15 Feb 2020

Ganjam is known as the political barometer of south Odisha. Political developments in the district, which is the home district of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, impacts the whole state in a big way. Apart from Hinjili, which Patnaik represents in the state assembly, the district has some other important assembly constituencies. One of these is Polasara. The fact that Patnaik chose young Biju Janata Dal (BJD) leader Srikanta Sahu to contest the seat once again in 2019 speaks volumes about his importance in the party. Sahu, who won the seat convincingly for the second consecutive time last year, understands the pulse of the people and also reflects their aspirations. He is particularly popular among the youth, whom he leads with elan. A go-getter, he has a hands-on approach to solving the problems of the people. For him the Chief Minister’s advice of reaching out to people at the grassroots and trying to understand and solve their problems is the mantra. What has endeared Sahu to the BJD leadership is his tireless work for strengthening the party in his area. Keenly aware of the fact that he hails from the BJD supremo’s home district and one of the most politically sensitive regions of the state, he has been working overtime to strengthen and expand the party’s base in Polasara and its adjoining areas. The legislator spoke to Ashutosh Mishra in a freewheeling interview about his political journey so far and his future plans

You have been elected from Polasara for the second consecutive time. It is among the most important assembly constituencies of Ganjam district. How do you react to your re-election, how does the victory feel? Do you think your responsibility towards your constituents has increased with them reposing faith in you and your party again?

I am grateful to the people for giving me an opportunity to serve them again. I will try to complete the work which I had taken up during my first term as MLA but which, for some reason or other, could not be completed. It has always been my desire to be of use to the people. Now that they have reposed their faith in me once again, I will work for them with greater zeal.

How important was this election for you and your party? Because, apart from the fact that you were contesting to retain your seat, your party was fighting to form government in the state for a record fifth term. Your party chief has achieved a unique record by becoming the Chief Minister of Odisha for the fifth time in a row. This is a special distinction which very few leaders in the country enjoy. Given this perspective, this election must have been special for you.

You see, the people of the state like Naveen Babu. They have always given him their unstinted support. We knew that we would win the election because he is loved so much by the people. Our government has launched a slew of welfare schemes which have helped improve the living standard of the people, especially the poor people. These schemes are widely appreciated. Schemes like KALIA, Madhu Babu pension scheme, self-help group movement and Biju Swasthya Kalyan Yojana (BSKY) have benefitted a large number of people. We knew people would vote for us. But still the election was extremely important because we all wanted to see our beloved leader Naveen Babu as the Chief Minister of the state for the fifth time. It is a matter of great pride for us.

Over the years the state government has launched a raft of welfare schemes for the people of the state. It is said that these schemes take care of people right from the cradle to the grave. The schemes are mostly targeted at the poor because they need support more than any other section of the population. If asked to choose three schemes which in your opinion have impacted people’s lives the most, which ones would you name?

The first scheme that I would like to mention is Rs.1 per kg rice for the poor. It is one of the most important poverty alleviation schemes of our government and has benefitted people immensely. Similarly, Mamata scheme for pregnant mothers has gone a long way in reducing infant mortality and improving the health of women. Yet another important scheme is Madhu Babu pension yojana which has been benefitting a large number of people. Such schemes are responsible for the increasing popularity of our government and its unrivalled success at the hustings.

But despite all this, the Opposition continues to target the state government and the Chief Minister. Opposition leaders have described these schemes as political stunts aimed at garnering votes. How do you respond to this charge?

This is a preposterous allegation. What is the connection between these schemes and votes? How can the state be developed without launching welfare schemes? Opposition leaders are making such statements because they are jealous of the popularity of our government and our leader Naveen Babu. They know they are not in a position to challenge him. They are making baseless allegations.

What are the major problems of your constituency?

My constituency is part urban and part rural. We will be happy with better irrigation facilities. Similarly, we also need better drinking water supply.  These are two areas where we need improvement.

The BJP won eight Lok Sabha seats and 23 assembly seats in the last election. It is now the main opposition party in the state. There is now a perception that the party is growing in the state. Is that correct?

From its performance in the last election it would appear that the BJP growing. But its growth has been primarily on account of Congress’s decline in the state. This is a significant factor which must be kept in mind while analysing the party’s standing in Odisha.

During his campaign in the last elections, the Chief Minister had kept three main issues in the foreground: demand for special category state status to Odisha, Mahanadi water dispute and the Polavaram controversy. However, the state is yet get justice on any of these issues. Any comments?

We have placed our demands before the Centre on all these issues. Elections concluded only a few months ago, so we have to be patient. We are sure that we will get positive results on all these issues at the right time. However, our fight for justice on these issues will continue.

Three qualities of chief minister Naveen Patnaik that you like most.

The most important thing about him is that he talks less and works more. He has zero tolerance for corruption and fights this evil tooth and nail. He works tirelessly for the development of the state. The kind of development that Odisha has seen under him, it had never seen in the past.

Three qualities of Prime Minister Narendra Modi that you like?

He is talks much. He is glib and has an eye on votes. But I don’t think he has been able to meet the hopes and aspirations of the common people to their expectations. He had promised to locate and bring back black money and create two crore jobs but nothing of the kind has happened. His moves like demonetization failed to yield desired results.     

What did the Chief Minister tell you people when he interacted with you for the first time after the announcement of election results?

His advice was that the MLAs should reach out to common people and try to understand and solve their problems. He wanted us to work for the development of our respective constituencies in a wholehearted manner.

The Chief minister’s latest initiative, “Mo Sarkar” is a topic of debate. It is being discussed not only by politicians of various hues but also by common people. Has it succeeded in bringing about a positive change?

It is working wonders. You talk to people visiting hospitals now and they will tell you what kind of change it has brought about in the attitude of the authorities. People are happy. The scheme is doing very well and has enhanced the image of our government.

The Chief minister has been laying special emphasis on strengthening the BJD organization. Soon after the elections he asked party leaders to work in this direction. The party had also launched a major membership drive. What have you been doing in your area to make the party organization stronger?

For us organizational work has always been a priority. We focus on it throughout the year. We keep meeting people, motivating them, telling them about the programmes and policies of our government. The membership drive was an important programme for us. As far as organizational work is concerned, we are far ahead our rivals.

Your party has been ruling the state for almost 20 years now without interruption. This is a long time. Do you think the image of Odisha has changed for the better during this period?

There is no doubt that the state now enjoys a positive image at the national and international level. The state has seen all-round progress. Hunger deaths no more take place in Odisha which is now known for its welfare schemes and the big strides it has taken in the field of industrialization. The state is now known internationally for organizing world class sports events and creating state-of-the-art infrastructure for the same.

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