The results of the by-elections held since 2019 and internal fighting within the party shows that the Congress is weakening day by day in Odisha. The grand old party is struggling to bounce back.
In eight by-elections in the state since 2019, with the exception of Brajrajnagar, the party candidates lost their deposits in all the contests. They lost deposits in the by-polls to Bijepur, Pipili, Balasore Sadar, Tirtol, Dhamnagar, Padampur and Jharsuguda.
The Election Commission of India’s data shows that there has been a continuous fall in the Congress’ vote share in the state. The party had secured 38 per cent till 2004, it dipped to 29.11 per cent in the 2009 polls and 25.74 per cent in 2014. Till 2019, the Congress was the second largest political party in Odisha.
However, in 2019, the party slipped to third position as it managed to secure only 17.02 per cent votes.
From 38 seats in the 147-member state Assembly in 2004, it has been reduced to single digit, with only nine members in the current Assembly. The party had bagged 27 and 16 seats in the 2009 and 2014 polls, respectively. It has lost the principal opposition tag in the Odisha Assembly to the BJP, which had won 23 seats in the 2019 polls.
The party had won six Lok Sabha seats in the state in 2009, which became zero in 2014. In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the party managed to win just one seat (Koraput).
The Congress also had a poor run in the urban local body and panchayat polls in February and March last year. The Congress drew a blank in 18 out of 30 districts in the elections to the three-tier Panchayati Raj institutions. Out of 2.10 crore valid votes polled in this rural poll, the Congress got 28.54 lakh votes (13.57%).
In the urban polls, the party was able to win the chairperson seat in only 7 out of 109 urban local bodies.
Since 2019, many tall leaders of the party including MLA Naba Das (who was killed on January 29, 2023), tribal leader Pradeep Majhi, former Union minister Srikant Jena have left the organisation. Due to a lack of strategy and resources, the party workers at the grassroots level either joined other parties (BJD or BJP) or remained silent. The Congress votes are now going either to the BJD or the BJP.
Party leader Rahul Gandhi went on his Bharat Jodo Yatra covering many states, but he skipped Odisha, for reasons better known to him. Since the 2019 general elections, many of the senior leaders either left the Congress or remain politically not very active in the state. However, recently, the state’s ex-chief secretary Bijay Patnaik joined the Congress and was made the Campaign Committee Chairman of the Odisha Pradesh Congress Committee (OPCC).
Factionalism, weak organisation, poor strategy, resource crunch, lack of credible leadership, infighting and lack of people-connect programs, has led the party to this stage, according to political observers.
Very recently, in a public meeting, senior Congress leader Chiranjib Biswal openly stated that the Congress is no longer the same and those born after 2000 don’t know anyone other than Naveen Patnaik. The state unit of the Congress has failed to reach out to such people so far.
He said that there is no leadership in the OPCC and the party is fighting the by-elections for namesake only. There are only nine MLAs but 20 CM faces in the Odisha Congress, Biswal added. This remark of Biswal speaks volumes about the strength and position of the Congress in Odisha.
According to state BJP president Manmohan Samal, Odisha is going to witness a bipolar fight in the upcoming Lok Sabha and Assembly elections as the Congress is nowhere in the picture now.
Following the demise of three-time former chief minister Janaki Ballav Patnaik, the party has yet to get a leader like him, who can have command over the party’s organisation in Odisha, said political observer Rabi Das.
Besides, he said, the central leadership of the party is also not giving any importance to Odisha, which was again proved during the recently held Bharat Jodo Yatra.