For the past one month the Congress, the main opposition party in Orissa, has been a source of swelling numbers for the ruling BJD with dozens of Congress leaders queuing up to join the regional party.
About a fortnight back, Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly Bhupinder Singh joined the BJD expressing displeasure over a “coterie” running the Congress. Singh had wanted a Congress ticket for Lok Sabha elections from Kalahandi and initially went underground for a couple of days early this month. After surfacing at a hospital, Singh went to Naveen Niwas, the home of CM Naveen Patnaik, and joined the BJD. Along with Singh, his son Daljeet and Congress MLA from Brajrajnagar Assembly seat Anup Sai also joined the ruling party. Sai got the BJD ticket from the same constituency.
“I have been systematically sidelined by a coterie,” Singh said referring to “machinations” of union minister and chief of the election campaign committee Srikant Jena and PCC president Jaydev Jena.
Singh may have been the most prominent deserter from the Congress in Orissa, but he is not the first. Champua Congress MLA Jitu Patnaik and Talcher MLA Braja Kishore Pradhan joined the BJD just before Rajya Sabha polls as Naveen went all out to get noted sculptor Raghunath Mohapatra victorious. However, Mohapatra lost to Ranjib Biswal of the Congress.
With all pre-poll surveys projecting a record fourth win for the BJD in the 147-member assembly, more Congress leaders are joining the BJD. Though the Congress won 32.75 per cent of total votes in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, desertions on eve of polls this time have made it difficult for the party to find willing candidates for the 147 assembly and 21 Lok Sabha seats in the state.
In February, Nayagarh district president of Congress and scion of the Nayagarh royal family, Kumar Hemendra Singh, joined the BJD. Hemendra was tipped to win from Nayagarh even on a Congress ticket but sensing a loss of popularity by the party, he quit. BJD sources say Hemendra will contest from Nayagarh Assembly seat.
After him, former minister Kamala Das, who 14 years ago left the BJD to join the Congress after being charged with corruption, returned to the BJD. Former Balikuda MLA Umesh Swain also joined the BJD.
Last week, PCC secretary Bharati Das and spokesperson Ashok Samal resigned from the Congress. Congressman Sanatan Mahakud, who fought unsuccessfully from Champua in Keonjhar also resigned to join BJD.
Recently, former Speaker Sarat Kar resigned from the party.
Days ago, Hema Gamang, former Koraput MP and wife of former Congress chief minister Giridhar Gamang joined BJD. Hema who won the Koraput Lok Sabha seat in 1999 and the Gunupur assembly seat in 2004 on a Congress ticket may be the BJD candidate from Koraput. She would fight against her husband, the Congress candidate. There have been other notable desertions including former finance minister Ramakrushna Patnaik, Dalit leader Sura Sethi and PCC spokesperson Arya Kumar Gyanendra.
Gyanendra, who joined Trinamul Congress, alleged that the mining and builder mafia was calling the shots in ticket distribution
There is strong buzz that former MP from Dhenkanal, K P Singh Deo may quit Congress to join the BJD after the party favoured Sudhir Samal for the Lok Sabha seat.
Former state president of the BJP, Suresh Pujari, said the BJD may sink under the weight of Congressmen joining the regional party.
“Everyday someone or the other is leaving the party. It’s not just adverse publicity for us, but demoralises the party cadre. It’s time for us to introspect,” said former PCC chief Niranjan Patnaik. The former PCC chief has been languishing since he was unseated from PCC president’s post and his brother Soumyaranjan Patnaik was expelled from the party on charges of anti-party activities.
Chief whip of the Congress Prasad Harichandan said the desertions won’t affect the party as those who left did not have much of an electoral base.