CUTTACK : Biju Janata Dal (BJD) chief and Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik is seeking a fifth term in office, but faces several challenges. Party veteran and senior leader Bhartruhari Mahtab says BJD will win but concedes that an aggressive BJP has grown stronger and is in direct fight with the BJD. Edited excerpts:

What’s the situation in Odisha this election season compared to 2014?

In 2014, the UPA, Manmohan Singh and Congress were sliding. Now, we have Modi sarkar, and the BJP is quite resourceful. They have not achieved what they promised in 2014, but the BJP campaign in Odisha is very new. BJP is very aggressive in the state. They say we are a defunct (electric) transformer, our reply is: We are no more dependent on transformers, as we have set up electric grids. Organizationally, BJP is not strong, but they occupy public space via the audio-visual media which propagate their view. The election resources with them are a huge challenge (for us). Was it necessary to have a four-phase election in Odisha? You have one-day elections in Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, but four-phases in Odisha. Once you lengthen the election process, it targets the regional party to a great extent.

Between 2014 and 2019, Naveen Patnaik has not grown stronger. Has it given others an opportunity?

That’s not true. Naveen babu is our leader, he is the chief minister. Our policies revolve around him. In the last five years, his stature has grown, especially among youth and women. Reservation of 33% seats for women has gone down well. We are highlighting how both the BJP and the Congress have betrayed the interests of Odisha in the last 10 years. We will support a government (at the centre) that will protect the interests of the state. We believe no national party will be in a position to form a government on its own.

Employment and migration are a concern. What has the BJD done?

It’s not that people are forced to migrate. Undergraduate girls are trained here in sewing and are working in Coimbatore and Tirupur for better opportunities. We have started garment factories in Cuttack and Bhubaneswar. More will come up. Yes, those going to Telangana to work in the brick kiln industry are exploited. It’s difficult to stop migration. The more our people go out, they earn more, the state becomes richer.

Is anti-incumbency the biggest challenge for BJD?

No. Since 2004, we have countered anti-incumbency by fielding new candidates. In 2004, 2009, and 2014, there was very little revolt or migration from our party. In 2019, we have only repeated four of the 21 candidates who contested in 2014. Anti-incumbency is not a problem.

Which party is your direct competitor, Congress or BJP?

In 2014, we won 20 seats. BJP was number two in nine seats. The margin was huge. In 2019, in most seats, it’s BJD vs BJP. Congress is not in a situation to retain its 2014 position. It would have helped us had there been a triangular fight. The strategy is to directly fight with BJP.

How big an impact will Modi have?

Very little. People in Odisha know that these are seasonal birds who come during elections. They have never stood by us in our hour of need.

BJD’s focus on Patnaik has given BJP a chance to enter the state. Will its entry change the state?

Yes. Odisha encompasses all faiths and beliefs. BJP has only one agenda, which it believes is right. That’s not the future. BJP talks about one colour, one religion, one faith. It will not appreciate any other point of view. This is not appreciated here.

Will free gas cylinder to the poor, toilets and India’s strikes in Balakot help BJP?

Ujjwala will not have an impact. Regarding Balakot, Odias appreciated the manner in which our armed forces took action. Balakot was the need of the hour. But why will people vote for BJP? Armed forces have done their duty. It was appreciated that PM took the decision. We would support a government in Delhi provided Odisha’s causes are addressed.

So you are saying BJD will support any government at the centre provided they address your issues?

It’s a departure from our earlier policy of equidistance from Congress and BJP. This time, no national party will win majority on its own. Odisha will have a role in the formation of the central government. BJD will support a government that supports the legitimate right of Odisha. This will be our only agenda with the central government.

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