For the first time in his political career, Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik
has decided to go for a show of strength in Delhi to extract special category status for the state from the Centre. The enigmatic leader opened up in an interview with HT on Tuesday, not shying away from even sharing his views on the BJP — with whom he severed ties in 2009 — and its man of the moment Narendra Modi. Excerpts
: Will you support the BJP or Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate?
There is no chance of that happening. The Biju Janata Dal will not be a part of the (BJP-led) National Democratic Alliance. My party is equidistant from both the BJP and the Congress. Is a non-Congress, non-BJP third front government a possibility? What are the chances?
The third front will be a healthy alternative in Indian politics. It is early days and I do not want to speculate. Are you getting feelers from other parties for a third front? Are you in touch with Bihar CM Nitish Kumar?
There have been no such feelers. No, I have not been in touch with the Bihar CM. Why has it taken you so long to flex your political muscles in Delhi for special category status?
It is necessary now. Odisha deserves special category status. We should not forget that Odisha has a large tribal population (23%). Special category status will provide us 90% grant, reducing our interest burden. Besides, it will give tax breaks to units, thus attracting more investment in job generating industries. Your rally comes after Nitish Kumar’s. Demands of both states are the same. Are you willing to offer a hand of support to him so that both states can pressure the Centre?
Bihar has been promised Rs 12,000 crore as a special plan under backward regions grant fund, while Odisha has only got Rs 250 crore per annum. We have no issue if the Centre provides special packages to any state. However, it should be fair, transparent and not based on narrow political considerations.
Would being a stakeholder in the government, directly or indirectly — by providing outside support — help you get Odisha the money?
Central aid to states is a constitutional mandate and not a political weapon in the hands of the ruling alliance for political gain or survival. One should not strain the federal fabric of our great nation for narrow political ends. Are you accusing the Centre of discriminating against Odisha?
The Congress-led UPA government believes in political blackmailing. They discriminate against parties who are not a part of their alliance. The states in which regional parties are in power, as in Odisha, are the worst sufferers of such discrimination. Hasn’t the Naxal problem worsened in Odisha? At present, Maoists are said to be present in nearly 20 of the state’s 30 districts. Is it going to become worse?
Left-wing extremism is a matter of serious national concern. The situation is getting better in Odisha where we have tackled it with a two-pronged strategy: development and welfare. Though there has been progressive improvement in my state, the situation is sensitive on the borders with Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. What steps are you taking to attract investment? Has the Posco issue adversely impacted the state’s image in this respect?
We have one of the best resettlement and rehabilitation policies in the country. As far as the Posco project is concerned, there were some legal issues and they are being sorted out. The project is on track. Mining has become a political issue. You have set up a committee to formulate a long-term policy. What is your approach?
The state government has constituted a committee of ministers to suggest measures for making available ore in a fair and equitable manner through a transparent process. The committee is likely to submit is report by June 30. The Gujarat model is being seen by many as the way forward. Given the abundance of natural resources in Odisha, do you think Gujarat can serve as a model or reference point?
Every state can have its own model of development. The cornerstone is good and transparent governance. Odisha adopts the best practices from other states. Similarly, several of our programmes have been hailed as models of best practices for other states. What is the reason for having a separate agriculture budget?
One of the core commitments of the BJD is to make a positive impact on agriculture, which provides employment, directly or indirectly, to more than 60% of Odisha’s total workforce. With the agriculture budget, we have demonstrated our political commitment to the farmers.
You have hand a long innings in power. Where do you see Odisha in the next five to 10 years?
Over the next 10 years, I believe Odisha has the growth potential to catch up with the rest of the nation on most fronts including agriculture and industry.