01 Jul 2019

 After working as an assistant professor at a deemed university in Bhubaneswar, this young IIT graduate was recently inducted into Naveen Patnaik’s fifth ministry. He was in the news for his sudden switch from the Bharatiya Janata Party to the Biju Janata Dal. While still teaching technology, this IITian had contested the 2014 elections from Kakatpur but had lost. Yet this year, he was nominated to contest on a BJP ticket. But the BJD saw great potential in this young man and invited him to its fold. With an offer to contest from BJD, Odisha’s largest political party, he accepted and filed his nomination. That changed his life. Not only did he emerge victorious in electoral politics, but he also won the heart of BJD leaders and was soon assigned two ministerial portfolios. Tusharkanti Behera spoke to Harihar Panda – in an India First exclusive – about his portfolio, his entrance into politics and much more.

You are a technocrat, also a technology teacher. The year 2019 has offered you a great responsibility as IT Minister. How do you visualize the future of the state on this front?

I have all the reasons to believe that Odisha is making its presence felt as a state of immense potential. Odisha is a fast-growing state in terms of state GDP and has surpassed the national average. Continuous efforts of the BJD government over the past 19 years have been paying dividends today. Large investors are keen to take advantage of Odisha’s massive investment opportunities. With our industry-friendly policies and transparent governance, we have created an enabling environment that is second to none. So, I feel that the IT sector will grow rapidly in the near future. 

Connectivity, especially internet connectivity, in our state is very poor. Even today, many villages are not linked by broadband when we are talk here about 5G, giga fibre, etc. What are your views on that?

We will strongly focus on internet connectivity, power, good roads, transport, telecommunication, etc.  We will ensure that we overcome all the challenges in front of us and see that all the undergoing projects are completed within the stipulated time frame. I believe once we ensure connectivity to all GPs, new dimensions of opportunities will open up.

Few months ago the then Odisha government’s technology consultant, Mr. Sam Pitroda, had made a proposal to connect all of this state’s villages via broadband, but it has not been accepted till date. Do you think the proposal needs to be reconsidered?

Well, the Bharat Net scheme is under implementation in Odisha in full swing and internet has reached most of the GPs. The remaining GPs will get high-end connectivity very soon. Besides, mobile networks are pretty strong in remote areas now a days due to JIO, Airtel, etc. Hence, we are rapidly progressing on this front.

IT is no longer limited to software business; the world of literature, journalism, humanities are also growing with IT. Yet Odia language is waiting to be recognised by Google, even if it is a classical language with the largest scriptures bank. Some days earlier, Odisha government started discussing with Google about making Odia language available on its search engine. May I know what is the progress on this front?

We will have it pretty soon. I will personally work on this till it’s done.

Will you take steps to expedite the process?

Certainly, it will be one of my top priorities.

Odisha is now well known throughout the country for promoting sports and international tournaments, such as Hockey World cup, Hockey League, etc. Now that you are heading the Sports ministry as well, what is your vision for the state on this front?

Odisha has been successfully hosting international events for a while, due to which Bhubaneswar has earned its title as the sports capital of India. I believe success is a continuous process. I will see that all the good work is continued on a daily basis. We will focus on improving our sporting and training infrastructure at the district level and slowly we will penetrate to block and GP level.

With the exception of Biju Yuva Vahini, youth services have been a neglected area in the state. Some say the department is in sleep mode. Will it wake up now? What will be your focus areas here?

Youth Service is a process of creating an environment where young people can engage in informal constructive activities. Biju Yuva Vahini has been trying to initiate and engage in activities that seek to have an impact on young people. The members of BYV have done tremendous work in the aftermath of Titili and Fani cyclones. Therefore, in my view, it’s a great program for the youth of our state and must continue. 

But we don’t have a list of national and international youth awardees and their whereabouts. Would you like to make any intervention?

I don’t know what made you believe this. I have seen many renowned players of Odisha taking part in the Asian Athletic Games held in 2017. I will see to it that the list is updated on the department website.

This interview will be incomplete without hearing the story of an IITian’s entry into electoral politics? What made you take the decision?

I always had an option to take up a normal job but that would have put me in the rigmarole of self-centred activities. I always desired to be with the people and work for the community from which I have come. With this humble thought I began my journey and here I am by the grace of Lord Jagannath.

You have also fought an election earlier on the BJP’s ticket, but lost. This time you were in focus for leaving BJP and joining BJD overnight. Why did you leave that party?

Well, the elections are over and let’s not dwell on the past. I think the decision I took was in the best interests of my constituents and it worked out pretty well.

Had you ever imagined being an MLA from BJD?

I always imagined being in a position from where I can serve my fellow people.

What are the two major factors that attracted you to Naveen Patnaik?

The answer is very simple: His simplicity and dedication to the people of Odisha.

What is the most important thing you are going to do for the people of Kakatpur?

Well, first of all I would like to solve the drinking water issue of some panchayats.

Any message you wish to share with the public?

We have a real opportunity now to make Odisha proud. We must come together and work relentlessly to make Odisha a developed state.

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