‘We’ll come to power in the next election’
You had scored a hat-trick of victories in the Sambalpur assembly seat before unexpectedly losing to BJD’s Raseswari Panigrahy in 2014. With your victory from the seat in the recently concluded elections you have got your own back. How is the feeling?
I had lost in 2014 because of my own mistakes. Now my focus is on the development of the constituency and how I can raise people’s issues in the state assembly in the best possible way.
What factors led to your victory from Sambalpur this time?
People wanted me to win. I have always been with the people in their good and bad times. They know me well. It is their support which has made me an MLA again.
Raseswari Panigrahy was a formidable opponent considering that she had full support of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and the Biju Janata Dal. You still won but it must not have been easy?
Yes there were problems. The administration, especially the police administration, encouraged booth capturing. The entire administration was with them. That was the biggest challenge. But ultimately the will of the people prevailed and I emerged victorious.
Did it help that former Deogarh MLA Nitesh Gang Deb was BJP’s Lok Sabha candidate from Sambalpur this time? I think you two got along very well.
Lok Sabha and assembly elections are entirely different. It is wrong to try to connect them. In Lok Sabha things were slightly easy for the BJP because of the popular sentiment in favour of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. They wanted to see him as the Prime Minister again. It was not that easy for BJP in the assembly election.
How do you explain BJP’s victory on all the five Lok Sabha seats from western Odisha?
See, as I told you, a large number of people wanted to see Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister of the country. Besides people in western Odisha like the BJP. These factors contributed to party’s victory in the western belt.
But why did the BJP fail to penetrate the coast? Its performance in the coastal belt has not been satisfactory. While it won just two Lok Sabha seats in the coastal belt it did not do well there even in the assembly elections. Why?
The truth is we came second at several places in the coastal belt. Had we succeeded in convincing people that we could form government in the state, the results perhaps would have been different. But creating this confidence among people takes time. It takes a lot of hard work. Another important factor was that this time we had a lot of new candidates who perhaps could not inspire the required confidence among people about our victory prospects. In contrast, Biju Janata Dal had a lot of tried- and-tested candidates which gave the party an edge. But the important thing to remember is that the vote difference between us and BJD in the state was only 14 lakh. This means we are closing in on our rival. With a little more effort we can form government in the state.
BJP won the Lok Sabha seats of Bhubaneswar and Bargarh even though the party failed to win from even a single assembly segment falling under these constituencies. Don’t you find this a bit strange? A section of political observers have described this as split voting while others have called it strategic voting on the part of the electorate. What is your take on this?
My explanation is simple. In the Lok Sabha, people voted in favour of the BJP because they wanted to see Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister of the country again. The sentiment in the case of assembly polls was different chiefly because we failed to create confidence among people that we could win and form government in the state.
You have been at the centre of several controversies. Why do you keep courting them?
I was not involved in any controversy till 2009. But things changed after that when our alliance with the Biju Janata Dal broke and we fought elections separately. After that the administration became vindictive and implicated me in false cases. I was implicated in one such case during the Bijepur assembly by-poll.
Political circles are abuzz with speculation about BJP and BJD coming close again. The election of BJP candidate, Ashwini Vaishnav to the Rajya Sabha with BJD’s support is being cited as a case in point. Your comments?
There is no truth in such speculations. At least I am not aware of my party asking me to make compromises with the BJD or to stop attacking it. On the contrary, we are quite aggressive towards the BJD. As far as BJD’s support to Vaishnav is concerned it is for them to explain that.
The Polvaram controversy has acquired a new dimension with union environment ministry granting a two-year work extension to the project despite being aware of Odisha’s concerns in the matter. Chief minister Naveen Patnaik has written to the Prime Minister demanding immediate suspension of project work. How do you look at the issue?
Odisha’s weak political leadership alone is responsible for the Polavaram controversy. The state government has failed to raise its concerns with the Centre properly. Had it done so, the matter would have been sorted out by now. State government instead of keeping its own political interests in focus should accord priority to Odisha’s interests.
Mahanadi problem also remains unresolved?
Mahanadi controversy has been created by Naveen Patnaik government. I come from that belt and I know the reality. Instead of raising objections to the structures built on the river by Chhattisgarh government when they were being erected, our government protested late. The truth is that BJD government was more interested in making Mahanadi controversy an election issue. It was more of a political stunt.
Sundergarh MP and former union minister Jual Oram failed to make it to the Modi ministry this time. Although two Odia people – Dharmendra Pradhan and Pratap Sarangi – are there in the union ministry, many have felt disappointed at the exclusion of Oram. What are your feelings?
See these decisions are taken by the Prime Minister. West Bengal, for example, has sent 18 BJP MPs to the Lok Sabha but it is being represented by only two ministers. There are several considerations. Theoretically, we will be happy with as many ministers as possible from Odisha, but top leaders making these decisions have to keep several things in mind.
What are the qualities that you like most in Prime Minister Narendra Modi?
The most important thing about the Prime Minister is his decisive leadership. It is this trait of his which has raised the international profile of our country. India is now regarded as one of the most respected countries in the world. Equally important his commitment to the people. He always takes pro-people decisions with an eye to the welfare of the poorest section of the population.
BJP president Amit Shah had given Odisha unit a target of winning 120-plus assembly seats. In the ultimate analysis the party got 23. Do you think the target set by Shah was realistic?
Yes it was a realistic target, considering the fact that we came second on a large number of seats. We had fielded many new candidates who were not well versed in the art of election management. This led to defeat in several constituencies. Besides the Chief Minister used the administration to the advantage of his party. Otherwise election results would have been different.
Everyone expected you to be elected the leader of BJP legislature party and become the leader of opposition. But that honour has gone to someone else. Are you feeling disappointed?
No I am not disappointed at all. The party leadership must have found the person who was elected our legislature party leader better than me. So he was picked.
Finally, how do you see the future of BJP in Odisha?
It has a bright future. We will certainly come to power in the next election.