‘WHERE’S THE QUESTION OF ANTI-INCUMBENCY?’
Who do you think will be your main enemy in the coming elections, Congress or the BJP?
As things stand today it is going to be a triangular contest between BJD, BJP and the Congress. Till recently we had a feeling that BJP is growing in the state and would be better placed than the Congress to challenge the BJD. But Congress has improved in the meanwhile. Hence it will be a fight among these three parties but the BJD definitely is far ahead of its rivals.
There is a perception that BJP is growing all over the state and also making a determined bid to penetrate into the coastal belt where presently it has only a notional presence. How successful in your opinion has the BJP been in expanding its base in the state?
In the last panchayat elections the BJP had put up a slightly improved show. It did so at the cost of the Congress which was on a downslide. If you look at the panchyat results closely you will realize that the BJP did well in all those areas where the Congress fared poorly. But the Congress is growing again. It has reorganised itself in the last one and a half years. Now even in my constituency the people who had voted for BJP instead of Congress will now vote for the latter. So in the coming general elections the situation will be more or less the same as it was in 2014.
The BJP presently has an MLA in Remuna, which is part of your district, and party’s senior leader Pratap Sarangi contested the Lok Sabha election from Balasore in 2014. He is likely to contest again this time. Will you still underestimate the strength of the party?
Look Pratap Sarangi contested the Lok Sabha seat and was placed second. In the last four years he has focussed more on Nilgiri, his old assembly constituency, than on the Balasore Lok Sabha constituency as a whole. Even in Nilgiri the BJP is a divided house. As far as Remuna assembly seat is concerned the BJD has grown in the area since the last panchayat elections. I am confident our party this time will win all the assembly and Lok Sabha seats in the district.
Former minister, Raghunath Mohanty is back in favour with the chief minister. He has been given some important assignments. Will his return change BJD equations in Balasore district?
Raghunath Babu is not active in Balasore district. He has not been visible in party programmes even in Basta, his old constituency. So I really can’t comment on how he would impact the BJD equations in our district.
What are the challenges before you in this election?
My constituency has rural pockets, rivers, a part of the sea and even hills. Given its geographical situation, communication is an important issue here and we have achieved a lot on this front. As far as roads and bridges are concerned we have achieved almost 100 percent. The next challenge is effective flood control and prevention of water-logging by ensuring proper discharge of water. During floods embankments breach and if they are not repaired in time there is seepage of water and water-logging. But we have taken up projects in Budhabalang and Jhalaka rivers. Things are improving.
Like many other parties, the ruling BJD is also witnessing internal strife which is evident from developments like expulsion of former minister Damodar Rout and the Baijayant Panda episode. What impact will all this have on the party?
See, the BJD has only one leader, chief minister Naveen Patnaik. It is because of him that we are getting votes. People have accepted him and his position remains unassailable irrespective of who comes and who goes. All this does not matter. What matters is the public image of Naveen Babu.
There is talk of smaller parties like Utkal Bharat and Biju Samata Kranti Dal coming together to challenge Naveen Patnaik. What kind of threat do they pose to the BJD?
Smaller parties are like zeroes. Add as many zeroes to a zero the result still will be zero. Hence they pose no challenge. On the other hand, the BJD is a disciplined party. One can violate the party line at one’s own risk. I know Kharvela Babu well. He was the MP from Balasore. His party had tried to put up candidates in the elections but they hardly got votes.
There is also talk of old Biju Parivar leaders like Bijay Mohapatra, Dilip Ray, Damodar Rout and Baijayant Panda joining hands. If they really come together will they be able to make an impact on state politics?
See, chief minister Naveen Patnaik, who is also the president of our party, is the only legitimate claimant of Biju legacy. In the last 20 years he has done a lot to take this legacy forward and people are aware of that. No one else can ever dream of taking away that legacy from him and encashing it for their political ends.
The Congress, it seems, is on a downslide in the state. Who has gained from its decline – BJP or the BJD?
BJP has gained from the decline of the Congress. This became clear during the last panchayat elections when BJP made gains taking advantage of Congress’s decline. But today BJD is far ahead of all these parties. We are number one. BJP and Congress will fight for the number two position.
Your government has come up with the KALIA scheme to address the problems of farmers. But the execution of the scheme is turning out to be a challenge. It is being alleged that the scheme was announced in a hurry without much groundwork
The KALIA scheme is the best among all the schemes we have for farmers in the country at the moment. This is a fact even the 15th Finance Commission has admitted. Under the scheme the farmers will get assistance to the tune of Rs.10,000. Even share croppers will get this assistance. But this is a massive scheme and hence there are some questions in the minds of people. At one stage people thought that adequate number of forms will not be available but we are clearing all such doubts. We have told them it is a continuous process and all will be covered.
The state government has been repeatedly accused of indulging in populism by coming up with schemes like KALIA and Rs.1 kg rice for the poor. How do you respond to this charge?
The very objective of a welfare state is to ensure that people have enough to eat and they lead a decent life. What is wrong with Rs.1 rice scheme or with the Biju Swasthya Kalyan Yojana under which people are getting free treatment and medicines. The opposition could have accused us of populism had we not made budgetary provision for these schemes but that is not the case. Our chief minister is committed to the welfare of the people which makes the opposition jealous.
Your stand against the NDA government has been rather ambiguous. You have supported it on certain issues and opposed it on some others. Does not that confuse your cadres?
We are a regional party and protecting the interest of the state is our primary responsibility. We maintain a policy of equidistance from BJP and Congress but we take a stand on issues from the point of view of state’s interest and also the interest of the country. There is no confusion in this.
Odisha has a border dispute with neighbouring West Bengal, especially in Balasore district. What is your government doing about it?
Most of the border dispute cases are in the Supreme Court and hence resolution of these cases is taking time. If the government of India intervenes and mediates between the disputing states, the matter can be expedited but that is not happening. Hence the problem continues.
Balasore is a major town of the state, a major commercial hub. What kind of development you want in Balasore and what have you achieved?
We have paid special attention to improvement of roads. In the first phase work on nine main roads was undertaken by the works department at a cost of Rs.40 crore. Now work on seven others has commenced. One railway overbridge has already been completed while work on two others is in progress. The town is looking better.
Your party has ruled the state for over 18 years. During this period there must have been acts of omission and commission. You think anti-incumbency will come into play against it this time?
There is no anti-incumbency in the state. This is because we have kept our commitments and have always been with the people. We have drafted and executed our programmes in such a manner that they fulfil the aspirations of the people. So where is the question of anti-incumbency?
Balasore has tremendous tourism potential. Have you been able to tap it fully?
We have a lot of work to do in this regard. We have three major beaches including Chandipur which we need to develop properly. Though Chandipur has seen a lot of work, yet more can be done. The other two beaches at Dagara and Talasari need a lot of attention.