‘A United Congress can be a Formidable Force’

‘A United Congress can be a Formidable Force’
01 Oct 2019

Ranjib Biswal, the chubby-cheeked Congress Rajya Sabha member from Odisha, wears many hats. A full-time politician, who won the Jagatsinghpur Lok Sabha seat twice, he is also a well-known cricket administrator and the managing editor of a prominent Odia daily. Biswal, who captained the Odisha Ranji team and also skippered the India Under-19 team in his playing days, is reckoned among one of the most successful chairpersons of Indian Premier League (IPL), his tenure hailed as one of the cleanest and free of controversies for the money-spinning tournament. Biswal also had a long innings as the president of Odisha Cricket Association, his tenure being marked by steps to improve the standard of the game in the state. Biswal, who was elected to the Rajya Sabha in 2014 against all odds, hails from an illustrious political family of the state. His father, Basant Kumar Biswal, was the deputy chief minister of the state and one of the most powerful Congress leaders of Odisha. His brother, Chiranjib, is a former MLA who enjoys a lot of influence in the present Congress setup of the state. The youthful exuberance of Ranjib often belies his serious side which ensures that he gives his best to the causes that he takes up. Suave and articulate, the leader spoke to Ashutosh Mishra of India First on a wide spectrum of issues ranging from politics to cricket:

 You are the only Congress member from Odisha in the Rajya Sabha. Have you been able to present the state’s case in the Upper House effectively? Or is being the lone Congress member there sometimes a handicap?

Sometimes there is a lottery system for asking questions. There, luck becomes a factor. For calling attention motions, etc. you need the signature of other members. For a lone member of a party sometimes that becomes a problem. But my Rajya Sabha performance has been fairly satisfactory and my party has always supported me. I have raised the highest number of questions from the state in the Rajya Sabha. I have an excellent average in asking questions as far as state and national average is concerned.

Does Odisha get the kind of attention it deserves in the parliament?

That depends on the parliamentarian. If you are active your state will get attention, it depends on how committed you are. Biju Janata Dal (BJD) being a regional party gets more time in parliament and they should be more vocal about issues pertaining to Odisha.

The Congress seems to be on a decline, especially in Odisha. How do you see your future in the party?

I believe in ideologies. I joined politics in 1996 and have been in Congress since then. The party is on the decline path because we don’t have a tall leader. It can be revived through collective leadership which has to be honest. Look in 1990 we had just 10 MLAs but in 1995 we bounced back and formed the government.  The problem is that the state party leadership is fragmented with leaders busy pulling each other down. A united Congress can be a formidable force.

What are the factors responsible for Congress’s decline?

Congress leaders need to work harder at the grassroots level, they should also be able to generate confidence among the cadres. In the recent elections wherever our leaders worked hard at the ground level our vote percentage was high. So we need to work at the grassroots and create confidence among people. Closed-door meetings are not going to help. We need to be pro-active.

What is your formula for the revival of the party?

Like I told you, we need to be more pro-active and work harder at the grassroots. We should remember that Odisha is now going to witness three-cornered contests. There will be one regional party and two national parties. Whichever party is able to connect with the people better will succeed. If the Congress can retain its 35 to 36 percent votes it will be a big factor. So the party must reconnect with the people. 

Which party has gained more from the decline of the Congress—BJP or BJD?

The BJP has gained more. People who were anti-BJD saw it as an alternative and voted for it. If this chunk of votes returns to the Congress, the BJP will be back to square one.

There is a perception that the BJP is growing in the state. This perception has obviously been created by the fact that the party won eight Lok Sabha seats and 23 assembly seats this time. Do you agree with this perception?

The BJP is growing at the expense of Congress. The day Congress is back on the track and regains its popularity, the BJP’s decline will begin.

You are a politician, a sports administrator and an editor at the same time. Which of these roles do you enjoy most?

My childhood love was cricket, so naturally I was more interested in cricket and cricket administration. I joined politics because of different reasons and it is significant to note that during my last 23 years in politics there has been no corruption charge against me nor have I ever been involved in a controversy. Politics is more for a social cause. Cricket has given me name and fame but politics is a platform through which one can solve people’s problems. Newspaper is also a strong medium for creating awareness and solving problems because it reaches the common man. Ours is more of a rural newspaper, our strength is rural Odisha. I am happy to be serving that cause.

You were the president of Odisha Cricket Association (OCA) for a long time. But OCA has also courted controversies. Do you think controversies affect the game?

When controversies erupt, cricket obviously gets hit. There is a loss of image. It is always important to create the right kind of atmosphere for the game to grow.

Odisha Premier League was a brilliant idea but somehow it ran into controversies. Your comments please.

We could not scrutinize the sponsors properly. OPL was an experiment that got into controversies. Otherwise it was a huge success.

What steps would you recommend to improve Odisha’s performance in Ranji Trophy?

In 1991 our Ranji team did well. It played the semi-finals. Players like Debashish Mohanty and Sibasunder Das debuted under my captaincy. But after that there was a slump. One reason was unnecessary interference from people who know nothing about cricket but the attitude of boys was also responsible. Educational qualification of most of them was not much but remuneration for players had gone up exponentially. They didn’t know how to handle the money.  Things were easy for them as they were also getting jobs. Slowly they started losing the killer instinct. But I must say there is a lot of talent in Odisha.

What was your IPL experience like?

I took over IPL when it was under Supreme Court scrutiny. It was an election year so half of the tournament was held in Dubai. By God’s grace it was one of the cleanest IPLs. People like Sunil Gavaskar were involved and the government was also involved. IPL is not serious cricket, it is also a lot about entertainment. But it is a platform for players to showcase their talent. If India is today one of the toughest teams to beat in 50 and 20 overs cricket credit should also go to IPL. It is a place where you can spot talent.

You have inherited your father’s political legacy. Have you been able to do justice to that?

Not really. He had a short time in politics but he did what many others could not. Congress in those days was very strong. His shoes are too big for us to fill. But one thing I can say with confidence – we have done nothing that would make him feel ashamed of us.

Three things that you like about Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik?

He is suave and well mannered. He is a man of few words.

Three things about Prime Minister Narendra Modi that you like?

He is a bold person. He knows the art of managing elections. He is able to project himself as a confident leader.

The Naveen Patnaik-led BJD is the most successful regional party of the state in terms of winning elections. Do you think it has been able to meet the expectations of the people of the state?

The BJD has been successful only because of a weak opposition. That is the only comment I would offer.

Has Odisha’s image changed for the better in these 20 years of BJD rule?

Not everything about Odisha is negative now. Important sporting events are taking place in the state, rural connectivity has improved and the state is also emerging as a tourist destination. But there are several other areas like education, health and law and order where we need vast improvement. On a scale of 1 to 10, I will give this government around 6 points.

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