The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s prominent face in Odisha and party candidate from Kendrapara Lok Sabha constituency Baijayant 'Jay' Panda says corruption and hooliganism has seeped deep in the BJD, the party he was once associated with since its inception. Panda, who quit the Naveen Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal last year following allegations of “anti-party activities”, is confident of his win from Kendrapara as he has stood by the people there and they too have shown their support even after his suspension from the parent party. The BJD has fielded popular Odia actor Anubhav Mohanty against him. Speaking exclusively to News18 Network, Panda says after May 23, Narendra Modi will be sworn in as the prime minister once again.
How do you look at this battle for Kendrapara, your constituency, and Naveen Patnaik making it a high-stake battle?
Well that’s understandable. Kendrapara is like the “Amethi” of Odisha. It had voted once for the Congress in 1952 and after that, it has always voted for the Janta Pariwar. It had elected Biju Patnaik, former Lok Sabha speaker Rabi Ray and many other stalwarts of Odisha politics. Many people consider it to be a pocket borough of the BJD and to consider the prospects of losing it to the BJP must indeed be a quite daunting one. So it is only understandable that they have made it a prestige battle.
Anubhav Mohanty is a star and he is believed to have the support of a lot of youth voters.
I have no comments about that. I will say (only) this that I am not new to Kendrapara voters. The place has given me enormous love and affection. I have slogged unceasingly. If you look at all the 543 MPs, the amount of time that I have spent in Kendrapara when I represented it in the Lok Sabha is among the highest. And, it is not just about spending time here, but standing by the electorate during its good and bad times, including floods. I have played a role in bringing back hundreds of Odia men and women working in war zones, like Iraq and Afghanistan. It was during my term that we had seen major development here. Kendrapara did not have a railway line, although it had such prestigious representatives. The first railway line construction began during my term and it is nearing completion.
You were one the founding members of the BJD and then this bitterness with the separation.
The initial years when Naveen’s image was built up, we all worked very hard. I was working in Delhi as a Member of Parliament and the kind of action that Naveen took initially was because of the common joint agenda with the BJP. There were very strong action against corruption, ‘gunda giri’ (hooliganism)… we had seen a lot of this during the previous Congress government before the BJP-BJD government came to power here. What happened was that over the past five-six years, the BJD has changed dramatically. I tried to sort it out internally first and then I was compelled to speak out publicly when Naveen was no longer responsive. I had to speak out and that I think led to the fallout.
After that fallout you made this transition to the BJP. Why BJP? Why not Congress?
For a while, people said I would join the BJP and some people said I would join another party. For a long while, there were also speculations that I would start a regional party, but finally I did what my conscience told me, what my voters told me. There was a meeting of minds… the BJP is right for me and I do feel at home here.
So now that you are feeling at home, it’s being said the BJP has fielded candidates who are from other parties. So these are borrowed feathers.
When a party surges so rapidly, it’s only logical (that) we need to get more talent, because if we have to grow steadily for the next 10 years, we would have to build up our own talent base. But our own talent is also represented in many seats across the state, while a lot more needs to be acquired. It is indicative that a large number of people who had survived in Biju and Naveen Patnaik’s cabinets, who had survived in the alliance government under Vajpayeeji, have now decided to switch over to the BJP. It should tell you something about the mood of the people that these leaders represent.
Are all of you contesting in the name of (Prime Miniser) Narendra Modi? You know because increasingly when I speak to people they talk about Modi and Patnaik.
One thing is very clear, Odisha wants Narendra Modi to be the PM of India again.
Given the kind of bitterness between you and Naveen Patnaik, would you accept that this battle of yours is perhaps the toughest that you have faced in recent times?
Let me make it clear — there is no bitterness on my side, bitterness is all on his side. He has recently spoken to a major national channel making ridiculous comments, like I was spreading rumours about his health and that I was eyeing his chair. It’s almost like a school boy complaining to the principal rather than a seasoned 19-year-old chief minister speaking.
Did you make effort to iron out the differences with him?
Well, look five-six years ago, when the party was indulging in ‘gundaism’ and massive corruption, I made many private efforts. But for the first time in many years, I realised he was not responsive and then, I was compelled to go public. As I told you, with the spate of gang rapes and murders, it is unconscionable for any Odia not to speak up for it and I couldn’t hold my peace any longer. After failing to force the party towards correction at that time, I had to go public.
Last question to you, what is happening on May 23? And what is happening in Kendrapara because of the nature of this battle?
On May 23, Modiji is certainly going to be sworn in as the next Prime Minister of India once again and I have confidence that there will be a BJP government in Odisha, as well. I have got tremendous love and respect and support from the people of Kendrapara. You can see the track record even when I was not in any party for nine months, travelling around on my own, I got enormous crowd turning up for my meetings, supporting me, but I will say this the BJD, over the last few years, has slid into ‘gunda-gardi’ (hooliganism). It has set up a statewide organisation called the Biju Yuva Wahini, which is popularly called as Biju Gunda Vahini. It is a state-funded Rs 450 crore government entity that is actually doing budgeting work. The CAG has taken up the matter with the government saying you cannot use government funds to hire thousands of men to do ‘gunda-gardi’. They have beaten up senior opposition leaders on live television, interrupted my public meetings and other senior opposition party leaders meetings. My only concern is Kendrapara, because as you mentioned in the beginning, they have made it a prestige battle and there is some personal bitterness on the other side, they will unleash malpractices. So I say this to you and your viewers as I have also been posting on social media and appealing to citizens to be alert and as the Prime Minister said, ‘Ghar Ghar mein Chowkidar’. I have appealed to citizens to use the Election Commission’s C-Vigil app to report malpractices.