29 May 2019



Her name literally means undefeated. Aparajita Sarangi, who quit her plum job in the Indian Administrative Service to join the Bharatiya Janata Party last year, has lived up to her name with a victory in her maiden electoral outing. She has won the prestigious Bhubaneswar Lok Sabha seat for her party for the first time, defeating Biju Janata Dal (BJD) candidate and former Mumbai police commissioner Arup Patnaik. Aparajita was no average bureaucrat. Right from her time as Khurdha collector, she had earned the reputation as one of the most honest, hardworking and efficient bureaucrats of the country. She made a particularly big impression on the people of Odisha as Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation commissioner and School and Mass Education secretary, where her ground-breaking and game-changing efforts were widely applauded. Her stint at the Centre, where she last served as Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Rural Development before taking voluntary retirement, had not gone unnoticed either. Since leaving behind a long and successful innings as an IAS officer both in the state and at the Centre, Aparajita has shown no signs of being an ordinary politician either. She spoke to Ashutosh Mishra of India First about her inspirations as well as concerns and aspirations for Odisha in a freewheeling interview: 


It was your maiden election and you have scored a victory in your very first electoral outing. What is the feeling like?


I am very happy. I thank God, thank the people of Bhubaneswar and, of course, the Prime Minister.


We have seen you as a bureaucrat but politics is a different ball game altogether. What was the transition like from a bureaucrat to a politician?


It was a smooth transition. I never felt awkward. I am a very pro-people person. I have worked in the state for a long time but as a bureaucrat you operate within a limited environment. I wanted a bigger canvas for myself and politics, I realized, is the biggest medium for public service. As for Bhubaneswar, my constituency, I am emotionally connected with the people here.


What made you give up a flourishing career in the country’s most elite service to take up politics?


As I said, after 25 years in the IAS I felt I was operating within a limited environment. For example if you are Secretary, Education [Department], you can’t do anything else. But politics provides you a much larger platform. It gives you a larger canvas where you can make an impact. You can go for policy making. As an IAS, I served both in the state and at the Centre. I learnt a lot but somehow I felt I needed a bigger platform to be able to contribute to the society in a much better manner.


What were the major campaign issues for you?


Poverty is perhaps the biggest problem plaguing our state. During my stint in the union rural development ministry, I had the opportunity to move across the country. I found that Odisha is still very poor and backward.  I have seen poverty even in places close to the state capital. So for me poverty and backwardness are big issues and so also is growing unemployment. Our people have been migrating to places like Surat in search of work. There is too much economic backwardness  among  women  who constitute a sizeable section of the population.  Women are not economically empowered and even their safety and security is an issue. The governance model of the present government is based on an ad hoc approach, it lacks long-term strategies.  What we need is a sustainable growth model. It is a pity that we are lagging behind even in the field of tourism.


You have worked as the municipal commissioner of Bhubaneswar. During your stint the city witnessed a major beautification drive. Now that this cyclone-battered capital needs rebuilding what are your thoughts?


I am emotionally attached to this city. It has tremendous potential for growth. It can look much more beautiful. One should remember that a smart city should be a smart city for everyone. Bhubaneswar needs more cleanliness, better drainage, more greenery. Not only the major roads even the interior roads in the city should be good. It should have good parks, open gyms, recreation centres and  a good transportation system. It is surprising that many of the water ATMs in Bhubaneswar are not working but no one is paying attention to this.  Law and order is also an issue.


Given your profile you could have joined any political party. What made you choose BJP?


With Prime Minister Narendra Modi as its supreme leader, it had to be BJP. I could not have thought of joining any other party. Prime Minister is an inspiration, he is a role model. Equally important is the fact that BJP is a national party with a presence in a majority of states. No other party comes anywhere near the BJP which has a great vision and an agenda for development.


If I ask you to compare Odisha of today with Odisha 10 years ago, how would you do that. What difference do you see?


There is too much of corruption today. There is no field supervision of projects and they are not being finished within a fixed time frame. I wonder why there is so much of poverty in the state despite this government having been in power for nearly 20 years. Winning elections is easy. You can do that with a well-orchestrated vote bank strategy, but the real challenge is ensuring development in a sustained manner, seeing to it that there is last-mile delivery. I find this lacking.


BJP has made a quantum leap in Odisha this time winning as many as eight Lok Sabha seats compared to the one it had in 2014. But the party’s success in the Lok Sabha has not been reflected in the state assembly where its performance is nothing to write home about. What went wrong?


Our success in the Lok Sabha should be attributed to the Modi wave. People wanted to see him as the Prime Minister of the country again. But yes there has been split voting. My own constituency and the Bargarh Lok Sabha constituency are two classic cases of split voting where people favoured BJP in the Lok Sabha but did not vote for us in the state assembly. We need to analyse this. I am sure the party will do that and come up with an appropriate strategy.


It seems BJP’s growth in Odisha has been lop-sided. While the party has made big strides in western Odisha, the region that has accounted for five of its eight Lok Sabha seats this time, it is yet to make an impact in the coastal belt. The party could win only two Lok Sabha seats – Bhubaneswar and Balasore – in this region. Why?


See, this is an internal party matter. We will definitely analyse these things. But there have been big positives for the party like its maiden victory in the Bhubaneswar Lok Sabha constituency. We should take note of these positives.


The BJD government claims to have implemented many welfare schemes in the state, most of them apparently targeted at the poorer sections of the society but still there is no significant decline in the poverty level. Why?


Ad hoc approach and quick-fix solutions are not going to help. Nor will the tendency to give away doles. What we are seeing is the subsistence model of development. People should not starve but they should not come up. I don’t know what is BJD’s vision of  development. It is not visible. I wonder why there should be poverty even in places close to the state capital.


Soon after BJD’s victory in the assembly elections chief minister declared that his priority would be rebuilding the state that was battered by cyclone Fani. What are the priorities of BJP?


BJP’s priorities are infrastructure development, drawing up perspective plans for the poor, improving law and order and coming up with a sustainable growth plan so that we can reduce poverty and curb unemployment. We must ensure holistic growth and ensure that projects are completed within a fixed time frame and have expected outcomes. There should be proper monitoring of projects. There should be zero tolerance for corruption.


In politics, who are the people you look up to for inspiration?


Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a big inspiration. I am also inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.


What are the three qualities of Prime Minister Narendra Modi that you like most?


I like his focus on transparency and getting things done. He is someone who means business. He is a go-getter and his dynamism is exemplary. I also like his hard-working attitude, his tremendous confidence and his faith in people who perform.


What has been the reaction of your colleagues in the IAS fraternity to your entry into politics and your spectacular victory from the Bhubaneswar Lok Sabha seat?


They are all exceedingly happy, both in Odisha and in Delhi. I am still getting congratulatory messages.



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