‘Won’t go to anybody with a begging bowl’
You are a businessman. What made you decide to enter politics?
It’s true that I have been in the world of business throughout my life, but my predecessors and present family members are into social work. They are associated with various organisations and different people at different times. My uncle, the late Chintamani Jena, was in active politics for no less than 50 years. He was Deputy Speaker in the Odisha Legislative Assembly, and he was also state Congress chief. He represented Lok Sabha from Balasore many times. So, by birth I belong to a family that has been dedicated to social development. Doing business has also made me naturally inclined to social and political service.
That seems to be a quick transition into active politics – from you leaving the company to being offered a ticket and becoming an MP?
In the beginning of 2013, I was contacted by BJD to join politics. But I refused saying it’s not my cup of tea. I was well-placed and living a good life. But the doors of discussion were not shut. Many leaders came by and we discussed many things. One day the honorable CM called me and asked me to join the BJD and contest as a Parliament candidate from Balasore. Taken by surprise, I said I knew nothing about politics and was not even interested in politics. But things transpired and I joined the BJD on December 29, 2013. And in March I was declared as a BJD candidate for the Parliament. While many were busy chiding me and my leader, I was going about things normally. Then I won and was elected to the Parliament. That’s how my life changed.
You rank among the top 10 Parliamentarians in the Lok Sabha. Can you share your experience of being a first-time MP?
Initially I had a lot of difficulties. I had to understand how the government machinery functions. So I had to read and research a lot, interact with many kinds of people. But the journey is quite rewarding. By God’s grace I could rank among the top ten Parliamentarians of the country in terms of my attendance, debate, questions and discipline. In my opinion it’s a rare opportunity and achievement for a first-time MP. I’m trying to be honest to my work.
You must have had some dreams when you joined politics. Do you think they have come true?
Like others I had the notion that politics is dominated by nasty people with vested interests. To an extent I even experienced that in reality. Due to this reason my business was impacted a lot. I had to sell some of my business as I was unable to manage those. Then I thought that since God has given me everything, I should also give something back by dedicating myself to public good. In politics I get the chance to serve people more and be more directly involved with them.
What do you consider to be your major achievements as an MP so far?
When I won the election, I clearly prioritised 10 major projects and tried to complete them during my tenure. Out of those, seven or eight are realised or almost ready to be realised. Take for instance a Cuttack-like Ring Road in Balasore, which has been approved to be completed in three phases, and the work will be under way very soon, by January. Coming to agriculture, we faced irrigation as the main problem. Now the CM has taken this into consideration and given us one of the two mega-irrigation projects planned in the state. Shifting of the jail was an issue in Balasore as it is in the middle of the city. Land identification was an issue, but we sorted that out. Soon the jail will be shifted. With this, the Balasore Municipality will get 2.5 acres of land for development.
Why were all these projects kept under wraps all this while, only to be announced just before the elections?
No it’s not like that. Take the case of the railway overbridge. In the whole of Balasore, there were only three OBs built in the last 65 years, but we made another four in Balasore in these four and a half years. With AIIMS, the foundation stone was laid in 2013 but the dream hasn’t come true yet. I have taken the matter to everybody, including the minister concerned, and even tried in the Parliament by asking questions. I remember that I have raised the issue 20 times in the Parliament. Now, finally, the AIIMS satellite centre work has started. Similarly, in the case of the medical college, the government has taken a decision in principle that it will set up four more medical colleges in the state. Puri was also in the scheme of things. But in Puri, work is yet to be initiated. I have taken the matter to the CM for Balasore, continuously followed up with different authorities, and now the medical college is finally functioning.
Recently, the port proposal in Balasore district came into discussion again, after 12 years of the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding. We hear that CM has approved the proposal. Can you tell us more about when the proposal is going to be implemented on the ground?
For the port in Balasore, the MoU was signed in 2006. It’s true that 12 years has gone by and it is yet to get under way. But the day is not far away. It’s going to be executed within a couple of months. There were different sorts of administrative problems. We worked very hard over the past three years to find a solution. Now we have got all the clearances, be it defence, local problems, legal issues, etc. Construction work will start after the foundation stone is laid by the CM in the month of January, with the first phase expected to be completed in the next 36 months. It’s going to be a massive port, bigger than those of Paradeep, Haldia, Dhamra, etc.
Isn’t credit for all this due to you? And are people satisfied with these developments?
No, it’s a team effort. Regarding people’s expectations, I can say it should be much higher. I’m trying to do as much as possible. Our success will be judged by the people in 2019. I wanted to complete one more project during my tenure but I failed to do that because of the lack of support from the union government. It was a Rs. 1,200-crore project and the CWC refused to sanction such a huge sum at one go. It became a centre-state issue. When I approached the state, I finally got the approval but the implementation would be in multiple phases. It is too late now for the project to be realised in this tenure. So I regret that.
Do you think BJD will again portray you as the candidate for 2019 and you will be chosen as people’s representative once more?
I’m not an astrologer. Let’s see what happens. It depends upon our party president Naveen Patnaik. I’m an honest worker. Whatever my party will decide I’ll go with it. But I will not go to anybody with a begging bowl; it’s my principle of life.
In a provincial party, MLAs play more important role than MPs as their number counts in the state power centre. Do you think, you’ll bring more MLAs in the coming election if you are given another chance in 2019?
See MLAs and MPs have different and definite roles in a federal structure. They need to act together for the development of the state. We are sure that we’ll provide more numbers of MLAs than people are expecting.
BJP is claiming that its presence and support is growing in Balasore? Do you think the party can be a hurdle in the coming elections?
In 2019, we’ll win eight out of eight MLAs and 1.5 MPs in Balasore.
There is a politician-bureaucracy conflict in Odisha. Many party veterans have complained about this before. Have you had any such experience?
I fully disagree with this. I find full support from the bureaucracy whenever I need. I believe we politicians are doing our job and the officers are doing their job, respectfully. I can share an experience in this regard. This month I went with a proposal of Rs 85 crore to build an overbridge. It is extremely difficult to sanction such a huge amount when the election is nearby. But I made a presentation and things went smoothly. Then how can I say the officers are not supporting?
Then why are such notions making rounds?
I cannot comment on others but I can say it’s their personal problem. How can I blame them?
You stated that the union government did not support your proposal enough. Earlier, too, your party accused the union government of giving step-motherly treatment to the state. Then why does your party support the NDA government during times of crisis?
See, we have a clear policy of supporting the union governemnt whenever it is in the larger interest of the people of the country as well as this state. And we would vehemently oppose it whenever we deem it to be otherwise. We don’t oppose merely for the sake of being in opposition.
But don’t people criticise this policy?
You are probably insinuating about the no-confidence motion. But what is the point of it? The opposition did not have the numbers to make any sense of it.
You are a member of the standing committee for Industry ministry. How, in your opinion, will the Make in Odisha initiative help the industry sector grow?
Odisha’s performance report in the industry sector is recognised internationally. Of all those MoUs we signed, almost 65% have materialised already. On this front, other parts of the country see much less success. We have more pull than push factors. We go across the globe to attract investment.
You were in news some time back due to a CBI matter, and now the CBI itself is in the news for the wrong reasons throughout the country? What do you have to say to that?
See, as my matter is sub judice, I cannot say much on that. And to answer the other part of your question, I would like to say that this country is seeing some dangerous developments. Some are happening within the CBI, too, which has shaken the confidence of the people.