He spoke to Prasanna Zore in Bhubaneshwar about his party prospects.
What are the main issues on which the Congress is fighting the elections in Orissa?
Obviously, it is the development of Orissa that is the most important thing for the Congress. The other issue is that of the inept, corrupt and useless government of Naveen Patnaik.
Why would you say that?
You see in the last general elections the people gave a clear mandate to the Biju Janata Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party combine. They got 19 out of 21 seats and the remaining two were won by me and Giridhar Gamang of the Congress. Before that between 2000 to 2004, the then National Democratic Alliance government gave a huge package to Orissa.
However, out of all the promises they made not one of them has been fulfilled including making Orissa a special category state. Now they are blaming the central government when they could have fulfilled this promise when they ruled at the Centre for six years. The present chief minister was then the minister of mines.
Now Patnaik is talking about getting higher royalties for the mineral wealth of Orissa, but did nothing when he was a Union minister. On the contrary he said that NALCO should be sold off.
It is the Congress party that stopped this naked sell off of the family silver by raising the issue in Parliament and filing petitions against it. Today NALCO is one of the public sector Navratnas.
They also promised that one million youth will be given jobs. Only about 9,000 people have got jobs during the BJD-BJP rule in the state. What is 9,000 out of one million? They have absolutely failed in delivering this promise as well. What's more, 300,000 people have been thrown out of their jobs.
Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi used the iron ore of Mayurbhanj, Keonjhar and Sundargarh and put up the Rourkela steel plant. Indira Gandhi did the same with the bauxite ore of Koraput for setting up an alumina complex at Damanjodi. This produced mass jobs for the poor people of Orissa.
But if you sell of your ore to South Korea (POSCO) then how can you produce jobs and set up industries in the state?
Even during the super cyclones of Orissa, these 19 MPs could bring only Rs 1,400 crore. But despite having only two Congress MPs from Orissa, the central government has given the state a whopping Rs 58,000 crore which this inefficient government has not been able to spend.
How much has the state government spent from this amount?
Some say 32 per cent, some say 56 per cent; statistics are statistics. The Economic Survey says 32 per cent and the Planning Commission says 56 per cent. Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in between.
Are you opposed to POSCO?
Let POSCO enrich the iron ore and give jobs to Oriyas. That is our main demand from all industrialists who want to help in the development of Orissa.
What kind of development are you promising to the people of this state?
If I start talking about it, it will take forever. Our main focus is development of agriculture, irrigation projects and setting up an infrastructure like dams and canals that will help improve the development of agriculture in Orissa's drought-prone areas.
Eighty two per cent of the people in Orissa depend on agriculture or allied activities for their livelihoods. And agriculture in turn produces raw materials for the overall development of industries here.
But the present government has been diverting water from irrigation projects like the Hirakud dam for industrial use sacrificing the interest of the poor farmers. This is leading to suicides of farmers in Orissa as well.
How many seats do you think will the Congress get this time around in Lok Sabha and legislative assembly?
More than 10 in the Lok Sabha and in the assembly we will get more than 80 seats and form the government on our own. That is the feeling as well as the feedback that I got by talking to people during my extensive tour of the state. It can be more as well, but not less than 80 seats.
The chief minister said that Rahul Gandhi is an outsider and people will not entertain outsiders in Orissa. Do you think Rahul Gandhi can sway the voters in Orissa in the Congress's favour?
Most certainly. We don't have any star campaigners, but we bring home-grown campaigners to the state. Rahul Gandhi is the general secretary of the party in charge of youth, so how can Patnaik call Rahul Gandhi an outsider?
Who will be your chief ministerial candidate in case you get more than 80 seats?
We don't project individuals. We projected Sheila Dixit (in New Delhi) because she was an incumbent chief minister. That's our party's policy. But for the prime minister's post Dr Manmohan Singh is our candidate.
How do you plan to tackle the politics of communalism emerging in Orissa in the recent past? Do you have a plan?
Kandhamal and the attack on Christians is a blot on Orissa and on the country. Because we believe in the Jagannath culture.
What is that culture?
You don't know Jagannath culture? Are you an Indian or a foreigner? Lord Jagannath is worshipped by Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and Muslims. When Lord Jagannath's Rath Yatra goes it stops in front of a Sufi mazaar, flowers from the Yatra go to the mazaarand a chaddar from the mazaar comes to the Lord.
The Christians believe that for those 12 years that Jesus Christ disappeared one of those years he spent in Puri. Vaishnavs think he is Lord Krishna's avatar. Otherwise, Jagannath is not a Hindu god.
Lord Jagannath is not one of the the dashavatars of Lord Vishnu. It is a tribal concept made out of neem. Every 12 years Lord Jagannath makes his presence felt on this earth. Lord Jagannath is the Lord of the universe.
This rich heritage has been tarnished by the communal propaganda of some parties in Orissa.
Do you have any plans to tackle BJP's communalism?
I wouldn't like to use any strong words for a political party. Personally, I don't call them communal. Maybe some of my colleagues may say so.
What are the chances of a post poll alliance between various parties including yours in the state?
The sky is the limit. But we are hoping to get a majority on our own. Why should we think about hypothetical situations?
Will you form an alliance with Naveen Patnaik?
Again, it is a hypothetical question and why may I ask is it bothering you?