‘I’VE A SPECIAL RESPONSIBILITY’
How does it feel to be a first-time MLA? Does it make you feel more responsible towards the people who have elected you?
See I have taken part in student politics and been part of many a people’s movement. I have been associated with Odisha Adivasi Manch, have worked with veterans like Medha Patkar, BD Sharma and Kisan Patnaik. I was part of the anti-displacement movement in Kashipur. In 2000 and 2004 I unsuccessfully contested the Laxmpiur assembly seat on Bahujan Samaj Party ticket. In 2008, I joined the Congress and in 2014 I contested the Rayagada seat on the party’s ticket losing narrowly to the BJD candidate and former minister Lal Behari Himirika. Contesting elections is nothing new to me but I have tasted success as an independent because of people’s love. This is why I feel I have a special responsibility towards them. I fought with people’s money. I consider my victory to be their victory and the victory of democracy. I feel our democracy will be strengthened if more people like me win elections without spending money. Only this can usher in real democracy in the country.
Why did you decide to contest as an independent?
It was the people’s decision that I contest as an independent when Congress did not give me ticket this time. Since I have been associated with people’s movements and understand their problems more than others, they wanted me to contest anyway. They said they would vote for me on any symbol. I was allotted the kettle symbol and they voted for it.
How important was this election for you?
The election became important for me because of the effusive love and support of the people. Candidates of all the three major parties were in the fray but people thought I was the right choice and voted for me. I will ever remain grateful to them for their love.
Do you think major parties like BJD, BJP and Congress have been able to fulfil people’s aspirations?
The BJD has been running a government in the state for past 20 years but the state continues to face problems of drinking water, poor road communication and education. The government has not been able to meet the hopes and aspirations of people but there seems to be no opposition in the state. There is a bureaucratic dictatorship in the state. The opposition has failed to build up movements on people’s issues. One Anjana Mishra case had brought down the Congress government in the state, but here one cannot see any major movement on issues of importance. There is no one to challenge Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik.
Was it a tough election for you?
Mine is a costly constituency, but I fought with the support of people. They wanted change as they had lost faith in the mainstream parties. Rayagada continues to face issues like lack of good drinking water and good road network, etc. People had faith that I would honestly try to solve their problems. So they voted for me.
What are the major problems of your constituency?
We need good health infrastructure. We still don’t have specialist doctors in all disciplines and serious patients have to be taken to Vishakhapatnam for treatment. So healthcare needs improvement. Road connectivity, drinking water, electricity and unemployment are some of the other issues that need attention. Migration of labour is a major problem in my constituency. People go to states like Tamil Nadu and Kerala in search of jobs. This is the failure of our government.
Maoist problem is a major issue in Rayagada. How do you look at the problem?
The problem is now less acute but left-wing extremism has grown mainly because of government’s failure to ensure development. We still have areas without basic facilities like good drinking water and roads. There is joblessness. All this makes it easy for the ultras to motivate people. Both state and central governments are responsible for the rise of this problem. They should focus on development and bringing Maoists back into the social mainstream.
The state government claims to have launched so many welfare schemes for the people, especially the poor people over the years. Have they really been able to bring about a qualitative change in the lives of people? Opposition leaders have described these schemes as political stunts. What is your take?
These are eyewash. They don’t offer permanent solutions to the problems of people. There is no long-term thinking and planning. In Kashipur area, for example, 70 percent people have land while 30 percent are landless. People will benefit immensely from agro-based industries. The government needs to change its policies. There should be an independent budget for SC, ST and poor people. The effort should be to make people economically independent so that they stand on their own feet. The problem is we have resources but no good policy or system.
Displacement caused by various kinds of projects has been a major issue in the state. What is your formula to deal with the problem?
We have talked to the government from time to time about rehabilitation of the displaced. I had taken the mines minister to Damanjodi. Industry should spend money on rehabilitation. People should be made stakeholders. There should be efforts to create more awareness among people on these issues. The core issue is development of people and development should take place right from the village level.
Since the BJP has now become the main opposition party in the state and it also won eight Lok Sabha seats in the last election, there is a perception that it is growing in the state. Is this perception right?
I don’t really think the party has shown any major signs of growth. Its electoral performance was partly due to the decline of the Congress and partly due to the fact that it had a party-led government at the Centre. Whatever growth it has shown is a temporary phenomenon. If Congress is able to recover the lost ground BJP will be back to square one in the state.
What are the reasons for Congress’ decline?
The party has become rudderless. The Central leadership has not been able to offer the party the right kind of guidance at the national level. There is a lack of coordination among party leaders. More importantly, the party has moved away from its core ideology which has disillusioned its supporters. People voted for the BJP at the Centre because they had no other option. But people are watching developments at the national level closely. Our politicians must remember that in a democracy people are supreme.
The BJD had based its campaign in the last elections mainly around three issues – demand of special category status for Odisha, justice to the state in the Mahanadi dispute and redressal of state’s grievances with regard to the Polavaram project coming up in Andhra Pradesh. However, till date neither has Odisha received special status nor has it got justice on Mahanadi and Polavaram issues. Your comments?
See the truth is that state government lacks the political will. If it had political will, all these issues would have been resolved to our satisfaction by now. But as I told you earlier, our rulers should remember that people are watching them.
Name the three qualities of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik that you like the most.
I liked his father Biju Babu. He was a bold and courageous person. Naveen Patnaik has a clean public image, he talks less and at the moment he seems to be taking action against corrupt officials.
What qualities do you appreciate in Prime Minister Narendra Modi?
He is a good speaker who can motivate people. He is an action-oriented politician.
Has Odisha seen any major positive change in the past 20 years, such as reduction of poverty and other such things?
Good changes have not taken place on the scale that people would expect. The government needs to work harder and launch more pro-people initiatives. The Chief Minister’s 5Ts should be implemented in the right spirit. The government also needs to create more awareness among people.