Given that a general election is around the corner, Odisha is fast turning out to be a popular site for politicians wanting to switch parties — much like the state's renowned Chilika Lake, to which Europeran and Siberian migratory birds flock every winter.
The ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) is clearly the party of choice for a lot of Congress politicians; BJD president and chief minister Naveen Patnaik recently welcomed Congress' Bhupinder Singh, a four time MLA and leader of opposition in the state assembly. "Caste consideration in selecting party candidates by a coterie forced me to leave the Congress," said Bhupinder, pointing fingers at the state Congress leadership.
Three other Congress members — three-time MLA and Legislative Party secretary Anup Sai and MLAs Jitu Patnaik and Braja Pradhan — are waiting for an appropriate time to shake hands with Naveen. BJD sources have indicated that soon former finance minister Ramkrushna Patnaik and his wife, a former Lok Sabha member, Kumudini Patnaik will return to the party. Both have resigned from the Congress.
The two had left the BJD for the Congress in 2004 after Ramakrushna was shifted from the finance department. Similarly ex-MLA and Congress leader Umesh Swain, who has also resigned from the Congress, is expected to join the BJD.
"Political migration by ambitious leaders and poaching by Naveen Patnaik have destroyed the otherwise calm political environment of the Congress in Odisha," said Congress general secretary B. Hariprasad.
"If this exodus continues, then the Congress in the state will be wiped out before even facing the electoral fight," said former state Congress unit president Niranjan Patnaik. He called for immediate action to check the defection as well as a review of leaders' performance and credibility.
Incidentally, Congress leaders have been leaving the party since the 2009 general election, when state youth Congress president Rohit Pujari, senior Congress leader Pinaki Mishra and state Seva Dal chief Raghunath Sahu left the party for the BJD. Pinaki is now a BJD MP from Puri, Raghunath is an MLA from Chilika while Rohit is chairman of Odisha Lift Irrigation Corporation.
Others who have left include Nayagarh district Congress president and the scion of the Nayagarh royal family, Hemendra Chandra Singhdeo, who too joined the BJD and state Congress spokesman of two two decades Aryakumar Gyanendra, who joined the Trinamool Congress.
Perhaps the only consolation for the state Congress is the addition of Bhimsen Chowdhury, a BJP MLA from Bonai, a mining area. Another BJP MLA, Hitesh Bagarti from Khariar, too is said to be considering switching sides after he was refused a party ticket. He is being requested by party veterans to stay.
Apart from seasoned politicians, many actors and singers from Odia film industry, or Ollywood, have joined political parties. Veteran actor Bijay Mohanty has been nominated as the Congress candidate from Bhubaneswar Lok Sabha constituency while Aparajita Mohanty will contest from Cuttack constituency. Ollywood actor Anubhav Mohanty, comedian Popu Pom Pom, character actor Mihir Das, television artist Satyaki Mishra and veteran singer Trupti Das have joined the BJD. Similarly, Sritam Das, Pintu Nanda and Pinki Pradhan have joined the BJP, and are likely to be fielded.