Braja Kishore Tripathy and Kharavel Swain join hands, float a new political outfit.

 

BHUBANESWAR: As if exodus, expulsions and a major scam ahead of his visit were not enough, Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s many a slip between his lip and the mike marred his spirited tour to Odisha on Friday. The Bharatiya Janata Party spared no time in launching a counter-attack on him, saying he needs to answer a few questions, especially on his admission that he had met a couple of Chinese ministers during his trip to Kailash Mansarovar.

In a pale shade of the party’s state of affairs at the national level, Congress is going through its worst phase in the state too now. Emptying the party ranks like never before, any Congress leader worth his salt is deserting the party for a safer haven these days. Two of its sitting MLAs quit the party and joined the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD), while long-time party strongman and former Union minister Srikant Jena as well as ex-MLA and Dalit leader Krushna Chandra Sagaria were expelled last fortnight.

In another bad omen for the party, one of its veterans, Nabakishore Das—who had managed to hold Congress’ fort in western Odisha when the party was facing a rout in other parts of the state—left it last week to join the BJD ranks. Moreover, party’s Bijepur byelection candidate, Pranay Sahu has also joined the BJD. These developments have certainly delivered a death blow to the age-old party as no pocket in Odisha is left winnable for it any more.

To top it all, a major fraud case has emerged involving state Congress chief Niranjan Patnaik and his son Navjyoti and the duo are facing arrest as an FIR has been registered against them by the Economic Offences Wing (EOW) of Delhi Police in the national capital. The father and son have been charged under Section 420 of Indian Penal Code (IPC) for defrauding one K.S. Ahluwalia in a 2017 Ponzi scheme.

Ahluwalia has accused the duo of misappropriating Rs 6 crore of the Rs 32 crore that he had given them as the directors of VAVASI Telecom Private Limited. They have been summoned by EOW and the matter is now in Saket court, pending adjudication before the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate (CMM) there. Interestingly, it was Niranjan Patnaik against whom Jena had spoken up, levelling corruption charges, but was shown the door by the party high command.

While Jena now stands vindicated, BJP has thrown a poser to Gandhi on this count. Asked on his expulsion, Jena had said that he might not have the “eligibility to become a member of the Congress which is ‘eminently eligible’ to accumulate properties from the loot of the mines”. Criticising Gandhi for protecting the “mining mafia” in the state, Jena also alleged that it’s actually Chief Minister and BJD supremo Naveen Patnaik who is calling the shots in Odisha Congress through BJD Rajya Sabha member Soumya Ranjan Patnaik, who happens to be the brother of the state Congress president.

Union minister Dharmendra Pradhan has also asked Gandhi to explain why Niranjan Patnaik is “avoiding the law”. Pradhan, who is considered to be BJP’s chief ministerial face in the state, said, “These are not allegations levelled by the media or political rivals, but based on facts and proof. Rahul Gandhi should answer people on the issue.” Commenting on Gandhi’s visit, he alleged that Congress party was the “key culprit” behind Odisha’s lack of development. “They ruled the country and Odisha for a long time, but still Odisha has not got its rights,” he added.

In another political development in the state, a new party has come into being, with Braja Kishore Tripathy of Samata Kranti Dal and Kharavel Swain of Utkal Bharat joining hands and floating a new political outfit “Odisha Democratic Front”. Swain was elected MP twice, including once from Balasore on a BJP ticket. He later left BJP and floated his own party, but failed to make any further mark in the state’s politics.

Tripathy had also been elected MP twice and was a Cabinet minister in the Atla Bihari Vajpayee government at the Centre after being elected on a BJD ticket from the Puri Lok Sabha seat in 1999. He had resigned from BJD in 2009 and joined BJP. Like Swain, he too left BJP later and launched his own party, but he could not perform well in the 2014 elections and remained on the political fringes. Sometime ago, he had tried to make a common cause with expelled BJD rebel Damodar Rout, but the two leaders could not pull along for long. Despite several public statements, Rout is yet to form his own outfit.