BJD leader VK Pandian at an interview with PTI, in Bhubaneswar, Monday, May 20, 2024.
BJD leader VK Pandian at an interview with PTI, in Bhubaneswar, Monday, May 20, 2024.Photo | PTI

INTERVIEW | Modi's campaigners are political tourists who can't even name Odisha's capital: VK Pandian

Pandian also dismissed PM Modi's statement that there is a huge anti-incumbency against CM Patnaik and that his BJD will find it difficult to survive these elections.

PURI: In an unconcealed jibe at the prime minister, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik's right-hand man has dismissed the BJP's star campaigners in Odisha as “political tourists” who can't even identify the state capital. VK Pandian is also confident Patnaik will be back in office for a sixth straight term and has even declared the time he will take oath.

In an interview to PTI Videos on Monday night, Pandian said the Biju Janata Dal “is sweeping the polls” and will get three-fourths majority in the 147-seat state assembly for which elections are being held simultaneously with Lok Sabha polls.

Patnaik contested from two seats, Hinjili in Ganjam district and Kantabanji in Bolangir district, where voting took place on Monday.

Pandian, a former IAS officer who has been Patnaik's confidant for years and is now a star political campaigner, asserted his boss “will win both seats with a huge majority.”

“We have fixed the time for oath-taking as well. On June 9, between 11.30 am and 1 pm the honourable CM will take the oath,” the 49-year-old said.

Pandian dismissed Prime Minister Narendra Modi's statement in an interview to PTI that there is a huge anti-incumbency against 77-year-old Patnaik and that his BJD will find it difficult to survive these elections.

“Modi said the same thing in 2019 as well but Patnaik invited the prime minister for his swearing-in ceremony,” said Pandian.

“He will again invite the honourable PM for the swearing-in. This time, we hope that he comes with some gifts,” he quipped.

The gifts the people of Odisha expect are, Pandian said, a long-pending demand for special status for the state, minimum support price for farmers that Modi has promised, and higher royalty given by the Central government to the state on coal mining.

On the Lok Sabha elections, Pandian said the BJD will do better than in the 2019 polls, when it had won 12 of the 21 seats in the state, with the BJP bagging eight and the Congress one.

The BJD has been an on-off ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party. It was part of its NDA alliance until 2009. Just before the 2024 elections, it appeared the two parties will become electoral allies but talks collapsed.

Hoping for power in the state, the BJP has pulled out all the stops in its often bitter campaign, deploying all the big guns at its disposal, including Modi, Amit Shah, Rajnath Singh, Dharmendra Pradhan and an array of BJP chief ministers.

BJD leader VK Pandian at an interview with PTI, in Bhubaneswar, Monday, May 20, 2024.
Pandian questions PM Modi's Claims, asserts Naveen Patnaik as key to Odisha's success

In a recent rally, Modi challenged Patnaik to name “the capitals” of the state's districts, an attempt to show that the ageing leader is out of touch with the people.

“People of Odisha see them as political tourists. They come once in five years. They do not understand the head or tail of Odisha. If you ask them what is the capital of Odisha many of them may not be able to tell,” Pandian said.

Asked if that was a reference to Modi's comments, he said, “I purposely used this word. It was not liked by the people of Odisha… people felt hurt.”

According to Pandian, the campaign became negative because the BJP has no substantive narrative against the chief minister, who has been in office for 24 years, and doesn't have a leader of Patnaik's stature to pit against him.

“If they say that after 24 years he has anti-incumbency, why don't you show your CM face? You are so scared to announce anyone as your CM because Naveen babu's popularity is so much that if you put anyone as CM face they will look very hollow in comparison,” he said.

“Patnaik has just used politics as a means to serve the people of Odisha. That's why he has survived in politics. And he has pro-incumbency after five terms, and we are in the middle of a Naveen wave,” Pandian said.

He refused to comment on whether BJD will join the NDA if the BJP falls short of an outright majority or if it will ally with the opposition INDIA bloc, saying it is locked in an equally aggressive fight against both the BJP and the Congress in the state.

Asked if he sees both parties equally as BJD's enemies, the former bureaucrat, perceived in some sections to be a successor of Patnaik, said, “Absolutely. It's election time.”

BJD leader VK Pandian at an interview with PTI, in Bhubaneswar, Monday, May 20, 2024.
Will quit politics if Naveen Patnaik doesn’t become CM: VK Pandian
BJD leader VK Pandian at an interview with PTI, in Bhubaneswar, Monday, May 20, 2024.
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