‘Economic Development Closely Linked with Social Development’
You have been elected to the state assembly for the first time from an important tribal-dominated constituency. What is the feeling of becoming a first-time MLA? Does is make you feel more responsible?
It is a good feeling. This is an opportunity for me to serve the common people. I don’t think of it in terms of power or status. My focus is on how I can make the lives of people better. For me it was a conscious decision. I know it is a great responsibility.
Yours is a tribal-dominated constituency. What are its major problems?
We need a lot of development in the field of education. Lack of education is closely linked with unemployment, which is another major problem. A majority of our people depend on farming, but irrigation remains an issue. We need to increase the area under irrigation. Most of the area being rain-fed, people can raise only one paddy crop. Maize is an important cash crop in our area. The area could benefit from the establishment of an agri-park which would push the growth of agro-based industries. We also have sugarcane plantations but we don’t have a sugar factory in the area at the moment.
What in your opinion can be done to increase the living standard of tribals? They have been lagging behind in terms of development and they need supportive schemes to help them rise. How do you look at the issue? What ideas do you have in this regard?
Tribals lag behind in terms of education not only in Odisha but also in other parts of the country. In our area their lack of education is also closely linked with unemployment. There is also lack of awareness among them as far as healthcare is concerned. Our effort should be to make them self-sufficient. For this their livelihood options ought to increase. They should be engaged in financially rewarding activities like mushroom culture. But ours being a scheduled area they are finding it hard to mortgage land to banks to avail loans. So there are problems, but our endeavour should be to make them economically self-sufficient. Once that happens they will come up automatically. Economic development is closely linked with social development.
Ever since the Naveen Patnaik government came to power in the state in 2000 it has launched a raft of welfare schemes aimed at the development of various sections of society. But the major focus of these schemes has been on improving the living standard of the poor. Supporters of the government say that these schemes take care of people right from the cradle to the grave. However, critics of the government describe these schemes as political stunts and allege that they have been launched with an eye to votes. How do you respond to this allegation?
People who are making these allegations have not studied these schemes properly. They fail to realize that poor people have been benefitting from them immensely. They should go and look at the condition of people in the villages. People are now in a much better condition. The opposition keeps making these allegations with political motives. These are baseless allegations.
If I ask you to name three schemes which have benefitted people the most, which ones would you name?
See they are all excellent schemes and they have been benefitting people immensely. It is extremely difficult to choose the best ones from them as they all appear to be equally good. But still if I have to name three, I would mention the Anwesha scheme aimed at providing free education to SC/ST students from remote areas in urban area public schools. The second scheme, which is equally good, is Mission Shakti that aims at empowerment of women by making them economically independent through self-help group activities. The old age pension scheme is also an excellent scheme which has been helping our senior citizens lead an honourable life. I could go on and on. Perception about which scheme is better differs from person to person. A lot of people, in my opinion, would also mention the Rs.1 per kg rice scheme which is being hailed as a major poverty alleviation initiative.
The Biju Janata Dal has been consistently demanding special category state status for Odisha. It has also been fighting for justice on Mahanadi and Polavaram issues. These were also main campaign issues for the party in the last elections. However, none of these demands have been fulfilled as yet. Your comments?
Our government is doing its best on all these fronts. Our fight for justice continues. We hope we will get justice and our just demands will be accepted.
The disputed Kotia group of villages remain a matter of contention. There are allegations that the state government is not doing enough to gain the confidence of the local people who are being assiduously wooed by Andhra Pradesh government. How do you look at the issue?
The government has launched confidence-building measures in the area. The administration has held meetings with the people. Everything possible is being done to ensure that local people get the benefits of government schemes and their needs are taken care of. No one can say that our government has been negligent in the matter. We are doing our best.
The BJP won 8 Lok Sabha seats in the recent elections and also bagged 23 assembly seats, thus replacing the Congress as the main opposition party in the state. This has led to an impression that BJP is growing in the state. Is this perception right?
I don’t think the BJP is growing in the state. They don’t have the requisite strength to grow in Odisha. Right now their position is not good even at the national level, the latest example being the loss in Jharkhand assembly polls. In Odisha they had benefitted in the last election to an extent because of the Modi factor and more importantly due to the sharp decline of Congress.
Soon after the elections, the Chief Minister had held a meeting with the newly elected members of BJD. What did he tell everybody during that interaction?
He advised us to remain as simple as possible. He wanted us to treat ourselves as servants of the people and get as close to them as possible. That, he thinks, is the best way of understanding their problems and being able to solve them.
Ever since election results were announced, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has been laying special emphasis on strengthening the BJD organization. He seems to attach great importance to organizational work and membership drive. What is being done in your area to strengthen the party?
We have already formed committees from ward to district level. Regular meetings are also being held. Every effort is being made to strengthen the party because we understand the importance of organization. It is the key to winning elections. That is why the Chief Minister is so serious about it.
What are the three qualities of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik that you like most?
I like his simplicity. He believes in simple living and high thinking. I also admire his leadership qualities and his ability to take and back his decisions. The third most important thing about him is that he is extremely sensitive and sympathetic towards the people he rules. These qualities make him a great leader who is loved by people.
Similarly, which qualities of Prime Minister Narendra Modi would you like to mention?
He talks more and works less. He is the opposite of our Chief Minister who believes in talking less and working more.