Known for his few words and characteristic enigma, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik on Friday kept his cards close to his chest, but did not rule out emergence of a Third Front as an alternative to the Congress and the BJP with their shrinking political space.
In a free-wheeling session with Editorial Director of “The New Indian Express” Prabhu Chawla and senior journalist Shankkar Aiyar during the inaugural session of the Odisha Literary Festival here, Naveen __ not used to such volley of queries __ replied with his emphatic pause.
But he was non-committal about a clear picture emerging from the current political scenario. “It is early days to talk about such a formation (Third Front) now, but it is possible in future,” was his crisp reply when he was drawn into issues such as the big bang reforms and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee’s mercurial politics.
Naveen, however, made it clear he does not harbour any ambition to become prime minister like leaders of other regional parties. “I harbour no such ambition. I want to serve Odisha in office or out of it,” he said, adding he wanted to be elected by the people of the State to serve them.
The BJD supremo did agree that both the UPA and the NDA are increasingly getting marginalised and the numbers would crash in the next election. Recent elections have shown these trends with coalition government being formed at the Centre. “We will have to learn to work with the new system, for economic reasons or otherwise,” he said.
Naveen reiterated the BJD stand of equidistance from the Congress and the BJP. Though the Chief Minister maintained that big ticket reforms, announced by the Centre in recent days, are a camouflage to divert attention from its failures, he refused to take a clear stand on the issue.
These would be discussed on the floor of Parliament, was his cryptic reply. “Opening up the retail sector does not apply to Odisha as no city has a population of more than 10 lakh,” he pointed out.
To a question on whether he will support the proposed Bill on increasing FDI cap in the insurance sector, Naveen said, “it needs a great deal of examination to reply to such a question.” Asked whether he supports Mamata on the issue of FDI and other reform measures, Naveen said he will take the opinion of others in the party for a decision.
The Chief Minister maintained that during the last few years, the Centre had been trying to usurp the federal rights of the States. He observed that the less the centralisation, the better it will be for administration.
To a question on malnutrition, the Chief Minister stressed the situation has improved and the State has made great strides. Naveen listed out some of the welfare schemes __ Mamata for pregnant women and `2-a-kg rice scheme implemented in the State. The States, Naveen said, should be consulted by the Centre for better implementation of welfare schemes.
Naveen struck an optimistic note on the country’s future. To a question what headline he would give to a story on India, Naveen said, “It will be difficult for anyone to write a story of India”. India has so far survived all the downs. “Let us be optimistic for the ups.”
Asked what would be the title of his biography, Naveen’s parting shot was: “It is very pompous to think of a biography.”