The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is gaining ground in Odisha. Its face in the state, Union minister Dharmendra Pradhan believes his party will defeat Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal (BJD) to form a “double-engine" government—in Odisha as well as at the centre. Odisha is a laboratory of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pro-poor policies, said Pradhan, adding that the BJP in Odisha is like the Ganga and people are joining it to cleanse themselves. Edited excerpts:
Migration is a challenge for Odisha. Your party speaks about scalability of skills to address such issues. How to do this?
Around one-third of Odisha youth are migrating for economic and employment opportunities. Odisha has a natural advantage. It has four major factors for economic growth—minerals, power, a coastline, and petrochemical recycling. Its coastline gives access to the eastern part of the world. For Odisha’s growth, we need trained human resources and if we can train those who are going out, it will be better. To a large extent, the plumbers of India are from Odisha. Now, plumbing does not mean, only sanitary connection to the houses. Gas pipeline connection is growing and will be available across 400 districts soon. Gas line plumbing is a new opportunity. Drip irrigation and industrial pipelines also provide opportunities if you can acquire some extra skills. Odias are good in English and we can tap the service sector better. Similarly, Europe and the Middle East need drivers, we can upskill our people and tap that market to boost the remittance economy of the state.
You spoke about double-engine government. What are the three things that will help BJP stage an upset in Odisha?
We will stage an upset. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has a lot of credibility in the state. Odisha is a laboratory of Modi’s pro-poor programmes. Houses, LPG connections, toilets and electricity connections have been provided to the poor. The things helping BJP are PM Modi, the credibility crisis of Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik, the anti-incumbency due to 19 years of misrule by the BJD, and the growth in BJP’s organizational capacity in the last five years. Five years ago, our party president Amit Shahhad said Odisha is a priority and he has helped expand our capacity in the state.
BJP speaks of development but the Odisha manifesto almost matches the freebies of BJD. How do you justify this?
We have spoken about a ₹1 trillion irrigation plan, we have promised a ₹1 trillion rural development fund for healthcare, schools, and roads. They are not doles. We are speaking about incentives for women’s education. The rice, dal, and salt we promise are not doles, but nutrition. We have talked about Ayushman Bharat, the health insurance scheme. You cannot compare our manifesto with that of the BJD.
The BJP is building a narrative around Balakot. Is it an issue for Odia voters?
Do you think fighting with Pakistan is a disturbing issue? Two of the 40 CRPF men killed in that convoy are from Odisha. This state has national pride and spirit. The country is in that mood. It’s an issue. I am talking about it.
BJP candidates seem to use similar language while raising issues. Is there any individual leadership in BJP here?
We are a national party. Everyone has their way of communicating. Central issues are what we have spoken about. Modi’s leadership and attacking Patnaik’s government are political issues. In 2014, there was a Modi wave, but we could not capture that in the state because we did not have organizational capacity. This time, we have planned it. We have two slogans: for Odisha: “Rajya sarkar badaliba darker (the state government must change)" and for the centre: “Fir ek bar, Modi sarkar (Modi once more)".
The BJP in Odisha has grown inorganically. Several leaders from other parties joined, but they don’t share the party ideology. Is there a conflict of beliefs?
No. BJP workers understand that we have to expand, adjust and accommodate. Who is joining us? Those who are anti-Naveen Patnaik, those who believe Congress cannot fight, and new people without any political background. Aparajita Sarangi in Bhubaneswar quit her IAS job to join us, former Odisha police chief Prakash Mishra joined us. The BJP is like the Ganga and people are bathing in it and cleansing themselves.
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