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'Weak Cong helped BJP rise'

New Odisha PCC chief hopes to revive party

AICC Odisha-in-charge Jitendra Singh and (right) new PCC president Niranjan Patnaik in Bhubaneswar on Sunday. Picture by Ashwinee Pati

Bhubaneswar: Newly appointed Pradesh Congress Committee president Niranjan Patnaik admitted here on Sunday that the party had slipped to become a third force in the state after the BJP, but he exuded confidence to win back lost ground.

Stating that the BJP had taken advantage of the Congress's weakness in the state, Patnaik said: "There is nothing wrong in admitting that we are the number three party in the state. The BJD and the BJP are leading us. Because of our failure, the BJP did fairly well in the panchayat elections last year. We will bounce back as we have decided to rectify our mistakes."

Patnaik made the admission in the presence of Jitendra Singh, who has been made the AICC general secretary in-charge of Odisha.

Addressing his first media conference here, Singh made it clear that Patnaik would lead the party in the coming general elections. "He will be our face in the state," said Singh.

Singh said: "The party would finalise candidates and distribute tickets within the next two months. Merit will be the only criteria while deciding on tickets."

To send out a message that AICC president Rahul Gandhi was backing Patnaik completely, he said: "Rahul is keen to visit Odisha once a month. Whenever Patnaik says the party is ready for his visit, Rahul Gandhi will make his tour plans for Odisha."

Congress sources said Singh's announcement about early distribution of party tickets was aimed at sending a message that only dedicated leaders would be favoured.

It will also help check defections from the party. He also made it clear that new faces and women candidates would be given due priority.

On whether the Congress would set itself a target like BJP's 120+ in Odisha, Singh said: "Our only mission is to win back the confidence of the people. Once we succeed in that, we will have achieved everything."

The party leadership also made it clear that it would not encourage any lobbying by leaders in the state capital and asked party workers to go to the field and strengthen the Congress at the grassroots.

Speaking to reporters, Patnaik said: "In order to revamp the organisation, the party will undertake a major rejig from block to the district level. New faces are likely to included."

He said: "The entire state will be divided into various sectors and Congress workers will reach out to the booth level."

In order to bring about unity in the faction-ridden party, Patnaik said he would not tolerate any indiscipline.

"All the leaders in the party will be involved in various kinds of work," he said.

Last evening, at the meeting held in Congress Bhavan, the leadership invited the outgoing president Prasad Hairchandan to the dais.

The party, which has been out of power in the state since 2000, is hopeful that Patnaik would be able to give it a fresh lease of life. The party has been struggling and had to face a humiliating defeat in Bijepur bypoll, where its candidate had forfeited his security deposit.

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