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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Bhubaneswar Kalita: A Gandhi loyalist, Ahmad Patel aide, who held almost all posts in Congress

Bhubaneswar Kalita, who was the Congress chief whip in Rajya Sabha, resigned on August 5, 2019 -- a day the Centre moved bills in the Upper House stripping Jammu and Kashmir of its special status under Article 370.

Written by Manoj C G | New Delhi |
Updated: August 6, 2021 5:35:23 pm
Bhubaneshwar Kalita, Who is Bhubaneshwar Kalita, Congress, J&K, Kalita left congress, Abrogation of Article 370, Article 370 jammu and kashmir, 5th august 2019, Bhubaneshwar Kalita left congress, Sonia Gandhi, Indian expressBhubaneswar Kalita (centre). (Express Archives)

In 2014, when Congress president Sonia Gandhi re-nominated Bhubaneswar Kalita to Rajya Sabha, it took many of his then party colleagues in Assam by surprise. The party had never sent any leader from Assam to Rajya Sabha more than thrice, barring, of course, former prime minister Manmohan Singh. There was pressure on Gandhi against re-nominating Kalita, but she nonetheless decided in favour of the long-time Gandhi family loyalist.

But five years later, on August 5, 2019, Kalita resigned as Rajya Sabha MP in a move that stunned the leadership. And four days later, in further shocking development, he joined the BJP. His resignation had come on a day the government moved bills in the Upper House stripping Jammu and Kashmir of its special status under Article 370 and splitting and downgrading it into two Union Territories.

Former Congress Rajya Sabha MP Bhubaneswar Kalita (left) joins BJP in presence of BJP Piyush Goyal (middle) and Bhupender Yadav (right) at BJP head office in Delhi in 2019. (Express Photo by Prem Nath Pandey.)

“He was among those blessed leaders in Congress,” a Congress veteran from Assam told The Indian Express. Blessed? “Yes, he always had the blessings of the powers that be in the party in Delhi,” the leader explained.

“That is why he was one of the so-called frontline leaders of the Congress in Assam without any real popularity, appeal or mass support,” another leader said.

Before switching over to the BJP, Kalita held almost all positions in the Assam Congress. He was considered close to the late Ahmed Patel, who was the most influential leader in the Congress after the Gandhis. Kalita, who began his political career as a student activist — he was an office-bearer of the students’ union in his alma mater Cotton College — was president of the Assam Congress for over a decade. He was president of the state Youth Congress. He was an MLA, minister, Lok Sabha MP once and Rajya Sabha MP four times from the Congress.

The 70-year-old is an advocate by profession. He was first elected to Rajya Sabha in 1984 at the young age of 33 years. He was the president of the state Youth Congress at the time. He was re-nominated in 1990. He contested from Gauhati in the Lok Sabha election of 1996 but lost. In 1998, he contested again and won, and was appointed whip of the Congress party. He lost to BJP’s Bijoya Chakravarty in 1999.

In 2001, he tried his luck in the state Assembly elections and he not only won from Rangiya seat but was also appointed Minister for Industry, Commerce, Information Technology and Public Enterprises. In 2006, he lost but the party sent him to Rajya Sabha again two years later for a third term. He was given a fourth term in Rajya Sabha in 2014. He was due to retire in 2020.

Congress central election authority chairman Mullapally Ramchandran, Madhusudan Mistry and Bhubaneswar Kalita (right) at press confrence at AICC office in New Delhi in 2017. (Express photo by Anil Sharma)

In the Congress organisation too, he had held almost all posts – he was president of the Assam Congress for ten years, from 2004 to 2014. Many leaders say he was perhaps the longest-serving president of the state Congress. Before that, he held posts of secretary and joint secretary of the AICC and general secretary of the Indian Youth Congress.

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