30 Nov 2019

Newly elected Puri MLA Jayanta Kumar Sarangi loves to talk. Gregarious like most residents of Puri, Sarangi speaks from his heart. Never one to hide his feelings, he has an opinion on all issues pertaining to his constituency, especially the holy town which is thronged daily by thousands of tourists and pilgrims from around the country and the world. A former chairperson of Puri municipality, Sarangi has been part of the city’s public life for a long time. His appeal cuts across party lines and people irrespective of their political affiliations love him because he is always ready to help them. A giant killer who defeated former minister and five-time MLA from Puri, Maheshwar Mohanty, he acquired first-hand knowledge of the city’s problems during his stint as the chairperson of the local municipality. What is more important about him is that he loves to interact with people and is always in touch with them. For the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), Sarangi has turned out to be an asset by winning the Puri seat for the first time for the party. His victory is significant as it will help the party gain a foothold in the state’s coastal belt where the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) has been ruling the roost. Sarangi spoke to Ashutosh Mishra of India First on a wide range of issues, including the damage inflicted on Puri by cyclone Fani, his plans for making the holy city one of the best in the state, and the future of the BJP in the state.

You have become an MLA for the first time and you won on a BJP ticket, which has never before won the Puri seat. How is the feeling?

It’s a nice feeling. I am happy that the people of Puri have given me an opportunity to work for them. I will try my best to make their lives better, to take the schemes of central and state governments to them. I have been associated with politics from an early age. I was the chairperson of Puri municipality for five years. I am grateful to Lord Jagannath for giving me this opportunity to serve the people.

The BJP’s Lok Sabha candidate from Puri in the recent elections was the party’s national spokesperson Sambit Patra. You must have campaigned jointly with him in the elections. What was the experience like?

It was a great experience. He is such a good person, so polite and gentle. He mixes with all types of people irrespective of their social standing, caste and religion. He genuinely wants to understand the problems of people, to be close to them. That is something great about him.

Why could not the BJP win the Puri assembly seat before?    

Earlier our organisation was not strong enough. Even the grassroots-level organisation was not very strong. There was improvement in the organisation during the tenure of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Now we are lucky to have a leader like Prime Minister Narendra Modi who can attract the masses. But we need improvement in leadership at the state level as well.  We need leaders who can match the stature of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik. Things are improving now with leaders like Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan emerging and even Union Minister Pratap Sarangi attracting a lot of attention. In politics, things change. There was a time when Indira Gandhi at the Centre and JB Patnaik in Odisha were considered to be undisputed leaders. But that is not the situation now. The same can happen to Naveen Patnaik as well.

The BJP has been traditionally strong in western Odisha but it has not been able to penetrate the coast. Apart from a few  seats like yours it does not have much of a presence in the coastal belt.  Why has the party failed to establish itself in this belt which is considered to be politically most significant in the state?

One important reason for us not doing well in the coastal belt is mistakes in election management. We are yet to learn this art which is crucial to winning elections. The BJD has mastered it. Then there were also problems of candidate selection and financing. The image of candidates is equally important in an election. There are so many factors that contribute to victory in the elections. We need to work hard on some of the aspects in the coastal belt.

There is a perception that the country-wide Modi wave did not have its full impact in Odisha. While the BJP won eight Lok Sabha seats, its assembly performance was not up to the mark. Is this true?

The Modi wave was definitely there in the state otherwise we would not have won so many seats. Talking of the assembly we came second on a large number of seats and our overall vote percentage went up. But it is true that if we are to take full advantage of the Prime Minister’s popularity we will need better election management tactics and a much stronger organisation at all levels. I am sure things will be much better for us in the next elections.

The BJP seems to be moving ahead step by step in Odisha. From being the third largest party in the state in 2014 it is now the main opposition party which is a big achievement. Has the BJP been helped by the Congress’s decline in the state?

Both the BJP and the BJD have gained from the decline of the Congress. As far as the BJP’s growth in the state is concerned, it is because of the hard work of  our  leaders  and cadres. The BJP emerging as the main opposition party in the state is a significant milestone in our growth story.

What factors have contributed to the decline of Congress? The oldest party in the country today finds itself in a pathetic condition. Why?

It is an all-India party. It also had some good leaders and came out with some good measures in the past. But then there were major scandals like the telecom scandal that spoiled its public image completely and it was rejected by the people. The people reposed their faith in Prime Minister Narendra Modi who has the image of a hardworking and blemish-free leader.   

The BJD government in Odisha claims to have launched a number of welfare scheme aimed at the development of different sections of the society, especially the poor. The BJD claims that people have been voting for it because of these schemes, that the party’s victory in the elections is an endorsement of its welfare measures by the people. Do you aagree?

This government has been extremely partisan in the implementation of its schemes with benefits going mostly to BJD workers. They have been behaving partially even in the distribution of assistance to people in the wake of cyclone Fani. The BJD workers have been cornering the benefits. Even government officials have been behaving in a partisan manner.

Fani caused maximum damage in Puri district, especially in Puri town. Have people recovered from the blow?

The recovery in terms of electricity and water supply has been 90 percent, but people are still suffering in the periphery areas of Puri town and in villages. Many are yet to get financial assistance from the state government. Tourism in Puri suffered badly with the cyclone forcing the closure of hotels in the town for some time. Now, of course, they have recovered and the business is back on track.

There was a big controversy over the demolitions around the Puri Jagannath temple. The government said it was necessary to ensure the security of the shrine but people complained that it was abrupt and done without consulting them. Your comments please.

People are all for the security of the temple but they wanted proper steps for their rehabilitation before the demolition drive. All this could have been done in a much better manner.

Do you agree with the notion that reforms are needed in the Puri Jagannath temple?

Reforms are required for the security of the temple and for the general good of the people but they should not be implemented by force. Reforms should take place with the consent of stakeholders and should be implemented in a cordial atmosphere.

Three qualities of Prime Minister Narendra Modi that you like most?

The first quality that I like about him is punctuality. He values time. His second most important quality is honesty. There has not been a single corruption charge against him so far. That is a big achievement. His third important trait is summed up by his favourite slogan ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas’. He believes in inclusive growth.

Three qualities of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik that you like most?

The first good thing about him is that he talks less and works more. His emphasis on transparency is another thing that can be mentioned in this context.

Puri is one of the most important towns of the state in that it is both a major pilgrimage centre and also a big tourist draw. What measures would you suggest for its all-round development?

We need so many things like a kine house to contain the menace of stray cattle, good vending zones, parking lots and public toilets. We need wider roads, changing rooms and luggage rooms on the beach, an ‘autonagar’ where all the vehicles can be parked and, of course, we need lots of open spaces such as parks.

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