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Orissa: Congress downplays BJD-NCP-CPM bonhomie
Aditi Tandon
Tribune News Service

Sonia to visit Orissa on April 15

The Congress in Orissa is banking on the charisma of star campaigners Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi to regain lost base. It had won just two out of the 21 LS seats in 2004 and 38 of the 147 Assembly seats. UPA chief Sonia Gandhi, who was in Orissa on April 2 to campaign in Bargarh, Berhampur and Koraput constituencies, will return on April 15 to cover two more LS segments — Bhadrak and Dhenkanal

Bhubaneshwar, April 9
Everyone in Orissa, including the Congress, knows that Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik is the last man to call a press conference to make an announcement. So, when the BJD president formally met media persons after nine long years at his residence yesterday, everyone knew something major was coming.

And there it was - the final sharing of stage by Patnaik, NCP chief Sharad Pawar and CPM Politburo member Sitaram Yechury; the latter representing the emerging Third Front that has vowed to form a non-Congress, non-BJP secular alternative at the Centre.

A day after the ‘rare’ gathering mirrored potential changes in political equations, not just in Orissa but also the Centre, the Congress today downplayed the Sharad-Patnaik-Yechury bonhomie, saying it is mere political exigency. The party’s state unit, could not, however, deny the fact that massive infighting within its ranks was prevalent and building.

Speaking to The Tribune today, Orissa Pradesh Congress Committee president Kamakhya Prasad Singh Deo admitted to infighting, saying, “When did the Congress not suffer from infighting? It is such an old grand party. It has seen infighting all the time.”

The six-time MP from the Dhenkanal Lok Sabha constituency in Orissa, Deo (who lost the 2004 elections from this seat) dismissed the NCP-BJD alliance as a ‘political compulsion. He was, however, at a loss of words to explain why Sharad Pawar had to field his lone Lok Sabha candidate in the state from the Balasore parliamentary constituency where the Congress has put up former central minister Srikant Jena.

“We are expecting a healthy fight in Balasore and everywhere else. Our mantra is the one Gen Manekshaw gave in the 1971 Indo-Pak battlefield. Bash on, regardless,” said Brig Deo (retd), keen to brush aside the issue. He rushed to add, however, that Pawar repeatedly described his alignment with the BJD as a seat-sharing arrangement specific to Orissa.

“He said he was still part of the UPA and not the Third Front and that he had gone in for the alliance in Orissa to keep communal forces at bay. He made himself quite clear,” insisted Deo, who was recently appointed the state PCC chief, following major infighting in the state Congress between two groups, each individually supporting former state Congress presidents Jayadev Jena and JB Patnaik.

News is that Deo himself was seeking party mandate to contest his traditional LS seat along with one assembly seat in the state - something the high command did not concede to. It was then that the former minister in Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi governments reportedly stepped out of the race altogether.

When asked why he was not in the poll fray this time, Deo said, “I am campaigning for the party. Had I agreed to contest, I would have to restrict myself to one seat. Now I am free to campaign.”

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