How has this General Election been different from 2014?
The 2014 election was one of hope; the 2019 election is of trust. The trust in (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi that he will do things, will give us our pride, jobs will be increased, and (country’s) security will be improved. People from the lowest strands of society started
having this faith in him. They started believing politics is not just about speeches, and that Modi will deliver.
The political community makes speeches, but Modi-ji had told the people, “I will be back in 2019 to seek your support and if you are happy with me, vote for me. I will give an account for everything.” Even in his speech after the election, he made it clear that every ill will be put behind — that he will not do anything for himself, nor will do anything with bad intention; that no one would be victimised…
‘2014 election was one of hope — the 2019 polls are about trust’
How important is the role of eastern India in the BJP getting such a massive mandate?
The BJP leadership had stated in 2013 that the country will not progress as long as East (India) is not developed. In my experience as a minister in Modi-ji’s cabinet, whenever there was a discussion on rolling out welfare schemes or big projects – be it rail, or road, or airport – states in eastern India were given priority. For example, in Ujjwala (Centre’s scheme to provide LPG connection to the poor), the largest number of beneficiaries are in West Bengal, Odisha and in Assam. Similar is the case with other schemes.
Priority in schemes, projects and even in the narrative for the eastern part of the country has been the Prime Minister’s approach. Our party president believes that only a strong organisation can take advantage of this and he started focusing on (BJP’s) organisation in these states in 2014 itself. He has visited Odisha on at least 30 occasions, and must have visited West Bengal more. This has helped the party earn the trust of people, and the results were shown in the electoral outcome — of 88 seats (in eastern India), the NDA won 44.
How do you see the Odisha result?
People in Odisha have faith in Prime Minister Modi. The Prime Minister did not approach these states with only a political ambition; he tried to be a part of the social life there. There was no festival on which he did not greet the people of Odisha; for the first time, artisans from Odisha got Padma awards. There had been no nominated Rajya Sabha members from Odisha until the Prime Minister made Raghunath Mohapatra. He visited (Odisha) many times (and) gave a number of projects to the state.
But BJP’s performance in Odisha was not like that in West Bengal.
How can you say that? Of 42 (LS seats), we won 18 in West Bengal, and won 8 of 21 in Odisha. We got 40 per cent votes in West Bengal and in Odisha we got 38 per cent. The Prime Minister acknowledged that. There is no Mamata Banerjee in Odisha.
Would the results have been different had the BJP been more aggressive against Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik?
I don’t think so. My Prime Minister was very aggressive during the campaign; my party president has been aggressive in Odisha for a long time. Every leader who visited Odisha contributed to building BJP as a force there.
The BJP’s vote share was 38 per cent for Parliamentary polls but the party got 5 per cent less votes in the Assembly elections. Do you think projecting a chief minister candidate would have made a difference?
We fought election aggressively —my party had decided to fight it with a collective leadership, so there was no issue of projecting anyone. But I have to concede that we could not inspire voters that much in the Assembly polls. It was not because there was no face (for CM post)…there was this difference in the vote share always.
Why did you not contest the election?
I had to plan and coordinate for every part of the state.
There is a view that the BJP’s gain in eastern India is because of steroids from the Central government, and that it will crumble later.
Some people refuse to appreciate the magnetic personality of Modi — even after this victory, they have this pathological hatred against Modi. This kind of people — the Khan Market crowd — created this impression that it’s a one-time wonder. The BJP has created a strong organisation in all the states. The BJP has a clear-cut methodology for building the party (in these states).
Two Lok Sabha constituencies in Odisha drew a lot of attention — Puri, where Sambit Patra was the candidate, and Kendrapara, which had Baijayant Panda. While Patra lost by a small margin, Panda, party vice-president, lost by a huge margin.
Both (of them) fought well. Odisha’s coastal areas are a stronghold of the BJD and has a strong Biju (Patnaik, the former chief minister) legacy. Panda was our best candidate in the coastal belt – had he not fought there, the BJP’s overall performance in the region would have been affected. Voters felt that the BJP was fighting to enter the state. In Puri, Sambit narrowly missed it.
Has this win in Assembly polls reaffirmed the invincibility of Naveen Patnaik in Odisha?
Statistics says it all. Where is the invincibility? In Lok Sabha (2014 election), the gap between number one and number two (BJD and Congress) was around 18 per cent. This time, it is only 4 per cent – between BJD and the BJP. (In Assembly polls also) it was 18 per cent between the BJD and the Congress; now it is 12 per cent between BJD and BJP.
Still, we have to accept the people’s verdict. Due to lack of a proper alternative, the swing vote always goes in favour of BJD. Things are changing now.
Talking of the Ujjwala scheme, in Odisha, like in many states, we have seen only a small percentage of people opt for refilling the cooking gas cylinder. Do you have any plans to improve it?
Accessibility was the challenge. People were not taking (gas) connection earlier because the upfront cost was too high; now the government has taken care of it. Regarding refilling, I am encouraged by the statistics on it. It is increasing, but there is a behavioural issue. Now women are realising that it is healthy and clean. I am optimistic.
Unlike in Bengal, where the third force has virtually melted away, in Odisha, the Congress still has about 15 per cent votes. Will it continue to be a triangular fight in the state?
I don’t see that. We were a distant third in the last two elections. We parted ways with BJD in 2009, but the Congress has become weaker than us (this time). Gradually, it is heading towards a bipolar politics.