Interview | What PM Modi has said is going to happen: Dharmendra Pradhan

We will win all 21 Lok Sabha seats, gain absolute majority in state Assembly. A BJP CM will take oath on June 10, says Dharmendra Pradhan
Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan
Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan Photo | Express

Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan and party’s Sambalpur Lok Sabha seat candidate spoke to TNIE Odisha Resident Editor Siba Mohanty on elections, electoral issues and why he thinks BJP is ready for Odisha.

The Odisha elections have suddenly turned fierce and no-holds-barred. From the prime minister to all the top leadership, the BJP not only is deploying its heavy weaponry in the state but also not sparing the chief minister. This approach was not seen even in 2009 after the acrimonious break-up of BJD-BJP alliance. What has brought about this change?

A political party takes a stand when people want change and in Odisha, people have a lot of expectations from BJP at this juncture. After the alliance broke in 2009, the BJP was in disarray. However, within five years in 2014, the party jumped to No 3 position. Between 2014 and 2024, the party has bulked up. We fought as hard in 2019 and back then too, PM Narendra Modi had visited the state several times which is why the BJP has expanded its ground in the state. I believe a political party’s growth is a benchmark but numbers do matter in electoral politics.

Odisha gave Congress such a long mandate. The BJD has been voted five times but there is still no governance model. All that the BJD government has offered is ad hocism which is not acceptable. We are asking people to give BJP a chance. PM Modi has articulated clearly that Odisha deserves much more because states with lower resource base have performed better. Besides, BJP has a proven track record. The BJP-ruled states have provided good governance and people have reposed their faith in us.

There were talks of an alliance between both the parties this time which eventually did not materialise. Is the aggressiveness aimed to neutralise the public perception of contest between frenemies in the elections?

The BJP did not take any initiative for the alliance. Those (BJD leaders) who spoke about it openly will be able to answer. I must quote a social media post of BJP state president Manmohan Samal who had thanked the Naveen Patnaik government for supporting the BJP in the Parliament on national issues in the last 10 years. Even the Congress had supported us on certain issues such as Women’s Reservation Bill. Are we supposed to be forming alliance with the Congress?

The most crucial issue is Odisha’s development. Our vision and action plan for the state is very different from that of the Naveen Patnaik government. There is a crisis of constitutionality here because the party has been co-opted by the executive. A coterie in the chief minister’s office has demolished the state’s administrative institution. Neither the chief secretary nor the DGP has the decision making authority. Ministers, MLAs, secretaries have been reduced to nobodies. The administration is run by a cartel which has taken advantage of the chief minister’s helplessness for its own vested interest. This group wanted the alliance for its own interest, we did not.

It is also being said that the BJP shifted focus to Odisha after the first phase polls when it sensed that its performance was not up to expectations in other parts of the country. It now wants to compensate the losses from states like Odisha.

Don’t look at it from Odisha’s perspective. BJP is a pan-India party. PM Narendra Modi has worked as hard in Odisha as he did in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and the North East. BJP does not ignore any state. If you look at the recent history, between 1989 and 2014, alliance politics dominated the electoral discourse. The BJP received absolute majority in 2014 because of its organisational strength, clarity of political agenda and strong leadership. In 2019, BJP’s numbers surpassed 300 and the NDA went past 350. This time, we are looking at 400 and will achieve it. In this, Odisha was as much a priority state last time as it is today.

You and other senior party leaders recently held a press conference saying the chief minister was held captive and his video messages were deepfakes.

Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik is an astute political leader. But, you should see his speeches now and subsequent video releases. He has been the CM for five terms and should not depend on the coterie which has malafide intention to capture Odisha and subvert our pride. A gang of four has taken over the state’s administration. Since this cartel knows nothing about Odisha, it peddles lies. I welcome their response to the prime minister’s speeches but for the sake of opposing the PM, they just push untruth. The demand for seeking classical status for Odissi music is a clear example because no such provision exists in the country. The coterie is making the CM write factually incorrect letters which are palpable signs of governance collapse. That’s why I am saying the CM is not in control and held captive. Let the state decide if they want such a leader.

I have full respect for the Chief Minister. My relationship with Naveen Babu is much older than what his coterie thinks and the CM knows that too. I will speak out aloud on critical issues of the state because it is my responsibility towards the people. I am in the opposition and it’s my stated duty. Let them call me names for this.

As BJP’s face in Odisha, you have been instrumental in giving the party a strong base in last 10 years. You also are a lead campaigner. This time, you are rarely seen outside Sambalpur LS constituency ever since your candidature has been announced. The BJD says it has tactically and successfully bound you to Sambalpur by putting up Pranab Prakash Das against you. How do you respond to this?

They were free to field whosoever they wanted. It’s their choice. The whole claim of tactics is absurd. I am grateful to my party for nominating me from Sambalpur. It is not a fight between two individuals. This election is a battle of ideologies, ideas and commitment to protect the future. We have our ideas, commitment, policies and programmes and we are taking them to the people of Odisha. I have been able to take PM Ujjwala Yojana to 54-55 lakh households in the state. Half of the households got LPG connections due to our scheme. As many as 34 lakh dwelling units have been set up under PM Awas Yojana and we made available Central assistance of Rs 18 lakh crore in last 10 years. We are taking all these to people apart from our manifesto for the state.

Dharmendra Pradhan
Dharmendra Pradhan

You have been the main target of the ruling BJD in this elections. Does the BJD see you as the prime threat?

It may have been the political strategy for the BJD and I won’t comment on that. I am a simple foot soldier of my party and a proud Odia. For me, many of the issues are not about election or votes. Malnutrition among children, infant mortality, half of the high school students failing to reach matriculation stage - these are critical issues of my state, not just electoral issues. A bunch of people may claim they have transformed the state but I am under no obligation to accept this.

How many seats will BJP win in the elections - both LS and Assembly - as per your calculations?

We will win all 21 Lok Sabha seats, gain absolute majority in the state Assembly. What the PM has said is going to happen. A BJP CM will take oath on June 10.

Is there a possibility of BJD-BJP tie-up in the state post-poll?

There was no such plan from our side and there will be none. Those who wanted it can answer better.

A BJP worker was killed in Ganjam’s Khallikote allegedly during a poll violence. How do you react to the news?

From the attack on MP candidate Pradeeep Panigrahy right after the first phase polls to the murder of a BJP worker in Khallikote is a reflection of the growing panic in the BJD. The party always resorted to creating an atmosphere of fear. This time, it has turned more aggressive because it senses it is losing control. It has been using police in all the constituencies. All the violence is happening under police patronage, be it in Bhatli or in Jharsuguda. The BJD is afraid of the impending defeat. The party’s image of civility is a façade which has been carefully manufactured. Don’t forget, the BJD was behind 23 political murders in 2019 elections.

PM Narendra Modi has always advocated against the freebies culture. Under the Subhadra Yojana, the BJP promises Rs 50,000 as vouchers for women over a period of two years. Is it not a freebie?

It’s not a freebie. The BJP wants to create a productive and circular economy in which women will play a crucial part. We want to create 3 crore ‘lakhpati didis’ for which women need seed money to start basic businesses. There is a SHG movement in the country but the same has, unfortunately, gone in a different tangent in Odisha. Odisha’s revenue collection has grown but is it being spent on productive heads? Hundreds of crores of rupees have been given away without tender in rural areas. In the name of hockey promotion, crores have been spent on song and dance. Is it productive spending? PM Modi had given a clarion call for women-led development under which women must get capital. Subhadra Yojana is a well thought-out strategy to achieve that goal.

BJD has announced a free power scheme. Your take on it?

In the name of arrear collection, private companies in Odisha are snapping electricity connections of the poor and economically-weaker sections of consumers. During campaigning, I have come across families complaining of such harsh actions. And the BJD wants to provide free power to 90 per cent families. How? The focus should be on a productive economy but the state government here is running on publicity stunts.

Prime Minister Modi’s PM Surya Ghar Yojana allows consumers to get solar panels up to Rs 75,000, utilise power and sell surplus energy through net metering. Wary of its innovativeness, the BJD copied it and came up with the free power scheme which displays its bankruptcy of ideas. This government had announced schemes and projects like PEETHA, Yuva Bahini, Youth Budget. What happened to all these? What happened to agriculture budget? Where are the cold storages? What about micro and medium irrigation projects? Odisha gets adequate rainfall but has there been any plan to harvest it? Twenty four years is too long a time to bring about a paradigm shift. But everything runs on propaganda here. The BJD has learnt well from Joesph Geobbel.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah has announced that small depositors who were victims of the chit fund scam will be refunded their money within 18 months and all the perpetrators would be sent to jail. It already has been 10 years since CBI took up the investigation. When will this happen?

CBI is an autonomous body. It knows its job. Law and order is a state subject. What was the state government doing? All this happened right under the nose of Naveen Patnaik who also is the Home Minister. Many of the ruling party leaders are involved in the chit fund scam. Everyone knows who Saroj Sahu was. The Union Home Minister was spot on.

First three things you would want to do for Sambalpur if elected from the seat?

Sambalpur is the epicenter of youth talent pool of the region. I want to make it a knowledge-based economy. It has immense tourism and cultural resources. Converting Sambalpur into a tourism hub is a major goal because it would propel employment. This is an agrarian society. Setting up food-processing units, providing market-linkage and value addition to the farming sector will lead to economic empowerment and employment in the region.

Healthcare is another focus for me. Naveen Patnaik’s negligence of education and healthcare is criminal.

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