichandran has been the prime target of powerful factions, including the one led by Narasingha Mishra, Leader of Opposition in the Assembly. Their spat has turned into a public spectacle.

A section of the party believes that delay in removing Harichandran has hurt the party and the BJP is exploiting the situation.

“While there seems to be no threat to the Biju Janata Dal, the BJP will eat into Congress' vote share. This was seen during the Panchayat polls,” a party leader in the state said.

In fact, according to him, even relieving Harichandan of his post may won't make much difference now. “The BJP has invested a lot of resources in the state and Congress is in no way prepared to deal that,” he said.

Edited by Joyjeet Das

First published: 5 September 2017, 19:20 IST