You have fought a number of elections since 1997. How different is 2019?
Every election is different…but if one keeps people at the centre then, there is not much change in strategies and planning
I don’t think so. We go to people with our good work. Democracy should not work on the basis of personalities.
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You have rolled out several welfare schemes since you took over as the chief minister in 2000. Have they yielded the desired result on the state of affairs and the lives of people in Odisha? What do you have to say about the argument that rolling out sops is bad economics?
Of course they have. Odisha is above national average in almost all socio-economic indicators. From a state known for poverty, now it is known for the sharpest decline in poverty in the country. We used to be dependent on other states for feeding our own people, but now we are the third largest contributor to the food security of the country.
Spending on food, health, shelter and social securities are not sops. I strongly believe in inclusive growth.
At a time when the central government was facing farmers’ anger, the BJD government announced the KALIA scheme. Do you think the PM-KISAN scheme is influenced by KALIA scheme?
KALIA is more progressive as it includes landless labourers and share croppers. It has created a model for the entire country.
During a tour of Odisha, The Indian Express has heard the voters, especially those in towns, say that they would back the BJD in the Assembly election, but vote for Modi in the Lok Sabha polls. Being a leader who knows the electorate so well, do you think voters would start differentiating between the two elections?
I don’t think this will have much of an impact in the final results.
How do you rate Narendra Modi’s five years as Prime Minister?
Well, Odisha is certainly disappointed. BJP had kept special category status to Odisha as its number one manifesto promise in 2014, only to be dropped in the 2019 manifesto. I can’t understand why coal royalty, which legally should be revised every three years, is not done (even) in five years, leading to revenue loss of crores of rupees for the state. Farmers and the youth are very disappointed.
You have worked with Atal Bihari Vajpayee and other leaders in the BJP? Do you see any difference between the BJP of early 2000s and the current one?
Vajpayeeji’s time was a time of mutual respect and understanding, irrespective of how small or big a party you are. In fact, Vajpayeeji’s handling of a coalition is something of a benchmark in world politics.
Do you see the possibility of a single party getting majority at the Centre in the ongoing elections?
I don’t think any national party is getting a majority on it’s own.
That means the game is open. Are you one of the possible Prime Ministerial candidates?
I am committed and content to work for the people of Odisha. I have no national ambitions whatsoever.
What would be the role of BJD at the national level after the election?
We have put in our manifesto that BJD will support whoever will take care of the just needs of Odisha.
Critics say that BJD let the BJP grow in Odisha by blurring the lines between the two ideologies — by extending support to the BJP in several controversial issues like land acquisition Bill and demonetisation.
That’s not true. We have supported many Bills and we have opposed many. We support whatever is good for the country.
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Do you regret supporting demonetisation?
We supported it as it was against black money. But at the implementation level, it failed and the poor had to endure a lot of hardship.
The Opposition says national security became the main focus in the elections because the BJP government has failed in other fronts. Do you agree?
When you get a huge mandate based on something which you promised to do for people and if you don’t do that, people will definitely understand.
There is a view that the 2019 election is witnessing an unprecedented communal polarisation, with the majority backing one party, and the minorities feel insecure. Do you agree?
To an extent, it’s true and it’s not good for the country. Politics based on sensationalism may yield (returns) in short run but will damage the democratic fabric in the long run.
You seem to be really passionate about the issue of women empowerment. During my travels in the state, many women appreciated what you have done to empower them financially and politically. What are your plans to take forward your initiatives on that front? Do you also think there should be more efforts to push the Women’s Reservation Bill?
Absolutely. We have provided 33 per cent reservation to women in Parliamentary constituencies and it will be BJD’s endeavour to follow this up at the national level. We have 70 lakh women in SHGs (Self Help Groups) under our Mission Shakti programme. We are going to outsource a number of government services to our SHGs in addition to developing entrepreneurial capabilities.
You have invited Prime Minister Modi for your swearing-in after the results. Was that a friendly gesture in the wake of the Prime Minister’s remark about giving “farewell” to you from Odisha this time?
It is also based on our feedback from the field that by the blessings of people of Odisha, the BJD is getting majority mark at the end of the third phase itself.
There are some videos doing rounds in social media with you cracking jokes and laughing out loud inside the campaign bus. Is it a deliberate attempt to project a cool CM in the midst of this fiery and bitter election campaign?
I spent a lot of time travelling on the road and meeting people. In spite of the severe heat wave, the enthusiasm and energy with which people have greeted me throughout is infectious and a very humbling experience. Sometimes the energy of the crowd also catches on to you.