By: Soumyajit Pattnaik
Congress president Rahul Gandhi has set in motion a new battle plan to conquer Odisha devoid of any regional alliances. After conquering the Hindi heartland, Rahul Gandhi has set sights on Odisha where the party’s organisational edifice was tottering on the brink due to the twin onslaughts from the BJD & BJP and now partially salvaged after Niranjan Patnaik was made the PCC president. For two decades, the Congress has not tasted power in Odisha and several senior leaders of the party are now in a quandary whether to continue in the party or not. However, an undaunted Rahul Gandhi today picked up the gauntlet and launched a counter-offensive to win the Kalinga War.
True to his new mantra to be on the front foot, the Congress president today shunned ambiguity towards the BJD Government led by Naveen Patnaik and launched a fusillade against both the PM and CM.
During his interactions with a select crowd in Bhubaneswar, Rahul Gandhi painted both PM Narendra Modi and CM Naveen with the same brush. He described Naveen as a “version of Modi”.
Drawing parallels between Naveen and Modi further, Rahul said, “With due apology to Naveen Patnaik, he’s also an autocrat like PM Modi. The only difference is Naveen is not hate-filled like Modi”.
Replying to another question, Rahul Gandhi said, “The BJD and BJP models are the same. There is absolute concentration of power in a few hands and in the decision making process, people don’t participate”. So far, so good. Rahul Gandhi has made his intentions absolutely clear. While PM Modi was more reticent in his comments about Naveen Patnaik, Rahul Gandhi minced no words to lambast both the PM and CM.
Why did Rahul adopt such an aggressive posture towards the BJD while he’s busy forging alliances with regional parties in different parts of the country? First, the BJD decision not to attend the Kolkata rally convened by Mamata Banerjee to forge a Mahagathbandhan to oust the Modi Government must have convinced Rahul Gandhi that in a possible Hung scenario after Lok Sabha polls, BJD will never support the UPA. Second, Rahul must have shed all inhibitions not to attack the BJD after several senior Congress leaders are in a hurry to join the BJD in quick succession. A day before Rahul Gandhi’s flight touched down at Bhubaneswar airport for the second time since 2014, Congress Working President Naba Das left the party to join the BJD. Sundargarh MLA Jogesh Singh who is waiting in the wings to join BJD stayed away from Rahul’s rally today. This could be one of the immediate reasons to further widen the chasm between Rahul and Naveen.
Third, sensing an anti-Mood in various states which facilitated Congress victories in the Hindi heartland states, Rahul must have devised a new strategy to ensure that the BJD does not get the anti-Modi votes. There is a definite game plan why Rahul today at different venues harped on the theme that Naveen is “remote-controlled by Modi”. Through this jibe, Rahul wants to tell the voters that if they are dissatisfied with Modi, then they should vote for the Congress and a vote for the BJD will be same as voting for the BJP.
Fourth, Rahul may have been irked by the BJD’s rally at Puri today to launch the KALIA scheme. State Congress leaders describe this as a “ploy” to deny modes of transport to bring people to their own rally and to shift attention from their farmer-centric announcements. Rahul announced today that if the Congress will be voted to power in Odisha, it will waive the loans of farmers and raise paddy MSP to Rs 2600 per quintal. The impact of this announcement could have been much more if the CM had not announced the transfer of money under KALIA scheme on the same day.
Beyond the sound and fury, will Rahul Gandhi’s visit turn the tables against the BJD in Odisha? This is Rahul’s second visit to State since 2014 while the PM has visited Odisha thrice only in the last one month. When the state Congress was in a state of drift, he sat over the appointment of Niranjan Patnaik as PCC president for too long. He rightly said in his Town Hall interactions today that Congress is now working as a team, but is there ample time to steer the Congress ship through choppy waters?
The Congress president must be optimistic especially after the party’s stunning success in Chhattisgarh which shares its border with Odisha. It remains to be seen if the Chhattisgarh experiment can be replicated in Odisha with announcements of loan waiver and MSP hike. But rural Odisha currently has been hypnotised by the KALIA scheme. Already Rs 662-crores have been transferred to farmers under KALIA scheme starting today and thus it will be difficult to gauge whether Rahul’s announcements on loan waiver and MSP can yield the desired results.
Rahul’s visit no doubt has boosted the morale of the Congress workers and his tough act in expelling Srikant Jena from the party has infused a strict scene of discipline among the senior leaders who are often divided into warring camps.