Cong members demand PCC chief’s ouster

Union Minister Srikant Jena's attack on Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik over alleged mining in the state has created ripples within the Congress with a section of leaders gunning for PCC chief Niranjan Patnaik's head, citing allegations of illegal mining involving his close relative. They have reportedly conveyed to the party leadership in Delhi that continuation of Niranjan Patnaik as PCC chief would undermine the party's campaign against Naveen Patnaik government on the illegal mining issue.

Attack on the BJD leadership at this juncture could put paid to UPA strategists' hope of securing BJD's support on FDI in retail sector in the event of opposition parties bringing in a resolution against it in the winter session of Parliament. The BJD is yet to take a final call on the FDI issue.

With STs constituting over 22 per cent of the population in the state, the Congress plans to use the alleged mining scam — to the tune of Rs 4 lakh crore, according to Jena — to reach out to tribals. Jena said that the party would go "from village to village" to convey the "fact" that there would not be so much poverty in the state if its mineral wealth is "not looted". About two years ago, Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi had gone to Niyamgiri Hills to extend support to tribals over Vedanta's bauxite mining project. Kalahandi MP Bhakta Charan Das is said to be preparing the ground for another visit by Rahul over the alleged denial of minor forest produce to tribals.

In this backdrop, there is a cloud of uncertainty over Niranjan Patnaik's continuation as PCC chief. Even when he had been appointed to the post in June last year, there was unease in the party. The Odisha High Court had once made adverse remarks against him in a case related to his mine; the remarks were expunged following an appeal to the Supreme Court.

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