‘WE’RE BUILDING UP MOMENTUM AT RIGHT TIME’
How do you rate the BJP’s prospects in Odisha?
The results of assembly polls in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh went against our party. In Chhattisgarh, which is our neighbouring state, Dr. Raman Singh had done quite well as chief minister but people wanted change. That sweeping desire of people for change gives us hope here in Odisha. We had also done well in the state in the last zila parishad polls. Our vote percentage has been consistently growing.
How realistic is BJP president Amit Shah’s target of 120+ seats for Odisha?
If people vote for change, anything is possible. Hence much would depend on what people want and how strong is our organisation in the state. In 1990 late Biju Patnaik had stormed to power in the state defeating JB Patnaik who was then considered invincible by many. Hence anything is possible.
What is the BJP’s strategy in Odisha for the 2019 elections?
We have activated all the wings of our party and have formed committees right up to the booth level. While our women and farmer wings have been organising agitations on various issues a Jan Sampark Yatra is criss-crossing the state. We are building up the momentum at the right time.
Chief minister Naveen Patnaik is still highly popular in the state because of the welfare initiatives he has launched during the last 18 years of his rule. That is also the reason he has been winning back-to-back elections. How do you propose to counter his influence?
We are working hard to strengthen our base in the state and also building up popular movement on key issues that would appeal to the people. We are also hopeful of anti-incumbency factor working in our favour. We think the time is right and the growing support for us as evident from the huge turn-out at our rallies and meetings would translate into votes.
Is union minister Dharmendra Pradhan your chief ministerial candidate for 2019?
That is something the parliamentary board would decide in consultation with the state legislature party. But the way Biju Janata Dal (BJD) has been criticising him it would appear that he is the alternative in the state. There is little doubt, though, that he is a powerful minister and has been working hard.
Though the BJP could win only one Lok Sabha seat in Odisha in 2014 the Prime Minister was kind enough to include two leaders—Dharmendra Pradhan and Jual Oram—in his cabinet. How has the state benefited from Prime Minister’s generosity?
The gains are there for anyone to see. During the last five years the state has received funds worth Rs 1.7 lakh crore under various central schemes. This is much more than what Odisha had received during the 10 years of UPA rule. There has been tremendous investment in Paradip oil refinery and Odisha has benefited the most from the gas distribution scheme. Equally significant is the fact that due to consistent efforts of Dharmendra Pradhan the Centre has recognised Paika rebellion as the first Indian war of independence.
Former IAS officer Aparajita Sarangi joined the BJP recently amid speculation that the party would field her from the Bhubaneswar Lok Sabha constituency. You think the party stands to gain from her induction?
She took VRS and joined politics because she wanted to serve the people. As an IAS officer she worked in different parts of the state in various capacities and left her stamp on whatever she did. She was responsible for bringing about reforms in the field of mass education. Given her image of a clean and efficient officer she would prove to be an asset for the party.
There is constant comparison between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress president Rahul Gandhi in the media. We would like to know how do you compare them?
They are as different as chalk and cheese. Modiji comes from a humble background. He has seen poverty and risen in politics by dint of sheer hard work. He was a “pracharak” and interacted with common people. As the chief minister of Gujarat he established a development model for the rest of the country to emulate. In sharp contrast to Rahul Gandhi who comes from a privileged background and has never worked in the villages, Modiji has a thorough understanding of people’s problems. He has also raised India’s international profile with his foreign policy.
Modi magic did not work in Odisha last time. Will it work in 2019?
I won’t say it did not work last time. People actually voted for us on Lok Sabha seats because they wanted to see Modiji as the Prime Minister of the country. While we won one Lok Sabha seat we were placed second at many places. Our problem was we did not have the grassroots organisation to take advantage of Modiji’s popularity. But this time we are fully prepared. We have a strong organisation now.
Will Modi contest from Puri as being speculated in certain sections of the media?
I have also been hearing about this. Last time he contested from Varanasi which is a religious place. Puri, too, has great religious significance. Nothing can be ruled out at the moment.
Factionalism has been the bane of many political parties. Can you say with confidence there is no factionalism in state BJP?
Difference of opinion exists in almost all political parties. It is bound to be. But in our case things have not gone to the extreme which is the case with some other parties.
You are a product of Gandhmardan movement. What is the status of the movement now?
The movement had built up in 1983 after the then government backed the BALCO bauxite mining project in Gandhmardan. Following popular resistance, the project was withdrawn in 1989. After that there have been several attempts to revive it. I remember that we had organised a cycle rally to Bhubaneswar to meet Biju Patnaik to persuade him not to back the project. But since Gandhmardan hills have bauxite deposits there is a suspicion in people’s mind there could be an attempt to exploit it again. Hence people of the area continue to be on their guard.
The character of people’s movements has undergone a lot of change in the state over the last few years. What is your take?
There are several reasons why people’s movement are unable to make an impact these days. For one people have begun to doubt the leaders of these movements because of their tendency to prioritize their personal interests. The government, too, is coming up with new tricks to divide and suppress such movements. Besides the people who used to support such movements collectively are now divided along party lines. No wonder the movements are not growing.
The BJP has strong roots in western Odisha. This is the regional where it grew initially and then spread across the state. However, there is a growing perception that the party has moved away from the core issues—poverty and underdevelopment—afflicting the region. Is it unable to build up popular movements on these issues?
No I think we are still attached to people’s issues in this belt where our roots are strong. The people of western Odisha also have faith in Prime Minister Narendra Modi who has come up with schemes for the development of backward people and regions. In sharp contrast the state government has done little to address the problems of underdevelopment, joblessness and migration of labour afflicting this region. We are sure the people of western Odisha will back us again.
Do you think that Western Odisha Development Council (WODC) has served any useful purpose?
We were all part of the movement for the creation of WODC which came into existence during the Congress regime. However, the council lacks financial autonomy as there is no clear-cut policy in this regard. We had thought that it would be autonomous like the Gorakhaland council but our hopes have been belied. Strangely the council till date remains headquartered in Bhubaneswar.
What is the BJP’s plan to expand its base in the state’s coastal belt where the BJD still rules the roost?
See the coastal belt has its own share of problems including lack of infrastructure for development of tourism and other industries. The area continues to be plagued by massive unemployment. Our party will highlight these issues and win the favour of the people. Looking at the success of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rally in Cuttack to mark the fourth anniversary of NDA government we are hopeful of the lotus blooming on the coast.