BHUBANESWAR: People say a daughter-in-law has the responsibility to set the mother-in-law’s house right, and I want to set the house right," says Aparajita Sarangi, a 1994 batch IAS officer who quit civil services five months ago to contest from the Bhubaneswar Lok Sabha constituency as a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate.

Born in Bihar, she entered the civil service from the Odisha cadre, hence the daughter-in-law analogy she often mentions. Sarangi has worked as a bureaucrat for nearly 25 years, 19 of which were in the state. She was the collector of four districts before heading the state’s women empowerment mission.

Subsequently, she went on to become the municipal commissioner of Bhubaneswar and then the secretary for education and rural development.

Sarangi knows Odisha and its challenges well; not to forget her proficiency in Odia, an issue that has been a constant challenge for chief minister Naveen Patnaik despite being in power in the state for 19 years.

Wearing a Sambalpuri saree, Sarangi welcomes visitors with folded hands, and settles them around a white, round table at her office in Bhubaneswar. She’s been on the campaign trail for weeks but is never short of energy or ideas.

“I am very focused. I am pro-people. I have a strong emotional connect with the people of the state," she said, implying that her chances of winning are better than those of the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) candidate, Arup Mohan Patnaik, purely because of her ‘people connect’.

Sarangi says she works on the ground for 15 hours a day and sleeps less than four hours since she joined politics.

“As a people’s representative, one must have a tight grip over the issues of his or her constituency. I am trying my best to understand the challenges so that when I get elected, I can start working right from day one," she said, underlining her vision to create jobs, address the agrarian crisis and improve policy implementation.

Asked why she quit the comfortable life of a bureaucrat for the hurly-burly of politics, she said: “I was very comfortable in the Indian Administrative Service (IAS). I had the best of postings. After 25 years of service, I felt I had always worked in a limited environment. I have always been pro-people, and politics provides a larger canvas to serve them."

When she decided to take the plunge into politics, it was BJP she chose, inspired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership, working style and the BJP as “a party that focuses on good governance", she explained. “I want to do more for Bhubaneswar, for Odisha," she said.

Ordinary people, as well as analysts, believe that Sarangi is a doer, and her work, especially in beautifying Bhubaneswar during her stint as commissioner, is a net positive for her in the electoral battle.

“She has worked in slums, in the city, helped in creation of women’s self-help groups, and she understands the rural challenges. Her entry in the BJP has strengthened the saffron party to compete strongly in Bhubaneswar, which has been a BJD stronghold for two decades. But there are challenges: The Bhubaneswar Lok Sabha seat is not all about the capital city, it has seven assembly segments. The BJD is still popular outside the cities," said Gyanaranjan Swain, a political analyst. Swain said her rival candidate, Arup Patnaik, a retired IPS officer who served in key positions, including as the Mumbai police commissioner, is strong as well.

Sarangi says she is ready for the political challenge. As a working woman she faced challenges early in her career as a bureaucrat, and realized that she had to work hard, and stay focused to face gender inequality in any workspace. But she, like her party, feels that BJD is a spent force and chief minister Naveen Patnaik is losing credibility.

“People in Odisha see new hope in Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and an alternative in BJP. Earlier it was not the case. That’s why this gentleman (Naveen Patnaik) was continuing. He has a myopic vision. I have worked with the state government for 19 years. I held crucial positions in Odisha. I have seen the working of the government very closely. I would say that I never drew inspiration from the chief minister," the former bureaucrat said. She added that she had a discussion with her husband before resigning from the services.

“The state government has a myopic vision; its policies are ad hoc and thus provide quick-fix solution. I call it a doles and deals model of governance. People here want sustainable economic development and jobs. I believe they will bring change in the state this time," she said.

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