Patnaik vs Patnaik combat looms in Odisha
by Ashok B Sharma on 11 Jan 2015 1 Comment

Naveen Patnaik may face a difficult challenge if the revival of the Congress party takes place at this juncture when he is engulfed by a series of scams – from MineGate to CoalGate to land and housing scam to relief scam to the new Ponzi scam. He knows well that at present the BJP will not disturb him much as the Modi government at the Centre could seek the Biju Janata Dal’s help in passing some important bills in the Rajya Sabha. The only challenge can come from the Congress which is already aggressive and can become an effective challenge if it revives itself.


Signs of the Congress rejuvenating in Odisha are surfacing with the return of the veteran former chief minister Janaki Ballabh Patnaik to the state after completing his tenure as Governor of Assam. Not being pleased with the functioning of the party in the state, the Congress high command in Delhi has signalled the cadres to invigorate the party. 


Just before the patriarch JB Patnaik was about to complete his tenure and return to Odisha, a former chief minister Hemanand Biswal convened a conclave of state Congress leaders to chalk out a strategy to revive the party. Though the president of the state unit Jaydev Jena and other party functionaries were invited, none of them turned up.


Though Biswal’s attempt was not to directly challenge the present state leadership, he voiced his opinion that JB Patnaik, being a senior leader, will certainly help the Congress in the state. Similar were the views of those who attended the meeting, like  former state unit president Niranjan Patnaik, former working president of the state unit Chandrasekhar Sahu, former Union minister KC Lenka, former MP Ananta Sethi, Mahila Congress president Bijaylaxmi Sahoo, former minister Sitakanta Mohapatra.


The Patnaik group dominated the state Congress party for long until they were ousted by the group led by Jaydev Jena and former Union minister Srikanta Jena. Despite the several scams and scandals engulfing Naveen Patnaik’s regime,  the Congress under the leadership of Jaydev Jena could not halt the march of the ruling BJD. Naveen Patnaik bounced back to power for the fourth time in succession with renewed vigour bagging 117 out of 147 Assembly seats. BJD’s show in Lok sabha also improved substantially as it won 20 of the state’s 21 seats.


But it is still not clear in which way the Congress high command in Delhi would like to rejuvenate the party in the state. Given his advanced age, JB Patnaik may not be willing to directly take up the burden, but he can act as a resource person and mentor. He has already send enough signals that his group be given more responsibility in the party over the Jenas who now control the party. This would amount to restoring Niranjan Patnaik as president of the state unit and bringing back his son-in-law Soumya Ranjan Patnaik who had been expelled from the party.


There is a problem with JB’s son-in-law Soumya, who was expelled from the party for indiscipline and calling the high command ‘nonsense’. But there is a growing clamour to bring back Soumya, who is a media baron. If he is apologetic for his past mistakes and if JB exerts his influence, his comeback may be possible.


The Jena-led Congress could not take on Naveen’s corrupt regime. In the last winter session of the Assembly, the Opposition Congress supported by BJP put up an aggressive face demanding a debate on the Ponzi scam in which several top leaders of the BJD, including Naveen’s close aide Saroj Sahoo, came under the CBI scanner. The Opposition also demanded a debate on a host of other scams relating to mining, coal, relief work and land and house allotment. But the winter session of the Assembly was abruptly ended by adopting a motion reducing the number of sitting days in a calendar year.


In the yesteryears, there was a virtual breakdown of law and order in the state with Maoist insurgency at its peak and rising incidence of rape cases. However, the Maoist insurgency has lessened with the arrest of its top leader Sabyasachi Panda and surrender of Nachika Linga. The incidence of rape cases too has come down.


There was an aborted coup by Naveen’s one time adviser, Pyari Mohan Mohapatra. The resentment in the party kept on growing and even saw the expulsion of senior member Prafulla Chandra Ghadai.


On the industrial front, the picture remained gloomy and marred by sluggish progress despite the state’s claim of attracting massive investments as mega projects like POSCO and Vedanta failed to make headway due to varied reasons including hurdles in land acquisition and mineral linkage.


The state government’s failure to ink MoUs involving huge investments forced several companies to pull out. While ArcelorMittal had already dropped its Rs 40,000 crore steel project, Jindal Steel and Power Ltd (JSPL) recently announced its plan to scrap its Rs 60,000 crore Coal-to-Liquid (CTL) project in Angul district following cancellation of Ramchandi coal block by the Supreme Court. While the government had signed MoUs with 92 companies in the last 15 years, only 41 industries have started partial production so far.


Farmers made distress sale of paddy in many areas due to the government’s failure to open adequate number of ‘mandis’ in time for procurement. Paddy procurement in 118 market yards of the Regulated Market Committees (RMC) of Bargarh, Atabira and Padampur in Bargarh district was stalled due to online flaws, resulting in lakhs of paddy bags lying under the open sky in the market yards for 10 to 15 days.


With Naveen at the centre of problems, some Congress leaders await JB’s mentorship in making it a Patnaik verses Patnaik battle in Odisha politics. 

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