2014 polls: Time Congress set its house in order

Maa, as Indira Gandhi was popularly known in Sambalpur district, was the link between the Congress and the masses here. It was this sentiment that kept Congress rooted to the district till about a decade-and -a-half-back. The numerous slum pockets voted en masse for the Congress — Maa.? The national party romped home several times on this bond. The fact that former Sambalpur MLA Durga Shankar Patnaik was among the 10 Congress MLAs who managed to make it to the State Assembly when Biju Patnaik’s Janata Dal swept the State in 1990 is proof enough. He regained the Sambalpur Assembly constituency in the next elections in 1995 and was made a Minister. After Emergency, even when Jashketan Sahoo of Janata Party won from the seat, the Congress was in complete command then too.

However, with one wrong decision the downfall of Congress began. Despite popularity, Durga was denied renomination by the Congress in Assembly polls of 2000 and Anand Jena was given the ticket. The BJP, then banking on the Ram Lala and Hindutva frenzy, made its mark in Sambalpur as well with Jayanarayan Mishra pocketing the seat.

?The unceremonious exit of Durga cost the district Congress dear and it could never bounce back. The denial also saw factionalism grow in the district unit which helped Mishra win the Assembly elections in 2004 and 2009. The divide in the Congress widened and it also triggered intra-party wrangling for leadership. While those who were accommodated continued with the Congress, others distanced themselves from the party.

While the differences in the district Congress have since been buried to a large extent, lack of leadership

isolated it from support base.

Wrong selection of candidates in subsequent Assembly elections created a large void which was quickly filled up by the BJP and the BSP. Today the Congress struggles for existence and it has become more explicit in the panchayat poll.

Though Sambalpur district has Congress MLAs in Rengali and Kuchinda Assembly segments and the Lok Sabha constituency is still held by it, Congress faces an uphill task to reorganise the party and pull through in 2014 polls.

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