I’m made of Politics
You started your career in politics as a student leader and were unbeatable in the Jagatsinghpur assembly seat for 24 long years (45 consecutive terms). But in 2014, fate had other plans. With only a difference of 2,888 votes, the Congress beat you. With another round of elections coming up, can you look back on why you lost in 2014, what do you see happening in 2019?
I think there was nothing in particular to explain why I lost. Till the final announcement, even my opponents were confident of my victory. But I was unfortunate. My illness might be a cause. There might be some other reasons that cannot be revealed before the media. So let the mystery remain.
Was it due to delimitation of constituency?
See, the delimitation of constituency was made in 2008. If that were the case then I would have been defeated in 2009 elections. But people bestowed love upon me as earlier then and I remained the MLA.
Are you fit to fight again at Jagatsinghpur?
I’m sure the bad phase is over. Now I’m fit both physically and mentally. I’m excited to be an important part of the party in the coming elections. If Party President expresses confidence and wants to see me as the MLA again I’m sure I would love to stand and win.
Do you feel Jagatsinghpur is safe for you or would you prefer any other constituency?
See, I’m confident about Jagatsingpur. If the party wants me to fight from any other constituency, I will abide by the party’s decision. If it wants me to contest from Tirtol, I would be very happy to do that too.
Why did you mention Tirtol? Is it because it’s a Reserved seat?
No, I was also elected when it was a General seat. So there is nothing advantageous about contesting from a Reserved seat. I’m saying I will be comfortable in Tirtol because it’s a new constituency and I was involved in the process of creation of that constituency. I have a very good people-to-people relationship in Tirtol, Biridi and Raghunathpur blocks that constitute Tirtol Assembly constituency. I’m ready to accept the challenge to contest in any other seat as well.
Can one conclude that you are ready to leave the Jagatsinghpur constituency?
As a disciplined member I’ll abide by the instructions of the party. I don’t have any hesitation.
What is your opinion about student politics these days, as you sensitized the masses against a gangrape in Jagatsighpur during your student days?
I don’t find the right spirit and involvement of students in present-day campus politics. I can remember the 1964 student agitation against Biju Babu. That was over a small issue of a Ravenshaw college student being slapped by a radio shop owner. The entire state was bothered by such a silly incident. But when the students got to know that it was instigated by the opposition for their political benefit and Biju Babu had no role in it, they became true Biju premis. We followed Biju Babu in college days. In the eighties, when the wife of a newspaper hawker-cum-reporter was gangraped in front of a small child, we started speaking against the lawlessness of Janaki Babu’s government. People supported us. National Leaders of Lokdal came to Jagatsinghpur and spoke against the state administration. That was a huge success and people rejected the Congress government.
Was it for that reason you were offered a ticket?
But I refused to contest in 1985.
Do you think students have become lazier now, due to which campus politics has slowed down, or is there is no outstanding issue in the society for them to fight for?
Issues are there, that too in large numbers. But students cannot portray them properly. It’s true that campus politics has slowed down. But students should make themselves involved in politics and pick relevant social issues. Their role in democracy is pivotal, but nowadays they are only concentrating on college union elections. They aim to become a president or secretary in their college unions and forget the main theme of politics after leaving college. It’s not true that students are unaware of social issues, but their numbers are far fewer than before and they are not getting the scope and proper patronage to achieve their goal.
How did you become successful in achieving your goal? Can you share your experience to inspire the present-day student leaders?
The story was different then. The government was dominated by anti-socials. Starting from control dealers to road contractors, each and every agency was managed by unscrupulous and corrupt elements. People were frustrated with the administration then.
At present, opposition and some socio-political activists, groups, newspapers are making much noise against the government with certain serious allegations of corruption, rising crime against women, etc. Do you think it will affect the electoral prospects of BJD?
When a particular party rules continuously for a long time, such allegations may arise. But it is not true that our leader and CM Naveen Patnaik is involved in them. People know better who is the real culprit and our leader is also aware of it. As the leadership is transparent in our party, they trust us and expect the next government also to be formed under Naveen babu’s leadership.
Now your party is considered the largest party of the state. More and more numbers of stalwarts from opposition parties, as well as intellectuals from other spheres are joining you. Many times it is seen that the workers at the grass-roots level and even some elected representatives have expressed disappointed before the media. Have you ever felt the same?
Sometimes, it happens. Karmees (party workers) show unhappiness because they were not asked before the joining of new members. Hence some sense insecurity. But that doesn’t mean they will leave the party or go against the party’s decisions. The party is also quite sensible in these matters and discusses many issues with the workers at different forums.
Will these issues have any impact on the coming elections?
No. these are not so serious matters. The party is always open to discussion and through such discussions all these issues and sentiments can be taken care of.
As the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Board, how do you want to bridge the gap between rich and poor in the state?
We are advising the government in different areas and the government is also acting on our proposals. Development in tribal sectors, upliftment of the poor and protecting the interest of the Scheduled Castes are in focus.
But the Board never meets. Is that not necessary?
Of course, Board meetings are necessary as that is where discussions among members are done. I can assure you that the Board will meet shortly, may be this February.
In only 9 months, you were withdrawn from the post of Rajya Sabha MP and posted as the Deputy Chairman of the Yojana Board. Are you happy with this decision?
Yes. Because I’m doing my job seriously and honestly. I visited many districts and discussed several matters in my capacity as a responsible Deputy Chairman. To answer your question about my withdrawal from Rajya Sabha MP position, I can say it is in the larger interests of the party. So I’m happy about it. In politics these things happen; there is nothing to worry about them. I was also given the responsibility of the Scheduled Caste cell of my party. It is quite a great opportunity. For the first time, we are also organising a state-level SC Community meeting.
In our state elections for the Assembly and Lok Sabha are going to be held simultaneously. Which will make you happier – contesting as a candidate for the Assembly or the Parliament?
Nothing will make me happier. I’m always happiest with the party’s decision.
This interview will be incomplete without a question on Dr. Damodar Rout-Bishnu Das connection. Why there is such a big distance?
I never had a good relationship with him and I do not think it has become any worse now. I’m senior to him in politics. I was in Bibju babu’s Utkal Congress in my high school days in 1969-70. During the elections in 1971, I was campaigning for Biju babu’s Utkal Congress on rickshaws through mike and speaker. But Dama babu was a late entrant to politics. He was a VS before joining politics and suddenly stepped in as an MLA candidate. He lost in his first fight but I won in my very first attempt. Though I don’t belong to any political family, my life situation opened the doors of politics to me from childhood. I can say proudly that I’m made of politics.
You said you have been in politics since childhood. You even campaigned for Utkal Congress during your pre-matriculation days. Why so?
To assist my parents and earn my own bread. My parents were daily wagers and the party was paying them for announcing its agenda on mike. So, I joined their work. I was a student union president (1977-80) for three times in Jagatsinghpur SVM college. In my college days I was known nationally as a student leader. After passing out, I joined LLB at MS Law College. I practised at Odisha High court and can say proudly that I became a popular advocate and earned good money those days.
Many say that in Balikuda-Ersama and Paradeep constituencies, Dr Rout will be a big factor and the BJD may lose many votes. What is your take on this view?
It’s true that some votes will be influenced, but it will not undermine the winning prospects of the BJD candidate.
You are the District President of BJD. Will you be comfortable if Dama babu’s son is chosen as BJD candidate in Paradeep or Erasama?
If the supreme leader of the party desires so and gives him the BJD ticket, then we will unanimously support. He will not be treated as the son of Dr Rout but as the party’s candidate.