‘Not a Modi wave, but a Modi tornado’
How would you describe the response of people in Bargarh to your campaign?
The response has been unprecedented. Never before have I seen this kind of enthusiasm among the people in a constituency. I would say it is not a Modi wave but a Modi tornado that has hit not only my constituency but the entire state.
Then you must be pretty confident about the outcome of the contest?
I am sure the BJP will come out with flying colours. That seems quite apparent.
You contested the last election from Sambalpur and lost by a margin of around 30,000 votes which is not a big margin in a Lok Sabha election. Why did you then shift to Bargarh this time?
I lost from Sambalpur because of our poor performance in Chhendipada and Athmallick areas of Angul district. We trailed behind in these two areas by around 1.25 lakh votes whereas in other areas we gained. But in contrast to Sambalpur the character of Bargarh Lok Sabha constituency is homogenous. Bargarh also happens to be my birth place, we have parental property here.
So that is the reason you moved from Sambalpur to Bargarh this time?
I did not choose Bargarh for myself, the party did. I had contested from Sambalpur to address the problems of the people there, to serve the constituency and to strengthen the BJP organisation there. I worked there for full five years. As it is, I did not ask the party for a ticket; it was party’s choice. And look who are the people I am pitted against – the Chief Minister himself is contesting from Bijepur which is a part of Bargarh Lok Sabha constituency. Then there are two ministers contesting from Bhatli and Attabira and another former minister from Padampur. My opponent has been a former minister and Rajya Sabha member and hails from the powerful Acharya family. His nephew is also an MLA from one of the assembly segments in my constituency. Two powerful leaders – Naba Kishore Das and Kishore Mohanty – are contesting from Jharsuguda and Brajrajnagar assembly seats which are also part of my constituency. So you can imagine what kind of an opposition I am pitted again.
So are you feeling intimidated?
Not at all. I think I am honoured that the party has chosen me to contest against such powerful people. I know the bowlers I am facing are fearsome and the pitch is both bouncy and turning. But I am ready to face them. I have never been afraid of any opposition. I always play on the front foot.
The Modi magic did not work in Odisha in the last elections. You think it will work this time?
I think there was Modi wave in the state in 2014 as well, though it is much more intense this time. Besides the BJP’s organisation in the state in 2014 was not strong enough to convert that wave into votes. And the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) was not as unpopular as it is now. But the situation is now completely changed. While the Modi wave has intensified we are now organisationally strong enough to take advantage of it and the BJD is now extremely unpopular and people want it out. So everything is working in our favour.
What are the problems of Bargarh constituency?
Bargarh district has two subdivisions – Bargarh and Padampur. While Bargarh sub-division is completely irrigated, Padampur is not. But even in Bargarh the flow of water for irrigation is getting reduced as water is being diverted to industries. This is the reason for the high number of farmer suicides in the region. Crop loss is occurring due to lack of irrigation. On the other hand, Padampur lacks even medium irrigation projects. Besides Bargarh is practically a non-industry district. On the other hand, industrialisation in Jharsuguda has caused massive displacement and locals have not found employment in industries.
Chief minister had announced a major irrigation project for the region, hadn’t he?
I think you are talking about the Gangadhar Meher irrigation scheme. It is yet to see the light of the day. The chief minister has been making many announcements and laying foundation stones for projects without making adequate budgetary provision for them. Bargarh and Jharsuguda are problem-prone districts. In Bargarh some areas are yet to get rail link. During the last 30 years the Acharya parivar has done precious little for the development of the area.
Will the candidature of chief minister Naveen Patnaik from Bijepur help the development of the region?
How can the people of the area trust the chief minister? How can the man who failed to develop Hinjili, his constituency for last 20 years, be trusted to develop this area in five years? The people keep asking me if they would be able to meet the chief minister if he becomes their MLA? My answer is simple – if he wins from Bijpeur and keeps the seat they will have to go to Bhubaneswar to meet him, if he loses they will have to go to Delhi to meet him. As it is there is no guarantee that he will retain Bijepur in the event of winning the seat, the seat may see a yet another bye-election which the people of the area cannot afford.
Will Mahanadi be an election issue in your constituency?
It is not at all an issue. Had it been an issue the BJP would have won the last panchayat polls in the region where we got 51 percent of the seats.
But then the BJP lost the Bijepur assembly by-poll, didn’t it?
Look a bye-election is completely different from a general election. A general election is held to form a government but it is not so in the case of a by-poll. Besides, as we all know bye-elections are fought by the government not the parties. So we should not compare the two.
Chief minister has raised the demand for special category status to Odisha and also sought fiscal autonomy for the state. How justified are these demands?
Why does not the Chief Minister concede the demand of people of western Odisha for a special area status? We all know that western Odisha development council (WODC) has failed to address the demands of the people of the region and does not reflect their aspirations. Why the chief minister is hiding the Mohanty commission report on regional imbalance? The report was submitted six years ago. The chief minister should look at himself before pointing fingers at others.
Lawyers of western Odisha have been agitating for a separate High Court bench in the region. Any comments?
Their demand is justified. It will make life easy for the people of the region, but the state government is yet to send a composite proposal to the Centre in this regard. A proposal which, among other things, pinpoints the exact location where the bench should be set up. The government is yet to send such a proposal.
Is Congress in a position to make the contest triangular?
Congress is not in a position to make a fight of it, not in my constituency at least. Its overall vote share in 2000 was 37 percent but slid below 20 percent in 2014. It’s on the decline.
Who stands to gain most from Congress’s decline – BJP or BJD?
In 2014, the BJP had gained the most from the phenomenon of Congress’s decline. This time the few Congress supporters who had voted for the BJD would not like to repeat the mistake and vote for us. So we are going to gain the most.
Talking of the growing popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as claimed by BJP, are things like surgical strikes and Balakot airstrike really being discussed? Are they issues?
There is no denying the popularity of the Prime Minister. It is true that his image has received a major boost with three surgical strikes – the first one took place across the border in Myanmar. This was followed by Uri and then we saw what happened in Balakot. India’s international image has received a major boost following these decisions of the Prime Minister. He is being hailed as a world leader and a Prime Minister who can take strong decisions and then back them to the hilt. These are big qualities which are being discussed by people across the country, specially the youth who adore him.