On Monday, the day his book Lutyens’ Maverick is released in Delhi, former Lok Sabha MP Baijayant “Jay” Panda speaks to The Indian Express about his future plans. With the general elections around the corner, the former BJD leader says there is just about enough time for him to form a party, and argues that the BJP has dropped the ball after edging out the Congress to become the number two party in Odisha. Panda also says that there is confusion in the BJP after Prime Minister Narendra Modi went soft on Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik during his recent visit to the state.
Ever since you left the BJD, there has been a guessing game regarding your plans. Now that the Lok Sabha elections and the Odisha Assembly polls are just around the corner and there is not enough time for you to launch a party, do we conclude that you are on your way to the BJP?
Many people made similar comments about me. They used to say that I am soft on the BJP and that I have an ulterior motive, that I will quit BJD and join BJP. This is not true as I have proven. It has been seven months since I quit BJD and resigned from Parliament on principle… I have been travelling extensively in Odisha, meeting people and trying to decide my position. The reason some people used to say that I am aligned with the BJP is because some of my articles they interpreted as pro-Modi. The reality is a little different. I have been involved with the BJD from its founding and at the founding itself, it became an ally of the BJP. So we had a common programme and I had to champion that programme….It so happened that several of those ideas got implemented when Modi became Prime Minister. I am not a hypocrite…to criticise those. For instance, the activism against VVIP culture. I have been writing against VVIP culture, asking for removal of red light beacons. It happened two years ago and I welcomed it.
I asked this question because if you want to launch a party, there is not enough time left for you do that.
I think there is just enough time to form a party. I have not ruled out any option till now, although I am now in the final stages. I will have to decide within the next couple of weeks. You are right – elections are near. My decision will be based on whoever is aligned with my philosophy. BJD has gone wrong and things need to change in Odisha. Whoever is serious about bringing about change… in the last (year) there has been a sharp rise in crime and corruption in Odisha… If you look at the chit fund scam. ..Rs 20,000 crore of money the public lost…. Interestingly, neither the Congress nor the BJP took any action when they were in government in Delhi….What does this mean… That the BJD has very successfully played the Congress and the BJP against each other. BJD has convinced both national parties that don’t fight us seriously…otherwise the other national party will gain. Congress made that mistake and slipped to third position. BJP has gradually grown to the second position in Odisha but now seems to be making the same mistake.
If you have a find a partner, once you form the party, and if both the parties are in a tacit understanding with the BJD, what are the options left for you?
Political parties can make their tacit understandings but the people of Odisha are outraged. I have been traveling extensively and I can see that seething anger against the problems that are happening in Odisha. There is severe joblessness…You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time. That time may be coming.
But BJD won so recently in panchayat elections?
Recently, the party has gone wrong because Naveen has mostly delegated (work) now to a new coterie in the last five years. The new coterie was not involved in the building up of the party or in its (struggles) for its original 15 years. They are giving shelter to criminals entering the party. They are the cause for much ill-will against BJD. Naveen’s own popularity has been sliding. He still has goodwill. It is not that he is unpopular, but his popularity is much less than his peak popularity… If there is a combined effort from the opposition, he is not in an unassailable position…whether he will be able to campaign that vigorously (as he has done in the past) throughout the state for 15 hours a day is also a big question.
How can the opposition put up a combined effort?
It can’t be obviously BJP and the Congress. But there are plenty of dissatisfied people from the erstwhile Biju parivar. Those of us who had the opportunity of working with Biju u”cle “Bijaynanda “Biju” Patnaik), helped Naveen to build the party, most have been sidelined.
But history of the BJD weighs heavily against you. Be it Dilip Ray or Bijoy Mohapatra or Pyarimohan Mohapatra, none of them who left the BJD and launched political parties could succeed.
None of them left the BJD. I am the only one who has left the BJD. There is a difference. The difference is all these other people were thrown out of BJD.
My point is they had all failed.
You are broadly right. There are nuances there where I do not agree with you at all. Most of the people who were asked to leave the BJD did not have public traction. For the last months I have demonstrated that there is public traction. I have had many many large gatherings. What formula was prevalent when a party has been in power for five years or 10 years will not necessarily work when a party has been in power for 20 years, because there is something called an accumulated anti-incumbency….nothing is for ever.
If you were to launch a political party, you need leaders at district levels and regions. No party can go the electorate and win over night with one single leader.
For several months, all of these leaders have been publicly appealing for me to take a decision. Damodar Rout, Braja Tripathy, Bijoy Mohapatra…Rout has openly said I should form a party and lead. Others have been saying that we are all waiting for Jay Panda’s decision…My decision has also been supported by many members of the local Congress and the local BJP (units). You are right that nothing can happen overnight. But this is a story that has been building for many years. There is an anti-incumbency of 19 years. I think the anti-incumbency is of five years because the first three terms there was a different type of BJD…if a new party were to be formed, there will be no dearth of viable candidates wanting to fight. Because if one of the major national parties is perceived to have a tacit understanding with the BJD and not wanting to seriously fight…many of its own members will get disgusted and come out. Similarly, a new party does not have to fight on all seats. If there is a tie-up with another party, you fight 50-50 or 60-40 of the seats…these are the ways a credible combination can come.
The BJP hopes to make major gains in Odisha and Bengal. What is your prognosis?
The BJP has been announcing that the East is its new hunting ground…they were targeting (West) Bengal and Odisha…the irony is that the BJP had actually started to do very well in Odisha. Two years ago, in panchayat elections…they had a 10 times growth… 1000 per cent growth. Then I think they have mostly dropped the ball. They made a strategic mistake on the Bijepur by-election by wrongly making it a prestige issue and got wiped out….there are reports emerging now that the BJP is going to have a tacit understanding with the BJD because it has lost the nerve to fight in Odisha….the reality is that they were actually growing….they edged out the Congress and grown to become number two party…recently the Prime Minister has gone a couple of times and he is perceived to be somewhat soft on Naveen Patnaik. But his colleagues are still at it. It is sending confusing signals. When the prime minister goes to Odisha and talks about Congress – Congress is the third party – what does that indicate? There is confusion in the Odisha BJP.