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Monday, Nov 18, 2019

‘Odisha merits special category status’, says BJD’s Pinaki Misra

Pinaki Misra was on Sunday named as Biju Janata Dal (BJD)’s parliamentary party leader in Lok Sabha.

india Updated: Jun 04, 2019 08:16 IST

Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Pinaki Misra said, CM Naveen Patnaik and PM Modi have a constructive partnership.
Pinaki Misra said, CM Naveen Patnaik and PM Modi have a constructive partnership.(FilePhoto)

Pinaki Misra was on Sunday named as Biju Janata Dal (BJD)’s parliamentary party leader in Lok Sabha. A close confidant of Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik, Misra spoke to Padma Rao Sundarji about his new role and the challenges he faces. Edited excerpts:

Q: Your choice as the parliamentary party leader makes you the fulcrum of the Centre-state relations when Odisha is seeking Rs 17,000 crore post-cyclone relief and special category status. Will you be able to fulfil the expectations?

A:This is now the most important mission for me. I am very grateful to the chief minister for the trust he has reposed in me. The elections are now behind us. It was a hard-fought, fairly fractious election but now that must be put behind us. My aim is that all 21 Odisha MPs – our 12, the BJP’s eight and the lone Congress MP – should all speak in one voice. After all, the cyclone cut across all party lines in its devastation. We have had four major cyclones over the past six years. We have had floods. We have had one very serious drought... In that sense, no other state merits Special Category status as Odisha does.

Q: Would not politics come in the way of ensuring this consonance?

A:The chief minister’s repeated pleas to the Centre have not been for political reasons...The PM [Prime Minister Narendra Modi] has in the past talked about cooperative federalism. We have talked about constructive cooperation. There is no reason why the two should not be married and create a win-win situation for everybody. Does not the PM always say that the nation’s and the state’s interest is above party interest, which is above self-interest? These are his words. So we are only expecting them to practice what they preach.

Q: How do you plan to deal with the challenge of regaining the ground your party lost to the BJP in Odisha?

A: Fortunately, there are no major elections around the corner except the Puri municipal polls. So, I believe we can work in harmony. By the way, the BJD is a formidable party as well as an election machine. We have actually lost nothing. On the contrary, we have gained by increasing our vote share in Odisha by 1.7%.

Q: How would you respond to criticism that you never visit your constituency once elections are over?

A: A lot of this is election propaganda. Because they can say nothing else against me. When an MP has 4,000 villages, he cannot possibly visit each and every one in five years. An MP’s job is to be in Delhi, to liaise with the government and get central works to the state.

Also read: Naveen Patnaik vacates Bijepur seat in western Odisha, BJP cries foul

Q: Hundreds of fishermen lost the tools of their trade in the cyclone and have not been at sea for a month. Though you are an MP, ordinary people will expect you to tackle even these issues by using your clout at the Centre. How do you intend to go about it?

A: It’s a very daunting task, no question. I have had the experience of the fisheries department in Odisha not being in sync with that at the Centre, as a result of which monies have gone back, without being spent, gross delays in furnishing of Utilization Certificates (UCs) as a result of which the subsequent tranches have not come. At times, it has also been the Centre which has deliberately dragged its feet for reasons both political and administrative. So yes, it will require a great deal of liaiasing. And though it’s not the MP’s task to chase administrative machinery in the state, I have been doing so and will continue to. But be warned: these are all tentative figures. No comprehensive disaster audit has been done yet. So our demand for 17000 crore may well go up. Look, an entire swathe of coastal Odisha has been flattened as though a gigantic lawnmower had gone through it. And entire districts have had to be re-electrified from scratch, because there’s not a single pole left standing.

The MP’s job is not to continuously interfere with what are the domains of MLAs, the Zilla Parishad, the sarpanchs etc.

Q: The scale of the damage will surely be an effective lever to convince the central government to provide massive financial help?

A: Absolutely. The PM himself has taken an aerial view and seen the extent of the devastation. Therefore we believe that looking at the kind of revenue that the central government generates from Odisha in terms of railways, mining – iron ore, bauxite, coal, every conceivable mineral – and the kind of oxygen Odisha gives to the Indian economy, it is completely disproportionate to the investment that is put back in the state.

Q. Tourism is Puri’s crucial revenue-earner. But 400 of Puri’s 500 seafront hotels have been severely damaged. Will you push for a moratorium on their loans?

A: I have already lobbied with the Finance Ministry for a moratorium on their loans and cheaper loans. But this government in all fairness has just taken over. So it is just not possible for immediate redressal. The new FM has just taken over and I intend to go and meet her and to lobby very strongly for this. And it’s not a question of lobbying for only the well-heeled. Ultimately these hotels give jobs to a large number of people so it’s required that they are back up. They may not all reopen in time for the Rath Yatra but at least for the coming tourist season. This Rath Yatra I honestly believe there will be a dip in footfalls that is unavoidable with the kind of damage that has happened.

Q: One of your challenges will be to regain the ground your party lost to the BJP in Odisha. How do you intend to walk a tightrope in the coming 5 years? Getting what you want from the BJP at the Centre, while, at the same time, stemming the surge of the BJP in Odisha?

A: Fortunately, there are no major elections round the corner except the Puri municipal polls. So I believe we can work in harmony. By the way, the BJD is a formidable party as well as an election machine. We have actually lost nothing. On the contrary, we have increased our vote share in Odisha by 1.7 per cent. It is the Congress which was ceding territory rapidly and because theirs was traditionally an anti-BJD vote, that vote gravitated towards the BJP instead.

Q:Is there a perceptible thaw in relations between the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister in the wake of Cyclone Fani?

A: Look, the PM and the CM have always had a cordial relationship. They have great respect for each other’s abilities and popularity. The PM recognizes that any CM who can withstand two successive tsunamis of Modi popularity must have a lot going for him. And similarly, Mr Patnaik recognizes the PM’s enormous pan-India appeal. These two leaders have extraordinary track records in their respective spheres and therefore, great respect for each other.

Q: You have your work cut out for you. What will happen to your legal career?

A: Naveen Patnaik works indefatigably and 24x7 for Odisha and he expects us all to do the same. So our challenge and aim is to fulfil that expectation. My legal career will definitely take a substantial hit. But this is a responsibility that Lord Jagannath has directly bestowed upon me and it is my time to repay the people of Odisha, for all the affection they have given me.

Also read: ‘Odisha’s Modi’ is making a splash on social media with austere living