16 Mar 2020



Latika Pradhan had come tantalizingly close to contesting the Kabisuryanagar assembly seat on Biju Janata Dal (BJD) ticket in 2014. The party had initially decided to make her the candidate from the constituency but decided at the last minute to field old warhorse V. Sugnana Kumari Deo. Pradhan, who had accepted the leadership’s decision gracefully, was rewarded in 2019 with the party ticket from the constituency. She expectedly emerged victorious and has since been nurturing the constituency assiduously. Daughter of veteran politician Nityananda Pradhan, who was twice MLA from Kabisuryanagar on CPI ticket and then won the Aska Lok Sabha seat in 2009 as a BJD candidate, she spoke exclusively to Ashutosh Mishra about her electoral experience and her plans for the constituency

Q. In 2014 you came close to contesting the Kabisuryanagar seat but had to make way for another leader at the last moment. However, in 2019 you not only contested the seat but also emerged victorious. How sweet has this victory been and what is the feeling of being a first-time MLA?

A. Yes, in 2014 I was given the party ticket but then had to step aside and make way for a senior leader who contested. For me, this victory is like a dream come true. But with this also comes the responsibility of serving the people and doing my best to sort out their problems. I come from a political family and a sense of responsibility towards the people has always been there with us. My father won this seat twice but even when he contested and lost, he kept working for the people and was close to them. Commitment to the people runs in my family.


Q. Your constituency is a part of Ganjam, which is Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s home district. It is also one of the assembly segments that make up the Aska Lok Sabha constituency which the Chief Minister had contested and won from in the past. These facts have certainly raised the profile of your constituency. But were you under any kind of pressure because of this when you contested?    

A. Aska has always been important politically and otherwise. While several veterans, including Biju Patnaik and even our own Chief Minister, have contested the Lok Sabha seat, Asia’s first sugar mill was set up in Aska. But I was never under any kind of pressure because of the fact that my constituency is part of the region. I have always been with the people. I did not contest the 2014 elections but became the Ganjam district coordinator for the Jivan Bindu programme, which focuses on blood donation. My work was appreciated and I was felicitated by the Chief Minister. It gave me the opportunity to come closer to the people. The fact that my father had represented Kabisuryanagar in the past also helped. But the most important factor was the blessing of Naveen Babu who is extremely popular and enjoys a huge support base. He is the man responsible for BJD’s strong organizational base in the area and we get votes in his name. That was the key factor.


Q. What are the typical problems of your constituency?

A. Civic amenities are not a problem. For example, things like roads have been taken care of. But we should remember that Kabisuryanagar is an area full of history. There is a place called Jaugada under Purushottampur block where there is an Ashokan inscription. Then there is Athagada whose ruler had ensured safe sanctuary for Lord Jagannath at a critical time when his abode in Puri was under attack. Celebrated poets like Baladev Rath and Jadumani Mohapatra have also made Kabisuryanagar famous. I would like this heritage to be preserved with the help of the tourism department. This is one of my prime concerns. Tourism, as we all know, is a smokeless industry and can create jobs apart from generating revenue.


Q. I understand Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik had a meeting with first-time MLAs soon after the election. What did he tell you people at that meeting?

A. He advised us to get as close to people as possible, to be with them in their good and bad times. He also asked us to lead simple lives and shun flashy vehicles and ostentatious jewellery. The crux of what he said was that our effort should be to try to understand the problems of common people and solve them to the best of our abilities.


Q. Mo Sarkar is one of the most talked-about initiatives of the Chief Minister in his fifth term. His 5T formula of governance is also being talked about. However, the opposition has been critical of these moves of the government. Do you think these initiatives have actually helped people?

A. See, Naveen Patnaik ran a coalition government with BJP for two terms but even after the collapse of the alliance he has been winning consistently. He has become the Chief Minister of the state for a record fifth term. It is because of the love of people and the faith they have reposed in him. He is now trying to repay the debt of the people with initiatives like Mo Sarkar which is an attempt at improving the quality of governance and bringing the government closer to the people. The initiative has brought about a positive change which should be appreciated. It is easy to criticize anything but we must look at the positives. I know Mo Sarkar is making a good impact. At the same time, people should also become aware of their responsibilities. Only then can real progress take place.


Q. Your father is a veteran politician who has been elected both to the state assembly and to the Parliament. Did he support you during your campaign?

A. Yes, absolutely. He was seeking votes on my behalf. He has a great reputation in the area. My mother, too, campaigned for me.


Q. Self-help group leader Pramila Bisoi was contesting the Aska Lok Sabha seat on BJD ticket. Did her candidature impact your campaign in any way?

A. She is a symbol of women’s empowerment. Her candidature had a positive impact on all of us who were contesting the election on BJD ticket. I keep meeting her and whenever she happens to be in the constituency, we organize programmes.


Q. During the last 20 years of his rule in the state, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has launched a number of welfare programmes which have impacted the lives of people positively. If I ask you to name four schemes which have made the maximum impact on the people, which ones would you mention?

A. First I would name Mamata, which is meant for pregnant and lactating women. Then I would mention Mission Shakti, which has truly empowered women who have been able to realize their economic potential and contribute significantly to the development of the state. Equally important is the old-age pension scheme which has helped lakhs of needy people. Finally, our food security programme, especially the Re1 per kg rice scheme, has proved to be a game-changer as far as poverty alleviation is concerned.   


Q. But the opposition continues to be critical of these schemes with its leaders describing them as political stunts.

A. The truth is schemes launched by Odisha government are now being followed by other states. Opposition leaders, instead of being critical, should be supportive and should appreciate the good work of the government.


Q. Mention three qualities of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik which you like most?

A. His most important quality is his simplicity. His belief in hard work is another important attribute. It makes him a great leader. Finally, he is a leader who is always in action mode. He knows no rest.


Q. Name three distinctive qualities of Prime Minister Narendra Modi?

A. He is aggressive, he is a man of action and he thinks differently.


Q. The Chief Minister has been demanding special-category status for Odisha for last several years, but the demand has not been met. Your comments?

A. We have been making this demand right from 2000 when Naveen Babu became the Chief Minister of the state for the first time. The demand is completely justified but is yet to be fulfilled. But Odisha still continues to grow. This is because of the Chief Minister’s commitment to ensure the progress of the state with or without the Centre’s help. He has made it clear that Odisha will not lag behind in any area under his leadership.


Q. With the BJP winning 8 Lok Sabha seats and 23 assembly seats in 2019, there is a perception in certain quarters that the party is growing in the state. Do you agree?

A. Not at all. The truth is that even in the Lok Sabha constituencies where BJP won most of the assembly seats were won by our party leaders. The BJP had a target of winning more than 120 assembly seats but ended up getting just 23. On the other hand, the BJD won the elections convincingly and is perhaps the only regional party to have been voted to power five times back-to-back. It’s a unique record.  

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