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Congress and BJD fan pet issues

BJD activists protest against central neglect in Bhubaneswar on Sunday. Picture by Sanjib Mukherjee

Bhubaneswar, March 2: Stepping up its attack on the BJD, a poll-bound Congress today organised three rallies in the undivided Koraput district, an old party bastion with a sizeable chunk of tribal population.

Addressing big gatherings at Malkangiri and Jeypore, Odisha Pradesh Congress Committee president Jaydev Jena and All-India Congress Committee-appointed in-charge of state party affairs B.K. Hariprasad, lashed out at the Naveen Patnaik government for trying to usurp central schemes such as cheap rice while failing to develop the state, which was labelled as the poorest in the country by the Raghuram Rajan committee.

“He has been making allegations against the Centre accusing it of neglecting Odisha. The truth is that he has failed miserably to make use of central schemes while trying to take undue credit for some of them such as subsidised rice,” said Hariprasad, addressing the rally at Malkangiri where the party has taken up the cause of tribals being branded as Maoists by the police.

“Not only are the tribal people suffering under this regime, the farmers, too, are committing suicide. The Centre, on the other hand, has been extremely generous to the state giving it a central university at Koraput and setting up the state-of-the-art Indian Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) at Bhubaneswar,” said Hariprasad.

The tone and tenor of the Congress leaders did not change at Rayagada where Jena tore into Naveen accusing him of depriving the poor tribal people of their full quota of the subsidised rice allotted by the Centre. The party MLA from Bisam Cuttack, Dambrudhar Ulaka, trotted out figures to substantiate the charge made by his party chief.

The meeting at Rayagada, however, was marred by the heckling of Hema Gamang, wife of former chief minister, Giridhar Gamang and an aspirant for the party ticket from Gunpur Assembly constituency, by the supporters of Ramanaguda block chairman Purushottam Gamang.

With the disturbance exposing the growing factionalism within the party, Jena warned the hecklers against breaking discipline. “We are not going to tolerate such behaviour,” he said.

The other embarrassment for the party, of late, has been the queer behaviour of veteran Bhupinder Singh, who has made himself incommunicado amidst speculation that he might quit and join the BJD. Both Jena and Hariprasad refused to comment on speculations with regard to Bhupinder’s future saying the leader of Opposition was unwell and unreachable at the moment.

In yet another development, Arya Gyanendra, an All-India Congress Committee member and a known opponent of Jena, lashed out at the state party leadership for ignoring sincere leaders while selecting candidates for Lok Sabha and the Assembly elections. He said he would stay away from party programmes for a year as a mark of protest.

The party, on the other hand, sought to extract the maximum political mileage out of its Malkangiri rally accusing the district police of preventing supporters from reaching the meeting venue. It has called a shutdown in the district tomorrow to protest alleged police atrocities against its supporters today.

The Congress is keen to retain its hold on undivided Koraput district where it has four sitting MLAs and a Lok Sabha MP, who is its trump card as far as mobilising tribal support is concerned. Sources said Nabarangpur MP Pradeep Majhi, a livewire, has been trying all the tricks in the bag to win over the tribals of the area who appear to be upset with the police for engaging in a witch-hunt against them.

The BJD hit back at the Congress with a sit-in before the Raj Bhavan here today to ramp up its protest against the Centre’s continued refusal to grant Odisha the special category state status while according the same to the yet-to-be-born, Seemandhra.

The ruling party, which is organising a state-wide agitation on the issue, has planned a major show of strength with three rallies at Bhubaneswar, Berhampur and Sambalpur on March 5, the birth anniversary of Biju Patnaik, which is celebrated as ‘panchayati raj divas’.