16 Feb 2019



Former minister AU Singh Deo is among the most seasoned politicians of the state. With an enviable electoral record, this scion of Bolangir royal family also enjoys the reputation of being an able administrator. Having worked closely with late Biju Patnaik and then with his son and incumbent chief minister Naveen Patnaik, he had a ringside seat to some of the most momentous political developments in the state. In a freewheeling chat the veteran shared his thoughts with Ashutosh Mishra of India First on a range of issues:


The elections are nearing. How do you see the present political scenario in the country?


It is developing. New political combinations and permutations are emerging. There are chances of a coalition government once again at the Centre. But chief minister Naveen Patnaik is very stable in Odisha. He will win again.


How do you view the efforts towards the formation of a Third Front? Telengana chief minister  K Chandrashekhar Rao had met Naveen Patnaik in this regard recently.


The Third Front can be a force if it comes up. Such things have happened in the past.


What about Biju Janata Dal’s electoral prospects?


We will win again. We have been growing with each election. Chief minister Naveen Patnaik is capable of breaking his father Biju Patnaik’s record of winning 123 assembly seats. He can get 125.


Naveen Patnaik has been in power for nearly 19 years now, long enough for anti-incumbency to come into play. But there seems to be no sign of anti-incumbency against him. Why?


That is because he is a good leader who has been taking pro-people decisions. No one today can match his stature as a politician in the state.


There is a perception that BJP is growing in the state. At whose cost is it growing – Congress or BJD?


Obviously at the cost of Congress. We saw that happening in western Odisha in the last panchayat polls. But the Congress is recovering again and if it grows in strength, BJP will be back to square one.


What kind of contest do you see in the coming polls – a triangular contest between BJD, BJP and Congress or a direct battle between BJP and BJD?


At some places, especially in western Odisha, there will be triangular contests. However, in the coastal belt it will mainly be a fight between BJP and BJD.


BJD is widely perceived to be a one-man party with Naveen Patnaik its lone mascot and chief vote-catcher.  There has been no conscious effort to create a second-rung leadership in the party.  What happens when Patnaik is not there to lead the party?


There is no doubt that BJD gets votes in the name of Naveen Patnaik. If and when there is a vacuum people will throw up a leader.


Your son Kalikesh Narayan Singh Deo has shown a lot of promise as a parliamentarian. How do you feel when people compliment you on his performance?


One is proud of one’s children.  One wants them to progress, to grow in life, to go beyond their father.


Any plans to bring your youngest son, Arkesh, into politics?


He is interested in contesting the Bolangir seat. If Naveen Babu gives his nod, he would contest. He is a graduate and an avid sportsman. He has played basketball for Under-19 at the national level.


What about your own political future?


I am in politics but have no political plans. I am a disciplined soldier of the party.


Will you be contesting elections?


Not this election at least.


What if you are offered a Rajya Sabha seat again?


I will think about it.


We all saw the recent political drama in Kolkata with West Bengal chief minister Mamta Bannerjee sitting on a dharna protesting CBI’s action against Kolkata police commissioner. Some of your own party leaders have been arrested by the agency in the past while two have received CBI notices recently. Do you think that CBI is being used as a political tool by the Centre?


That impression is gaining ground because of the timing of the action being taken by the CBI.  What were they doing for last four years? Why were they sitting quiet and have suddenly become active now with elections round the corner? The timing is suspect. Otherwise CBI is a good agency and should be allowed to do its work.


Chief minister Naveen Patnaik recently demanded fiscal autonomy for Odisha. The demand in the past had been raised by his father Biju Patnjaik. Do you think the demand is justified?


It is completely justified considering that assistance for several central schemes in the state has been stopped. Subsidy is being reduced.  Ours is a mineral-rich state. If we have fiscal autonomy we can take care of our needs.  It will make us financially independent.


What will be the major poll planks of BJD this time?


Welfare of people and fight against corruption will be the major issues for us.  Women empowerment is another major issue that we will focus upon. Biju Babu had given 33 percent reservation to women in Panchayati Raj institutions. Now Naveen Babu has proposed 50 percent reservation for them in parliament and assemblies.  He wants women to come up. This is a very important issue for us.


Naveen Patnaik already enjoys the distinction of being state’s longest serving chief minister and seems set to win another term. What are his strengths?


Naveen Patnaik has the Midas touch. Whatever he touches becomes gold. When he was in school, he used to play games, take part in painting and music and was successful at all this. When he entered social life he made friends with the likes of Jacqueline Kennedy, Mick Jagger and Maharani Gayatri Devi. When he wrote books he came out with bestsellers. He has been equally successful in politics. He was an MP and a minister at the Centre. Currently he is nearing the completion of his consecutive fourth term as chief minister and seems set to win a fresh term. He has not lost a single election. He is in a class of his own. He is very focussed on whatever he does. As a bachelor who has dedicated himself to the welfare of the people of Odisha he has been launching one welfare scheme after another. These range from Mamta to Harischandra yojana taking care of people from their birth to death. He has come up with schemes for all sections of the society including the farmers. 


Odisha has a longstanding dispute with Chhattisgarh over the sharing of Mahanadi waters. The state has accused its neighbour of constructing dams and barrages upstream of the river and obstructing the flow of water into Odisha. The matter is now before the tribunal but Odisha continues to feel that justice has been done to it. Your comments?


There is no denying the injustice to Odisha over Mahanadi. The promises made to the state when Hirakud dam was built over the river have not been kept. The groundwater level in the area has been receding.  Chhattisgarh is using the Mahanadi water not for irrigation but for industrial purposes. It is not a political issue, it is an issue that affects the life of people in the state. We are also suffering on account of Polavaram dam project.  Andhra Pradesh government wants dam height to be increased which would inundate areas on our side. We need justice on all these issues.


The old guard of the BJD appears to be fading away. The chasm between older and younger generation leaders of the party seems to be growing. How do you see this development?


See when we used to contest elections, things were simple. Now we are in the age of Whatsapp and Instagram. Younger people should move ahead. They should be given a chance. I am not saying that old and experienced leaders are not needed. In fact there should be an ideal mix of youth and experience.


Former minister Damodar Rout is now out of your party. He is campaigning vigorously against BJD and chief minister Naveen Patnaik. Will his campaign have an impact?


See Naveen Patnaik is a mountain. If you hit out against someone like him you will only hurt yourself.  It is a futile exercise. Dr.Rout’s campaign may have some impact in his constituency but it is unlikely to affect BJD and Naveen Patnaik in anyway.


Smaller parties like Utkal Bharat and Samata Kranti Dal recently formed a front called Odisha Ganatantrik Sammukya. Do you think the Sammukya will be able to make an impact in the coming elections?


These parties will try to take away some of our votes but I don’t think they can make any major impact. We should not be unnecessarily worried about them.



Cover Story



With three lives lost and two critically injured, the ...
The new and controversial law is anything but divorced from the ground realities ...

The new and controversial law is anything but divorced from the ground realities ...

The new and controversial law is anything but divorced ...


Despite the Talcher coal mine tragedy and the protracted ...


Kashmir’s future hangs in the balance after abrogation of ...


Back to power in Karnataka, the BJP once again ...