‘My One-Point Agenda is Development’
You have been an MLA twice but this is the first time you are going to contest a Lok Sabha election. How excited are you?
Well it’s a challenge which I have accepted. Deogarh, which I have represented twice in the assembly, was earlier part of undivided Sambalpur district. So it is familiar territory. I have done a lot of work in Deogarh during the last five years. The truth is that the kind of development the area has seen in the past five years had not been seen in previous 20 years before that. It is my work which impressed the BJP leadership. My one-point agenda is development. Equally significant is the fact that people want to see Narendra Modiji as the Prime Minister of the country again.
And what about the popularity of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik in the region?
There is no comparison between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Naveen Patnaik. The chief minister has not been able to meet the demand of western Odisha people for the establishment of a permanent High Court bench in the region. The state government has failed to tell the Centre where exactly should the bench be set up. This is what is delaying the matter. Similarly, the headquarters of Western Odisha Development Council (WODC) still remains in Bhubaneswar as the government is yet to take a decision on where to locate it in western Odisha.
Are you suggesting that state government is deliberately delaying taking a decision in both the cases?
Yes because the government is apprehensive that its decision could trigger a controversy which it will find hard to handle. But this attitude proves that the government is not at all sincere about development of western Odisha. Now the Chief Minister has woken up from his slumber after 19 years and decided to contest from Bijepur which he thinks will lead to the development of the region. No one is going to be fooled by that.
You don’t think the Chief Minister’s candidature from a western Odisha constituency is going to help the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) in the region?
His decision to contest from Bijepur is only aimed at checking the growth of BJP in the region. But people are not going to accept him after 19 years. Western Odisha has remained backward and underdeveloped under him. It has been looted by contractors and middlemen.
The state’s western belt has several problems that we all know about but let us first talk about the problems of Deogarh.
The oustees of Rengali dam project are yet to be rehabilitated. For nine years the file on the issue has not moved. People are still waiting for justice. Then there is the issue of Talcher-Bimlagarh railway line which is being delayed by the state government on the excuse of land acquisition problems. And they keep blaming the Centre for that. One must also remember that Deogarh is a non-industry district with agriculture as its mainstay. A Rs.100 crore food park was supposed to come up at Barkote but did not materialise because of land acquisition problems. Western Odisha, as we all can see, is a picture of neglect. Even major projects in the region like the Hirakud dam, which is supposed to be the pride of Odisha, have been neglected. The second Brahmani bridge at Rourkela is yet to come up.
Mahanadi is the state’s mightiest river and the lifeline of people in around 15 districts of the state including some districts of western Odisha. The flow of the river on the Odisha side is being affected because of the structures built in the upstream of the river by neighbouring Chhatisgarh. Odisha has protested against it and the matter is now before a tribunal. Chief minister has made it clear that Mahanadi is going to be an election issue this time. Your comments.
Why has Odisha government woken up to the problem so late? Where were they all these years. They should have acted in time. If they have reacted late it is their fault.
BJP gained significantly in the last panchayat elections with its zila parishad tally going up to 297 from a mere 36 in 2012. That was seen as a sign of party’s growth in Odisha. But soon after the party lost the assembly by-poll in Bijepur and more recently it lost the Bijetala zila parishad bye-election. Does that mean that panchayat poll success was just a flash in the pan?
See it would be wrong to gauge a party’s popularity from the results of a few by-polls, especially local level by-polls. General elections are a different ball game altogether. We have emerged strong in the state and are going to get stronger in the days to come.
What, according to you, are the major issues in these elections?
The major issues are neglect of the farm sector and its adverse impact on the vast farming community of the state, growing lawlessness with focus on crime against women, state government’s empty slogan of industrialization and spiralling unemployment. Then there are constituency specific problems like lack of irrigation facilities and absence of industries in the case of Deogarh.
Last time Odisha was among the few states of the country where Modi wave did not work . Do you think Modi magic will work in the state this time?
During the last five years, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has emerged as one of the most powerful and popular leaders in the world. His popularity within the country has soared following the Balakot airstrike and his success in bringing fugitive tycoons like Vijay Mallya and Nirav Modi to the book. He also has the reputation of being a determined leader who takes tough decisions like demonetization and backs them to the hilt. His magic is definitely going to work in Odisha this time.
The BJD has replaced quite a few sitting MPs and MLAs this time. Is it an attempt to ward off the anti-incumbency factor?
They are already pressing the panic button. This is the first time in the last 19 years that they have made such large-scale changes. They are apprehensive of a popular backlash against them.
Chief minister Naveen Patnaik has announced 33 percent of Lok Sabha seats for women but there has been no similar assurance for the state assembly. Some critics say he is only paying lip service to the cause of women. Your thoughts?
Yes, that is obvious. West Bengal chief minister Mamta Bannerjee has given much more seats to women. Here in BJD’s case they have rather denied ticket to a sitting woman MP, Pratyusha Rajeshwari Singh from Kandhmal.
Before the announcement of candidates by BJP there was a lot of speculation about Prime Minister, Narendra Modi contesting from Puri but now party spokesperson Sambit Patra is going to contest from there. Has it disappointed BJP workers?
No, there is no disappointment as such. But speculation about his contesting from Puri only shows how popular he is among the people of the state. In any case with him at the helm at the Centre the state is bound to see growth.
Your party president Amit Shah has been visiting the state frequently and setting targets for state leaders. What qualities of Shah appeal to you?
He is someone who knows his job, is a master strategist whose calculations hardly ever go wrong. See, how deftly he managed the situation in Goa following the demise of Manohar Parrikar.
In which areas of Odisha do you think BJP will perform better this time?
We have always been strong in western Odisha but this time we are also going to do well in southern and coastal belt of the state. We are going to improve our position throughout the state.
How many Lok Sabha and assembly seats are you expecting in the state this time?
We are hopeful of a majority both in Lok Sabha and the state assembly.
The BJP in Odisha is still short of leaders who have a pan-Odisha appeal. Don’t you think this is going to affect the poll prospects of the party?
I don’t think we lack leaders with pan-Odisha appeal. We have leaders like union ministers Dharmendra Pradhan and Jual Oram, who are big names in the state. We are also getting important leaders from other parties who will boost our prospects.
Talking of new faces in the BJP, former IAS officer Aparajita Sarangi recently joined the party. Do you think entry of leaders like her will boost party’s prospects in the state?
Sure. I think educated people and people with merit from different backgrounds should come into politics.