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Lok Sabha elections 2019: ‘Like Tripura, Odisha will see crumbling of decades-long govt’, says Union minister Dharmendra Pradhan

“The people of Odisha are voting for Modi at the Centre. But at the same time, the last 19 years of BJD’s incapability and inefficiency and utter failure in ensuring basic minimum needs have made Odisha voters not only dissatisfied but also angry against Naveen Raj,” said Union minister Dharmendra Pradhan.

lok sabha elections Updated: Apr 29, 2019 05:29 IST
Rajeev Jayaswal
Rajeev Jayaswal
Hindustan Times
Dharmendra Pradhan,Union minister Dharmendra Pradhan,Odisha
“One thing is for certain — the Odisha CM is totally disconnected from ground realities,” said Union minister Dharmendra Pradhan. (Sonu Mehta/HT File PHOTO)

Union minister Dharmendra Pradhan spoke to Rajeev Jayaswal about the different strategies for the Lok Sabha and assembly elections in Odisha, the performance of the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) government, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s agenda for the state, and his chief ministerial aspirations. Edited excerpts:

You have waged a two-front war in Odisha: the Lok Sabha elections, and the assembly polls. For the former, the Modi factor may have an appeal. But how do you convince local voters for assembly seats where the incumbent CM has been like a cult figure?

You are right that [Prime Minister Narendra] Modi is the single largest factor that drives the BJP ahead of any political party in the state. Modi implies making development reach every household. Poor, women, SC [scheculed castes], ST [scheduled tribes], youth — all see in Modi, a person who has delivered more than last 70 years of democracy and development in his five year tenure.

The people of Odisha are voting for Modi at the Centre. But at the same time, the last 19 years of BJD’s incapability and inefficiency and utter failure in ensuring basic minimum needs have made Odisha voters not only dissatisfied but also angry against Naveen Raj [reference to chief minister Naveen Patnaik’s tenure]. People have seen the crumbling of decades-long Left governments in Bengal and Tripura. Odisha will show similar pattern in 2019.

Last Wednesday, Naveen Patnaik invited Modi to attend his swearing-in ceremony when the BJD forms the next government in the state.

One thing is for certain — the Odisha CM is totally disconnected from ground realities. Being nestled among a handful of bureaucrats, he has gone farther from ground reality. People are voting for change. On the CM inviting the PM to his swearing-in, I have already said that, as former CM, Naveen babu will be invited to sit beside PM Modi when the new BJP government of Odisha will replace his.

The BJD’s poll agenda is development — it has the social development plan, KALIA (Krushak Assistance for Livelihood and Income Augmentation) to showcase. What is your offer to the people of Odisha?

Perhaps you have not gone through the CM’s campaign speeches and their official advertisements. The BJD’s poll agenda is an only an anti-Centre plank. Neither the CM is saying what they have done in past 19 years, nor what their agenda would be for the next five years. KALIA was a pre-poll gimmick. They are yet to make public who the 40 lakh beneficiaries of the KALIA Yojana are. They are also unable to make public the list of 25 lakh people they wish to transfer KALIA money to. They had to withdraw the list from the website as names of close family members of Naveen’s cabinet, like Niranjan Pujari and Bikram Arukh, were there.

What has PM Modi’s government at the Centre done in the last five years that would prompt the people of Odisha to go with the BJP?

PM Modi and the BJP are celebrating development in the last five years with the people of Odisha. Forty lakh women have been given free Ujjwala connections. The state government could make only 55 lakh toilets though money was available to cover all households without toilets. After 70 years of Independence, more than 20 lakh households could be provided electricity under the Soubhagya scheme. Jan Dhan accounts and Mudra loans are Modi’s brand of empowering people.

We have made adequate resources available for the development of Odisha. We have allocated more than two lakh crores [14th Finance Commission] as compared to around 96 thousand crores under the previous government [13th Finance Commission]. While in last five years of the UPA [United progressive Alliance], the allocation for railways was less than ~5,000 crores, it has reached a staggering ~27,000 crores under Modi. The 4,500km of national highways have been doubled to close to 10,000km . While the 415km Digha to Gopalpur coastal highway has been sanctioned, the Odisha government has become a stumbling block.

The only fear of Naveen babu’s bureaucratic leadership is if all these projects get implemented, Modi’s popularity will skyrocket. This we have communicated with people of Odisha. The people will respond to this and abandon Naveen babu.

You have inducted several BJD leaders into the BJP before polls. The BJD says that many of them were their rejects. Was it because BJP did not have a strong leadership base in Odisha?

Scan through the list of 117 MLAs that the BJD has in the current assembly. More than 40 sitting MLAs are from a non-Janata Dal background – either from the Congress, BJP or Left. Many of the MLAs once pelted stones at Biju babu [former CM Biju Patnaik] and garlanded his statue with shoes. Just check how many BJP leaders have been lured to BJD and given tickets. Why was it necessary for a party who has governed the state for last two decades?

They have become weak and we have emerged s tronger. That’s why people from other parties are joining the BJP.

It appears that the Odisha contest is about ‘my development‘ versus ‘your development’ ...

Is Naveen babu talking about development? Modi implies making development reach at every doorstep. Naveen babu implies taking bribes from poor beneficiaries, looting poor people by promoting dubious chit fund companies. As the court in its observation has said, through mining and mega kickbacks in looting huge mineral resources of Odisha, Naveen babu stands for corruption and loot while Modi stands with the poor people of Odisha.

Despite the BJD’s commitment of providing pucca houses to all, more than 40 lakh households continue to be homeless or living in thatched houses. In today’s summer, you will see hundreds of our mothers and sisters are walking miles to collect drinking water. There are no doctors in hospitals.

There is a huge rise in crime against women; minor girls are the most vulnerable and even in secured ST residential campuses, there are reports of pregnancies.

What will your party do differently for Odisha?

We have declared our agenda of governance through our Sankalpa Patra. We will ensure, by 2022, pucca houses with absolute ownership, and 24x7 piped drinking water supply and electricity. Those houses will also have toilets and gas connections. We will ensure at least one job or income opportunity to every household of Odisha. In the first session of the state assembly, will bring legislation to hang the rapists of minor girls. We will ensure the arrest of chit fund scamsters and the mining mafia. The state’s huge resources — 480km coastline, forest and water resources, mineral resources, tourism potential, industry and food processing — will make Odisha the centre of business activity of South-east Asia.

If the BJP wins, am I talking to the future CM of Odisha?

I am ‘karyakarta’ of my party. I never ever imagined I will be a union minister handling key economic and youth issues. The party will decide who will be CM. I will be content with whatever responsibility party gives me, including organisational work in small state like Manipur. Let Modi’s double engine government be there in Odisha. The rest are non-issues.

First Published: Apr 29, 2019 05:29 IST

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