Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Saturday initiated a minor revamp of the party in Orissa by easing out three-time chief minister and incumbent Congress Legislature Party chief J B Patnaik and PCC president Jaydev Jena.
The 82-year-old Patnaik,who has been the Leader of Opposition since 2004,was replaced by senior tribal leader and former minister Ramachandra Ulaka,an ageing leader who is relatively unknown outside his state. Ulakas appointment is largely seen as a symbolic move by Sonia to placate the tribal votebank that has seen steady erosion with the rise of the BJP in Orissa. Ulaka was elected the new CLP leader at a meeting of the Congress legislators held at the Congress Bhavan here. The 74-year-olds election took place after Patnaik handed over his resignation to a visiting three-member AICC team headed by Orissa in-charge Ajay Maken.
Last week,Patnaik was summoned to Delhi by Sonia Gandhi and asked to put in his papers. Though Patnaik kept on insisting that the resignation talks were just rumours,Congress insiders stressed that the writing on the wall was clear for JB,as Patnaik is known in political circles. Before Patnaik met Sonia,senior Congress leaders like A K Antony and Ahmed Patel had told him clearly about Sonias decision to revamp the party.
Patnaiks bete noire and PCC president Jaydev Jena,whose listless leadership had left the party wobbling and was considered a liability,has also resigned. The AICC team,which met 37 of the 38 Congress MLAs,sought their views on replacing Jena and they all seemed to be unanimous on his removal. But the AICC leadership could not find any unanimity on Jenas replacement. Before leaving for Delhi on Saturday evening,AICC general secretary Janardan Dwivedy said that the decision on the PCC president was left to the party high command and the new name will be announced in Delhi.
Party insiders said the Congress leadership may replace Jena,a Dalit,with another Dalit. One of the frontrunners is Anant Sethi,a legislator from Bhadrak district.
A majority of the party legislators and leaders had been demanding a change in PCC leadership ahead of the coming Lok Sabha and Assembly polls. They had been arguing that the party would not be able to show a good electoral performance under the leadership of Jena who failed to corner the ruling BJD-BJP combine on Chief Minister Naveen Patnaiks failure over the Kandhamal riots.