What’s your overall assessment of the BJP’s prospects in Odisha?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s personal image, his decisiveness and the faith that the common people of Odisha have in him, will decide this election. He is the game changer of Odisha politics this time. The poor in the state are direct beneficiaries of a lot of welfare schemes of the Central government — around eight lakh Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana houses have been built in Odisha, more than 50 lakh toilets have been built, more than 40 lakh are beneficiaries of the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, 24 lakh new electricity connections have been given, 3,000 villages were electrified for the first time in the history of Odisha. Odisha is also one of the major beneficiaries of PM Modi’s financial inclusion schemes. After the Pulwama attack, national security has also become an issue.
After 19 years of the BJD government, there is no governance in Odisha today. Atrocities against women… migration, irrigation, clean drinking water, farmer distress are major issues. Corruption is the buzzword for this government. More than a dozen chit-fund scamsters are BJD candidates. People of this state are in a mood for change.
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While the BJP seems to have gained traction in urban areas, are rural areas, where schemes initiated by the BJD are very popular, a challenge for you?
There is lot of resentment over Kalia (a scheme for farmers started by the BJD government in January this year). The names of the ruling party’s ministers and their relatives figure in the list of beneficiaries. The Chief Minister claims more than 40 lakh people have benefited. Who are they? When the Election Commission asked, they did not have any answers. This is a big publicity stunt. Odisha is a rural state and 85 per cent of the population belong to rural areas. The BJP has made deep inroads into rural areas, which we saw during the panchayat elections. This election is going to mark a paradigm shift in Odisha politics. We are going to be No. 1 party.
Prime Minister Modi and BJP president Amit Shah have talked about “Tripura-like results” in Odisha.
The Congress and the BJD are one party serving each other’s cause. They are using the same narrative to oppose Modiji. Congress is a diminishing party in Odisha, it is no longer a force. Naveen Patnaik has said there will not be a majority government at the Centre. Which means that he is advocating for a mahamilavat government… The fight is between BJP and BJD.
There was a lot of resentment within the party over ticket distribution. Will that affect the BJP’s prospects?
Individual ambitions have no space during elections. Here the issue is whether Prime Minister Modi is getting re-elected or not, and whether the 19-year-old incumbent party should be there or not. Our political strategy is to make use of the strong undercurrents against the government. Some factors work in the Lok Sabha election and some others in the Assembly. Broadly, this election in Odisha is about how to throw out the corrupt BJD government and bring back Modi as Prime Minister. All other issues are irrelevant.
Besides Hinjili, Naveen Patnaik is also contesting from Bijepur.
Why did he go to Bijepur? Why did he choose a second seat for the first time in his politicial career? What was the compulsion? He will be defeated in both the seats.
You are not fighting this election. What is your plan for the future?
The issue is not Dharmendra Pradhan; it’s the prime ministership of Modi and whether Patnaik is going to continue. Who is going to replace Naveen Patnaik? Modi’s team. The BJP has a lot of competent leaders and we are fighting in a collective manner. I cannot decide my future. I may be the face, I may not be. I don’t have any personal agenda. My priority is to create a Modi impact in the state’s politics. Last time we missed the opportunity because we lacked organisational capacity, but over the last five years, we have built a strong organisation. I am confident we will make it this time.