In what could be a major loss for the Congress in Odisha, the party's working president Naba Kishore Das has indicated that he may join the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) on January 24, a day before AICC president Rahul Gandhi's visit to the state.
"My supporters have urged me to fight the 2019 elections on a BJD ticket and I will do what my people want," the Jharsuguda MLA told reporters on the sidelines of a public meeting at Samasingha on Sunday.
"My supporters and electorates want me to fight the next elections on the BJD''s poll symbol, the conch," Mr Das added.
He said the BJD president and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik is scheduled to visit Jharsuguda to inaugurate a cancer hospital on January 24.
"I will welcome the chief minister and may accept the wish of the people of my constituency there," Mr Das said.
He said he respected Mr Gandhi and Odisha Pradesh Congress Committee (OPCC) president Niranjan Patnaik and there was no specific reason for his decision to quit the Congress.
Mr Patnaik said Mr Das quitting the Congress will not affect the party's prospects.
"It is sad to learn that somebody is quitting our party. It will not affect the poll prospects of the Congress," he said.
"Das has not spoken to me in this regard. I learnt about it from the media," he added.
Chairman of OPCC disciplinary committee and former chief minister Hemananda Biswal said though Mr Das had only indicated that he may join the BJD, he should think it through. He said,"It is his decision. No one can stop him. He should think whether he should quit the party at this juncture when the Congress is being accepted by the people in many states".
Mr Das is a popular leader in Jharsuguda district.
He has defeated BJD candidates twice -- in 2009 and 2014 assembly elections. He is also credited with ensuring Congress victory during 2017 zila parishad elections.
In March last year, Mr Das praised Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik at a function in his constituency.
He had said that Jharsuguda had witnessed considerable development due to the chief minister''s untiring efforts.
BJD general secretary Kishore Mohnaty, who was defeated by him twice, said Mr Das cannot be trusted since he keeps changing his opinion every hour.
"I do not know whether he is joining our party. But, we, as disciplined soldiers of the party, will abide by what our party supremo decides," he said.