» Election » 'Youth have to be taken on board'

'Youth have to be taken on board'

May 21, 2009 19:34 IST
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After taking a seemingly suicidal decision of cutting off ties with the Bharatiya Janata Party and fighting the assembly and Lok Sabha elections alone, the Biju Janata Dal registered a spectacular performance in both the national and state elections.

Baijayant 'Jay' Panda, a two-time Rajya Sabha member and BJD leader in the Upper House of Parliament, is the party's telegenic face, articulating his leader Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik's views. A graduate from Michigan, USA, with a combined degree in engineering and management, he worked in the corporate sector before joining politics.

In this interview, he analyses the BJD victory and tells's Savera R Someshwar why he is wary of the government at the Centre:

What were the main reasons behind the BJD's success in Orissa?

Basically, there are three reasons. The first is Naveen Patnaik's popularity.

The second is the real economic development which has taken place.

And the third is the fact that, for many decades, Orissa was neglected by national parties and the Centre and the BJD has taken an assertive stand to correct this neglect.

Did your party expect this kind of victory?

Yes, we expected close to a two-thirds majority. We had repeatedly said our surveys showed we were going to get a very clear majority. The results have actually exceeded even those optimistic expectations.

What were the reasons behind your decision not to go with the BJP? It has been a 11-year-long association.

The problem started with the Kandhamal riots. The state government started arresting people who were involved in the violence. Many of the people arrested belonged to sister organisations of the Bharatiya Janata Party.

At that time, we had a peculiar situation where the BJP ministers in our government started protesting in public against their own government. They took part in dharnas against the government. That is an untenable situation. From then on, the situation started getting bad.

They (the BJP) were totally unrealistic about the alliance. Before these elections, we had the municipal elections which we fought without an alliance and got a two-thirds majority. But the BJP refused to recognise this and kept insisting for a much larger share of the seats.

Do you feel confident about this new government at the Centre?

We are very wary of them because their track record -- they ruled Orissa for 45 years and their track record is very poor. They left Orissa in shambles.

When we took over the state government from the Congress nine years ago, the state government was financially crippled. The economic growth rate was far below the national average.

But if you look at Orissa's economic growth in the last five years, it has turned around. Today, Orissa's economic growth is higher than the national average.

We have done two things very well. On the one hand, we have brought in investment, on the other hand we have focused on being pro-poor. The new investment has resulted in a lot more revenue for the state and that revenue is being used to directly tackle poverty.

That's why, on both fronts, we are doing all right. Our economy keeps growing, but the poor people are not alienated. They continue to support Navin Patnaik's policies.

Regarding the confidence you asked about, we are very wary. The government keeps saying we will work closely with the state governments. But our experience has been otherwise.

They have treated us very shabbily in the last five years so we are waiting and watching and we hope that they will act differently this time.

What are the goals the new government should set itself?

They proclaim themselves as the government of aam aadmi (common man), but there are many areas in which the aam aadmi remains neglected. We would hope any government in the Centre would tackle these issues first and foremost.

As a regional party, one of our top criteria has been that regional favouritism or regional discrimination should not exist.

We have always maintained there are many legitimate demands of the states, not just Orissa but other states as well, and many times these legitimate demands are not met by the national parties. That is why we have taken an independent course here in Orissa.

I'll just point out something. If you look at the investment in railways Orissa, it is very low compared to the national average. If you look at the investment in education by the central government in Orissa, it is very low compared to the national average.

This kind of discrimination should go. Only that will help the aam aadmi.

The central neglect is very, very obvious and very apparent to the people of Orissa. And this is something that does not get reported very much in the national media. That is why they do not understand it when we do very well. We reflect the aspirations of the people of Orissa.

Won't being part of the government at the Centre help you correct this discrimination?

We have a view that we cannot be coerced into being part of any government. Only three, four days ago, this government from Delhi withdrew the flood relief fund which was given to us six months ago. This kind of approach is not something we appreciate.

We are a regional party. We have to look out for Orissa's interests. In the national interest, we can play the role of a constructive opposition and ensure that the legitimate demands of states are met.

If the ruling government behaves in a fair and responsible matter in governance, then, of course, we will welcome that. But we can't be coerced like this.

As the convener of the Young Parliamentarians Forum, what is your opinion about Rahul Gandhi?

Many parties talk about bringing in the youth and promoting youth in politics. Rahul Gandhi too has been saying the same thing.

I can only speak for Orissa and the BJD. In our party, for example, the percentage of youth candidates is far higher than either the Congress or the BJP. You can look at statistics at both the MLA (Member of Legislative Assembly) and MP levels and you can easily verify we have put up far more percentage of youth candidates than the Congress.

It is one thing to talk about representing youth and inducting youth, but we actually do it.

I think youth have to be taken on board because the demographics is that the majority of our voters and the majority of the population are youth, so yes, we must make serious efforts and we are already demonstrating that in our state.

There are certain long-standing problems Orissa faces, especially in terms of floods, malnutrition, education. How does your government plan to tackle this?

If you look at the track record of the last nine years that Naveen Patnaik has been the chief minister, you'll see two or three things.

Regarding malnutrition, Orissa has had the single best improvement on malnutrition in the entire country. This is as per the national survey of the central government. These are not our figures.

If you look at the National Family Health Survey which is done every six years, Orissa has had the maximum improvement in the last decade on the subject of malnutrition. That speaks for itself.

Many people outside Orissa don't know about these facts and that's why they get surprised about election results.

And now about floods. In 1999, we had that super cyclone that destroyed a large part of Orissa. But after coming to power here, Naveen Patnaik has started a disaster management centre which has been lauded by, again, the central government as possibly the best in the country.

So whenever we have had subsequent floods, our response has been the best. The casualties have been very minimal because we have rapid movement and rapid action plans.

Of course, we will need to continue doing all these things. We still have a long way to go.

What plans do you have as far as industrialisation is concerned?

Orissa has attracted some very large investment in industrialisation. We have got the investment for the single largest project in the country, the Posco steel plant. Many other steel plants have come up in Orissa in the last few years.

Industrialisation also means land acquisition. How are you tackling that?

We learnt a lesson when we had a problem three years ago in Kalinga Nagar (on January 2, 2006, there was a clash between villagers opposing a steel project and the police in which 13 people, including a policeman, were killed; 17 others were injured) and after that we changed our policy.

We learnt that even if you have good policies, you cannot thrust them down people's throats. You have to cooperate with them, you have to convince them. So we took our time and did not bulldoze any project unlike in other parts of the country.

Earlier, the emphasis was on paying the displaced people some money to take their land. Now, that money has been increased to reflect the market rate. They will also get jobs in the new project. And we try to ensure they have the necessary skills.

For example, Posco is putting up a very large training centre so that the local people can acquire the skills necessary to get those jobs.

Many of the companies are being encouraged -- some have already started doing it -- putting part of their shares in a trust for the benefit of the displaced people. There are many other steps we are taking.

As a result, I would say that in 90 per cent of the places, we do not have a rehabilitation problem.

Photograph: Jewella C Miranda

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