Bhubaneswar, March 8: Congress veteran and leader of Opposition Bhupinder Singh today ditched his party of 30 years to join hands with the BJD.
Though Singh’s move was not entirely unexpected given the developments of last week during which he went incommunicado fuelling rumours of a loyalty switch, the denouement has still left the state Congress shock and embarrassed.
After making an emphatic statement on March 3 that he would remain a Congressman till his last breath, perhaps to throw snooping party leaders and scribes off track, Singh made a dramatic appearance at Naveen Nivas this morning with Brajraj Nagar MLA Anup Sai and his son Daljeet Singh in tow.
As camera bulbs flashed furiously, the trio, flanked by chief minister Naveen Patnaik, declared its loyalty to the BJD with the latter welcoming them into the party fold.
Sources said Singh was likely to be favoured by the ruling party with a Lok Sabha ticket from Kalahandi, over which he was at loggerheads with Bhakta Charan Das, the sitting Congress MP from the constituency. The last time, the BJD had fielded former Congress MP Subhash Nayak from this crucial west Odisha seat. The ruling party is considered weak in the region.
Similarly, Sai, who has won the Brajraj Nagar Assembly seat thrice in a row, is certain to bag the BJD ticket from the constituency while Bhupinder’s son, Daljeet, may land a ticket from Narla, which his father had won as a Congress candidate last time.
Congress, of late, has been haunted by fragile loyalties with one desertion after another. While its Nayagarh district president Hemendra Singh was the first to end his innings with the party to begin a new one with the BJD, he was quickly followed by former Balikuda MLA Umesh Swain who, though, is still searching for a safe port. Then came the resignation of former minister Kamla Das, who has openly expressed her desire to join the BJD.
In spite of the embarrassment, the state Congress leadership sought to put up a brave front.
“Whatever he is today is because of the Congress. It made him an MLA and a cabinet minister. He is going to regret it,” predicted Pradesh Congress Committee president Jaydev Jena. Others, too, felt the move was going to boomerang on Singh, who was the first Sikh to have become a minister in the state.
However, Singh, who during his last five years as the leader of the Opposition in the Assembly has called Naveen corrupt, undemocratic and a tyrant like Hitler umpteen times, was completely unapologetic about the move.
“The Congress is being run by a coterie which has only its own interest in mind. I was feeling suffocated,” said the veteran. Sources said that the leader had sent his resignation to AICC president Sonia Gandhi on March 3 citing similar reasons.
Speaking to the media after joining the BJD, he said whatever names he might have called the chief minister in the past was the compulsion of his role as the leader of Opposition. “ But I think he is a nice human being and a good politician,” averred Singh looking completely unfazed.
He, however, sidestepped a query on whether he sticks to his old demand for a CBI inquiry into the mining scam. “ I am now a disciplined BJD member. I should not comment on this,” he quipped.
While some supporters of Singh are expected to join the ruling party in the next few days, the AICC was quick to replace him as the leader of Congress legislature party leader bestowing that honour on tribal MLA Surendra Singh Bhoi.
It was a day of hectic political developments with most of the action taking place at Naveen Nivas. Sources said BJD’s sitting MP from Kandhamal Rudra Madhab Ray was closeted with the chief minister at his residence trying to seek an assurance about his renomination on the seat with strong rumours that he might be replaced this time with the new party recruit from the Congress, Hemendra Singh.
Another visitor, who failed to get an audience, was Subhashree Panda alias Mili, wife of Maoist chief, Sabyasachi Panda. Sources said Mili, who is keen to contest the Ranpur Assembly seat, has been exploring options for past sometime. She was seen at the gates of Naveen Nivas amidst strong rumours that her fugitive husband might lay down arms anytime, which, if and when it comes about, would be a major achievement of the Naveen Patnaik government.