On June 18, 2015, former Odisha CM Giridhar Gamang, his son Shishir Gamang and long-time associate and former Congress leader K Nagraj Dora officially joined the BJP in the presence of BJP’s state unit President KV Singhdeo, Union Minister Jual Oram, Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, Odisha In-Charge Arun Singh and National General Secretary Ram Lal. He had already attended the BJP’s Tribal Conclave yesterday.
The moment of glory for Dr. Giridhar Gamang, who occupied many top political posts at the state and national level and enjoyed the trust of successive Congress Presidents and Prime Ministers, turned into a blot on his political career, when he was instructed by his party to vote against the Vajpayee Government during the 1999 trust vote. Despite being the Chief Minister of Odisha, Gamang took part in the trust vote, as he was technically correct. He voted as per the party whip. But, the destiny had something else in store. Vajpayee Government lost the trust vote by just one vote and Gamang was blamed and condemned for that tragic fall.
The truth was otherwise. Gamang was unfairly targeted over the years. In his book ‘Cabinet Responsibility to Legislature: Motions of Confidence and No-confidence in Lok Sabha and State Legislatures’, published in 2004, GC Malhotra writes, “The Confidence Motion moved by the Prime Minister, when put to vote, was lost by 269 to 270 votes. The fall of the Government was triggered by the change of stand by the Bahujan Samaj Party which had five members in the Lok Sabha. The BSP earlier had declared that it would abstain from voting. However, it voted against the Confidence motion. The National Conference member, Prof. Saifuddin Soz, going against his party’s decision to support the motion, also voted against the motion.”
Soz was even expelled from the party by Farooq Abdullah and joined the Congress four years later. It was believed that Saifuddin Soz was persuaded by former PM VP Singh, who instructed him to vote against the Vajpayee government from the hospital bed.
“It was not my vote, which sealed the fate of Vajpayee government, but the cross-voting of Prof Saifuddin Soz,” said Dr. Gamang, who ended his 43-year-old association and loyalty with the Congress to join the BJP, a party, which fooled the public with the slogan – “One vote of Giridhar Gamang, Chief Minister Of Odisha, brought down the Government. So, we need one vote of yours”. Yes, they got the votes and formed the government again. But, Gamang suffered for the mistake he never committed.
So, why the BJP is so keen to “condone” Giridhar Gamang and use his skills and expertise in Odisha? Yes, it’s yet another masterstroke by BJP President Amit Shah and well supported by Union Tribal Affairs Minister Jual Oram, who reportedly played a key role in bringing Gamang on board. BJP knows it cannot beat BJD so easily. But, certainly, it sees a chance to dethrone the Congress as the main Opposition in the state and prepare itself for the future. While the party has significant presence among the youth and middle class, it lost the support base among the tribals in the last few years. Gamang’s entry is seen as a BJP ploy to cut into the tribal vote bank of the Congress.
First, they appointed the lone Lok Sabha MP (Jual Oram) from Odisha as a Cabinet Minister. Then, they installed woman tribal leader Droupadi Murmu as the Jharkhand Governor, making her the first Woman Governor from Odisha. Now, by playing the Gamang card, BJP has made its intentions clear. It not only targets the tribal vote bank in Odisha, but also across the country by sending a strong message that Congress treats a veteran tribal leader poorly and that they showed a big heart to embrace the depleted leader into the party fold.
In his resignation letter to Congress President Sonia Gandhi, Gamang wrote, “With a heavy heart and deep agony, I tender my resignation from the primary membership of the Congress. Please accept my resignation.” Gamang minced no words to blame the Congress for his resignation and alleged that he was not treated well within the party and many senior leaders conspired against him. Sonia took time to read the gravity of the situation. When she realised, she summoned Gamang to New Delhi. But, his son Shishir Gamang, who has turned a die-hard fan of Narendra Modi, reportedly made all efforts to make his father decline the invitation.
Many people believe that Giridhar Gamang has lost his credibility after losing two successive elections in 2009 and 2014. He, his wife Hema Gamang, son Shishir Gamang and his associate K Nagaraj Dora, lost the polls in 2009. Giridhar Gamang was contesting from Koraput Lok Sabha seat, while others were contesting from Assembly seats. As he got four tickets for his family, there was huge resentment against him within Koraput Congress. Even, firebrand Congress leader Taraprasad Bahinipati, who was upset at being denied the MLA ticket from Jeypore, joined the BJP and finished second, while the official Congress candidate finished a distant third.
In 2014, Gamang failed to get any ticket for his family members. Hema Gamang joined the BJD at the eleventh hours, but lost. Gamang’s loss to Jhina Hikaka, was seen as a waterloo for him. Everyone had written him off after the 2014 polls. However, he bounced back strongly in a different manner. By resigning from the Congress and joining the BJP, he definitely triggered a political storm in Odisha.
A nine-time Lok Sabha MP, a former Union Minister, a former Chief Minister and a former PCC President, Giridhar Gamang was a key Congressman, who was very close to Congress President Sonia Gandhi. His words were valued and given importance too. However, it is believed that he never managed to develop the same relationship with Rahul Gandhi, which triggered his downfall in the Congress Party.
While the Congress is putting up a volt face, saying they are not worried at Gamang’s exit, the BJP seems upbeat. The party can explore and utilise the experience of the veteran tribal leader and try to fulfill its political vacuum in southern part of Odisha. It is however remain to be seen what BJP or Gamangs would actually gain and whether the Congress would suffer losses at the national level in general and Odisha in particular.