I am happy to be the punching bag for BJP: VK Pandian

In the middle of a gruelling campaign trail, the BJD leader and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s closest aide speaks to TNIE Odisha resident editor Siba Mohanty
I am happy to be the punching bag for BJP: VK Pandian

It was ‘Apana Mane Khusi Ta’ last time. This election, it has become ‘Naveen Patnaik Bhala Ki’. After almost 25 years, why does Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik feel the need to ask the people this? His popularity has by no means diminished. Is it because the Opposition has made VK Pandian its sole target. Is this an attempt to shift the narrative back to Naveen Patnaik?

This is his (Naveen’s) way of connecting with people. He has these one-liners which click. He wanted to respond because the Opposition is targeting the successful schemes apart from me. Mission Shakti, Biju Swasthya Kalyan Yojana, KALIA - all these schemes they are saying are not useful. Since the Opposition is criticising his schemes, the CM wanted to respond. Let the people tell. It takes the narrative back to development, linking it to Naveen Babu. He is not asking if he is good or bad but linking the development initiatives with him and then with the symbol of the party. He is the link between the government and the people. He gets response in electric waves.

Why do you think the BJP changed its poll pitch, nationally as well as in the state?

I think the BJP leadership changed the track nationally after the first phase when the voter turnout was not up to its expectation. It might have sensed that it was not doing as well as it would have wanted to. In the state, the BJP realised its attack on popular schemes like BSKY had boomeranged. They were forced to change the narrative to ‘outsider’ and targeted me. I was the easy target but I am happy to be the punching bag for the BJP.

That the BJD and BJP were very close to stitching a pre-poll alliance is certain. As it did not happen, is there a possibility of post-poll arrangement with the BJD joining NDA and BJP joining govt here?

Right now, we are in the middle of an election and our only priority is Naveen Babu getting 3/4th majority in the state Assembly and performing very well in the Lok Sabha. This is the only target. We are neither diverted nor distracted by anything else, like Arjuna was focused on the bird’s eye.

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Where did the alliance talk break?

It was between two great leaders who thought beyond politics for a greater cause. Some people did not understand or appreciate. That’s the pitfall. Every man cannot be a statesman. You need that kind of elevated thought process. Neither Naveen Babu nor PM Narendra Modiji needs any alliance to win any election. It was beyond politics but some people did not understand because they did not have the heart to.

While the alliance did not happen, this election very much looks like a fight by swapping candidates between BJD and BJP. For BJP it is understandable that finding candidates was difficult but why did BJD not choose fresh faces and instead rely on imports in many places?

There are some constituencies where you need political arithmetic to click. Wherever that arithmetic worked for us and people who came having respect for Naveen Babu’s development commitment, they have been honoured. It has much to do with their commitment for their place and local needs. BJP has much more imports than us and even given tickets to people with criminal antecedents, the same set of people against which the party had held prolonged agitations not long ago.

The BJD has always been a disciplined party. Why do you think so many of its leaders left after being denied tickets?

It’s the sixth term for the BJD. There are MLAs who faced serious anti-incumbency and whose winnability was low. So the party did not honour their requests. They are free to do what they do but many aspirants have remained loyal. BJD is a large party. In our overall calculation of people making exits, whatever target we had set the actual number is well below that. Naveen Babu and the leadership are very happy about what has happened.

BJP’s top leadership has been very direct in its attack but BJD has refrained from counterattacking the top guns. Why?

Ours is a regional party and we counter whosoever is working against the state. In the state, the main face of BJP is Dharmendra Pradhan. Obviously, he is under our scrutiny. So far as national leaders are concerned, it’s not that BJD has never attacked. It keeps attacking but it is based on the context. BJD will do whatever is required to protect the interest of the state. It will not shy away from attacking anyone for that matter.

What about Naveen Babu’s successor in BJD?

I am tired of answering this but please remember Naveen Patnaik never had a planned entry in politics. The great Biju Babu never groomed him for politics. The CM also feels the same way that people of Odisha will finally find who will take Naveen Babu’s legacy forward and serve. In democracy, it’s by the people, for the people and of the people. People know what’s good for them and you get glimpses sometimes.

Will VK Pandian fight the bypoll?

I am not contesting elections as of now. I am here to help Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik. We are in the middle of an election and there should not be any hypothetical questions. Right now, we have 147 MLA candidates who are fighting in this hot weather. Our focus is to keep up the fight.

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