Senior Congress leader and Jharsuguda legislator Naba Das is all ready to join Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal, a move that could give the BJD a much-needed fillip this year in a region where it had lost ground to the BJP.
“I have great respect for pradesh Congress committee president Niranjan Patnaik and All-India Congress Committee president Rahul Gandhi, but maati over the party,” Das told ET, capping months of speculation that he was quitting Congress party. He stated the people of his constituency had urged him to contest the 2019 polls as a BJD candidate.
As per the people in the know, Das is expected to formally join the BJD on January 24, when chief minister and party boss Naveen Patnaik visits Jharsuguda to inaugurate the first cancer hospital in western Odisha. Patnaik will also be inaugurating water projects, a long-awaited railway overbridge, and lay the foundation stone for an Rs 30-crore diagnostic center to be built by Vedanta Resources, whose smelters are located in the district.
Those close to Das stated more than 50,000 people are expected to be present when Das joins the BJD on the eve of Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s scheduled visit to the state. The Congress holds 15 seats in the 147-member Odisha legislative assembly, where the BJP has 10 legislators and Patnaik’s BJD, 117.
The businessman-politician has an enviable hold on his constituency. When a demoralized and bickering Congress was reduced to an embarrassing third position in the 2017 three-tier rural polls, Das managed to ensure a victory for most candidates in his area. The BJP’s gains in these polls were largely at Congress’ expense and mostly from the western districts.
It took considerable persuasion to get the Congress leadership to change its previous state president. A new leader, with greater distribution of responsibilities, came only in April of last year. The party’s dilly-dallying cost it several leaders, including former Union minister and Congress veteran Chandrasekhar Sahu, who joined the BJD, taking along with him practically the entire Ganjam unit.
“That the party is not being able to retain winning candidates like Das should be a critical concern for it. Naba Das has influence beyond Jharsuguda, in neighbouringRengali, Kuchinda, Brajrajnagar, and to some extent in Sambalpur, too,” said political commentator, Priya Ranjan Sahu. “The Congress gave Odisha barely any attention and resources to strengthening its position during UPA-II. Despite being union minister at the Centre, Srikant Jena could also not so much for the party in the state,” he added.
Gandhi is expected to visit Odisha on January 25—his first in more than three years. In contrast, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made five visits to the state in as many months, with three since December combining his visit to Bolangir on Tuesday.