Baijayant Panda, one of the prominent faces of the BJD, joined the BJP last month. With the party leadership looking forward to gaining much from his experience in a state where the BJP hopes to make electoral gains, Panda has been appointed national vice president.
Kendrapara is a BJD bastion. How does it feel fighting as a BJP candidate?
The electorate has evolved a lot and people are making up their own minds rather than voting on traditional lines… My experience is that earlier, the BJD had been winning the seat with falling margins. But then, when I contested, I won with a high margin. I have spent 10-15 days on an average every month in Kendrapara. I have stood by people during good times and bad, and they have given me a lot of love and affection.
How different is it for you now, after being with the BJD for so many years, to approach people as a BJP candidate?
I am one of the founding members of the BJD… People have seen how the party has changed… There has been a sharp rise in corruption and goondaism over the past decade, particularly in the last five to six years. Last year, in Jammu and Kashmir, a little girl was gang raped and killed. In Odisha, there were 50 such cases in the last three years….
I quit the BJD when my father, who was one of Biju Patnaik’s closest friends, passed away and not a single person from the party met me. I resigned because of my swabhiman (self respect). I did not join any political party immediately. I spent nine months travelling to Kendrapara and other parts of the state to collect public feedback. People believe that I took the decision for a genuine reason, not because of self interest. Many urged me to join the BJP in Kendrapara.
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But people say you left the BJD because of personal ambitions as Naveen Patnaik was not ready to name you his successor?
I have spent 18 years in Parliament and I have never sought positions. I have a track record of standing up for issues — I stood up against VIP culture… I have always supported economic and social justice issues.
But you wanted to float a party?
When I left the BJD, there were assumptions that I would join some party. But that was not my intention… Many people offered me suggestions — while some advised me to join the BJP, other asked me to float a new party. I told them I… would explore all options.
It is alleged that your political moves are closely linked to your business interests. How do you respond to such allegations?
My family’s business interests are widely known in Odisha… When I got involved in politics, I kept away from the day-to-day functioning of the company… You cannot find a single politician or bureaucrat who can tell you that Jay Panda asked for favours for his company….
How difficult is the battle for you in Kendrapara?
I will reach out to people through my campaign. They (the BJD) have put up a filmstar against me. The newspaper Sambad, owned by a BJD MP, carried a front page report saying the party could not find a candidate to fight against Panda in Kendrapara as none of the heavy weights were willing to fight from there.
I am only concerned about the Biju Yuva Vahini, a group set up with government funds. These youths are being paid to do party work. The CAG had raised objections and their payment of Rs 5,000 a month has been held. Dubbed as the Biju Goonda Vahini, this group has been involved in violence, including assaulting political figures… But I have faith in the ECI.
How strong is the Modi wave in Odisha?
It is phenomenal. Last time when the Modi wave hit the country, Odisha did not witness it. Odisha has the track record of being one cycle behind the national cycle… If you talk to the youths, you will feel it.
How is the BJD faring? Is this BJD 2.0 ?
It’s actually 3.0. The BJD was founded when the Janata Dal was collapsing and the BJP was not strong in Odisha. Many people wanted to join the BJP then, but the leadership including (A B) Vajpayeeji and (L K) Advaniji thought… the party was not yet big enough. In fact, the BJP helped in establishing the BJD… The BJD was an ally of the BJP for 11 years. This was BJD 1.0, which was against corruption and goondagiri.
The BJD broke ties with the BJP after Naveen and Pyarimohan Mohapatra sensed that the party had grown enough to fight on its own. Then the Congress slipped to second position and the BJD became the largest party. That was BJD 2.0. Soon corruption started ruining the party — there was illegal mining and chit fund companies etc. This was BJD 3.0. Naveen’s popularity was at the peak in 2014, but it has now sliding. But the party is extremely unpopular.
For the first time, Odisha is witnessing so many defections.
Most of the movement is towards the BJP… After the BJD broke the alliance with the BJP, there was the TINA (There Is No Alternative) factor. Now for the first time in 20 years, there is an alternative. There are few instances of people joining the BJP and then returning to the BJD. It’s because the BJD is throwing money.
Is the BJP not spending money?
The BJP spends legitimate money. The party spends on campaigns, communication, organising big meetings for PM Modi. The BJD does all that with government money.