Union petroleum minister Dharmendra Pradhan sees BJP's performance in Odisha panchayat elections as the beginning of a major political shift against BJD
Bhubneswar: Odisha panchayat elections have given the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) a reason to celebrate. Union petroleum minister and BJP leader Dharmendra Pradhan, who micromanaged the show in the state, says he sees this as the beginning of a major political shift and the party, he hopes, will gain significantly by 2019, when general elections are due.
In an interview, he spoke about the BJP strategy, the robust performance, how it made inroads in coastal Odisha and why “Modi matters" even in local polls. Edited excerpts from an interview:
You are not the winner but clearly a strong opposition now. Why do you think people gave votes to BJP this time?
This is the acceptance of Narendra Modi’s good administration and indication of people’s faith in his pro-people work, especially after the November demonetization move. We have improved allocation to states in terms of rail and road investments. Petroleum sector has a Rs1.25 trillion investment plan for the state.
On the other hand, it is a clear rejection of a stagnant BJD (Biju Janata Dal) government led by chief minister Naveen Patnaik.
Local elections are fought on local issues. Why should rural Odisha bother about Modi, demonetization and other national issues?
Modi matters. In rural, tribal, underdeveloped areas he matters most. That’s why we have got so many votes from this section of the people. Districts like Kalahandi, Malkangiri and Balangir have voted us. Modi matters through drinking water, and clean toilet facilities, through road and rail connections to hinterlands.
The state economic survey pegs 7.94% growth rate for Odisha, better than the national growth rate (7.1%). Why then only talk about negativity?
If that is the case, then Japanese encephalitis deaths in the state are untrue. Then Nagada child deaths did not happen, and Dana Majhi case where a poor tribal has to carry his wife for 10km for medical care was untrue. This is a failed government projecting a rosy picture via the economic survey.
Yes, they are facts and you have made them poll issues. But when Nagada was in national news, Gadchiroli, Maharashtra, reported a far higher number of malnutrition deaths. Isn’t your view one sided?
We are in power in Maharashtra for two years and it cannot be compared with 17 years of BJD rule.
As expected, BJP has done well in western Odisha but the bigger picture it seems is your party has made significant inroads in coastal Odisha. What was the strategy?
I shall repeat that it’s trust on Modi and rejection of Naveen babu (Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik). Besides, we have consciously made efforts in the last two-and-a-half years to stand as a strong opposition in the state. We have taken the organization to the polling booth level—much deeper than blocks and panchayats; we have tried to reach out to more youth, women and underprivileged. We had carried out huge organizational expansion in last two-and-half years.
In 2014, there was a Modi wave in the country. But in Odisha we could not convert the sentiment to winning margins. Post analysis, we realized that in a sizable portion of Odisha we did not have an organizational strength. In last two-and-a-half years, we have corrected the organizational capacity and its impact gave us results in 2017 Panchayat polls, especially in coastal belt.
BJP has invested a lot in the state?
After 2014 elections, our party president had given a political statement—to strengthen BJP in east and Coromandel Coast states—Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra, Telangana, Odisha, West Bengal and Assam. PM Modi has already said that composite growth of India is not possible without development of eastern India. This is not possible without a strong BJP. We have come to power in Assam; in West Bengal our position has become strong. In Odisha our popularity was in certain pockets and it has now expanded across. We have taken responsibility and exposed the failure of the state government.
So, your look east policy means look east politics?
I don’t see this as contradictory. BJP coming to power will bring better administration and development. Where is the conflict?
Panchayat polls are over…what next?
This is the beginning of a huge change. We have to make the party go to people more and get rooted across. We shall make the organization stronger. Despite state using its power, we have done exceedingly well. You will see a huge change in political weather in Odisha by 2019.
You have your problems too. Your state president’s home constituency—Nuapada—did not earn you any seats. Your and union tribal affairs minister Jual Oram’s home districts too have gone to BJD.
Ans: Nuapada is an aberration and we shall do the analysis. I accept this, and we have to find out why people did not give us enough votes. About Anugul and Sudergarh, we have done better. The BJD people should look within and see how they have got routed in several places.
Political parties here including Congress have said that BJP has distributed lots of money in the polls. What’s your view?
Congress should think about its own house. People have rejected them completely. It’s the Congress party, not us, who are dealing with black money.
The buzz in your state party unit is that BJP is going to project Pradhan as its answer to Naveen Patnaik. Am I talking to BJP’s next CM candidate?
In BJP, we work as party workers…we don’t see dreams. Whatever responsibility my party has given me, I am trying my level best to deliver on it.