As the elections come to an end in Odisha, one politician stands out in terms of putting everything into campaigning. After as many as 117 public meetings in 30 days, canvassing for party candidates across the nook and corner of the State, Union Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Dharmendra Pradhan’s dark tan says it all. With electioneering concluding, Pradhan is in a mood to look back at the hectic days and evaluate the position of BJP in the State. Excerpts of his interview with Deputy Resident Editor Siba Mohanty and Bijoy Pradhan.
What is your assessment of the election?
Two important things have so far emerged in this election. One is the humongous credibility and popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He is the centrifugal force of BJP for the election campaigning in Odisha this time. Narendra Modi is the single most factor which is going to influence the outcome of this election.
Second, from day one, we wanted that politics of development and welfare of the poor - Sab Ka Saath Sab Ka Vikas - should be our central point in this election and percolate down to the grassroots. We have succeeded in our endeavour and this is going to convert in big votes and pay huge dividend to BJP in the State.
After campaigning so extensively across the length and breadth of the State, can you put a finger on the kind of number BJP is going to get this time?
That is irrelevant. Odisha is heading for a big change is all I can say. This number game is the job of psephologists and media. As a political activist, I can say there will be a paradigm shift in Odisha politics. The people have voted to end corruption, nepotism and dynastic politics.
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Is there any bigger factor than Modi wave and anti-incumbency against Naveen Patnaik Government that can swing the election in favour of BJP?
These factors were there in previous elections too but we were not organised. We were in alliance with the BJD till 2009. After 2009, Congress was principal opposition. But it squandered the opportunity to fight out BJD in 2009 and 2014 as Naveen Babu was in good terms with the Congress high command. We were not in a position to fight BJD in 2014. We started organising ourselves from 2014 after Narendra Modi became PM. My party president Amit Shah identified Odisha as a priority State. With the good works of the Prime Minister, we got the credibility and the acceptability of the people.
You are alleging a secret pact between BJD and Congress. How do you think it will benefit BJP?
That is the reason we have grown exponentially in coastal belt. Congress vote is shifting to our party. More than 20 senior Congress leaders have crossed over and are now our candidates. The process started from the panchayat polls in 2017. People are becoming anti-Naveen day by day. They are looking at Modi and BJP as the party which can defeat Naveen Patnaik as Congress slips into irrelevance.
Don’t you think the change of large number of sitting MLAs and MPs by Naveen Patnaik will help BJD?
Where is the change? They (BJD) have retained the same set of candidates in Assembly elections as the situation almost went out of hand. There is a great fear of Modi and maintaining status quo despite anti-incumbency against incumbents is a sign of that. He (Naveen) replaced some of the MPs with the hope that he will have leverage in case there is a minority Government in Delhi. But people have rejected the idea. They want a stable and decisive Government at the Centre.
How can you say this when Naveen Patnaik has no link with regional political parties and the Mahagathbandhan?
Naveen Babu is a rank opportunist. He has no ideology. He is looking for an unstable Government at the Centre so that he can call the shots.
The Chief Minister has intensively campaigned in this elections. Do you think that will be a challenge for BJP?
Not at all. There will be absolutely no impact in Odisha. I am confident of a BJP win.
BJP has not projected any CM face in this election but it is quite clear that you are the man for the top job. What is your comment?
BJP is not a family party. It is the largest democratic party in the world. The Parliamentary board of my party will take a decision on the matter. Today, we are fighting the election under collective leadership. I count myself as a junior worker of the party. Lot of experienced people like Jual Oram, KV Singh Deo, Pratap Sarangi, Basanata Panda are there. New people like Baijayant Panda have come in. Decision on leadership issue will be taken at an appropriate time.
How do you see the election in Kendrapara where the BJD is not leaving anything to chance?
Kendrapara will be the Waterloo for BJD. The BJD will taste defeat for the first time there.