Double demotion for Jena: Congress is the bigger loser
A lot has been said and written about how Manmohan Singh & Sonia Gandhi have put together a very well-crafted team of ministers keeping in mind all possible factors - from talent, loyalty to the high command and the Congress Party, pressure from allies, compulsions of caste, religion, youth and experience, to paying due attention to the Rahul Gandhi list. The reform ministries have been left in the hands of key Congressmen well known for their efficiency and doggedness in pursuing development. Even the so-called "ATM ministries" have been kept out of ministers known to be looking for quick and easy money. Wherever the Cabinet position has been offered to an ally due to compulsion rather than talent, some key Congress ministers have been attached to the same ministry as Ministers of State as an effective counter balance.
However, there seems to have been one major slip. Srikant Jena, the Congress MP from Orissa, who was a full-fledged Cabinet Minister in charge of parliamentary affairs during the United Front Government (1996-98) has been doubly demoted as a Minister Of State. He is a four-time MP who has not only represented several key constituencies of Orissa in the Lok Sabha but also defeated both the veteran J B Patnaik and his wife from the high-profile Cuttack parliamentary constituency.
It just goes to show how Orissa has always been neglected by the Congress high command. Having said that, the blame doesn't squarely lie with the Central leadership alone. The state Congress leaders have never been able to get the central leadership to give the state its due. They haven't been able to push enough or collectively lobby at the appropriate level. Perhaps because they have always been a divided house and have therefore lost out on collective bargaining power. The net result is that while a state like Karnataka, which has sent an equal number of Congress MPs in the Lok Sabha, has got a large share of the Cabinet pie, Orissa has been relegated yet again. Even a small state like Himachal Pradesh, which has just one Congress MP in the Lok Sabha, has seen two Cabinet Ministers being picked from the state. Sounds inappropriate and unfair, right? All the talk of long, detailed meetings at the highest level stretching over 12 days just to get every detail right seems to have gone wrong somewhere.
Slip, did I say? Well, not quite. In my view, Orissa has never been a priority state for the Congress party. Too much attention of the Central leadership has gone into other states to ensure that they are adequately represented and even individual egos of Congressmen from these states have been kept in mind while picking the team. This is perhaps the reason why Congress has lost out in the state. The people of Orissa have perhaps realised that the party is either disinterested or doesn't do enough to give or get the state its due. This is also the reason why Naveen Patnaik rules the roost. Even his critics who argue that development hasn't taken off as much as it should have in the BJD regime, will concede that Naveen is a hard bargainer. You may or may not agree with him or even like him, but you cannot ignore him. He is known to take strong positions both within the party and outside of it. A Sonia or a Manmohan will possibly never have been able to ignore the state, if Naveen was in the Congress party and lobbying for the state. Herein lies the single largest reason why this man sweeps the elections. The people of Orissa have seen that he is perhaps the only leader with a strong backbone. And like his father, this tall (the pun is intended) politician stands straight and is not known to hunch.
Before it is misunderstood, let me clarify that this is not an outpouring from a Oriya whose pride has been hurt. I am no great fan of Srikant Jena either and am not holding any brief for him. I have just two points to make. The first is that if Mr. Jena had been a senior leader from the state of Maharashtra, Karnataka or Delhi, he would certainly not have met the fate that he did. Even if a Cabinet position was for some reason not possible, the least he should have been offered is a Minister of State with Independent Charge. The second and I hope that the national Congress leadership realise this sooner than later, that if their attitude remains the same, they can relinquish every hope of coming back to power in the state. The choice is for the Congress's central leadership to make.
More about Rajen GarabaduRajen Garabadu is Chief Executive Producer - IBN18 Network.
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