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'BJP won't oppose Pawar as PM'

April 10, 2009 21:39 IST
"Hari Om," is how Ashok Sahu, the Bharatiya Janata Party candidate from Kandhamal constituency (territorially the largest Lok Sabha constituency in Orissa), greets a party worker who calls him up at 9 am. He says "Jai Shri Ram," in response to a similar salutation from the other end.

After discussing the poll scenario briefly he hangs up and gets ready for this no-holds-barred interview with rediff.com's Prasanna D Zore and Uttam Ghosh in Phulbani, Kandhamal.

Sample a few statements he makes during the course of the interview:

  • "The BJP will not oppose Sharad Pawar as the prime minister if he joins the National Democratic Alliance and post election seat mathematics works in his favour."
  • "Advaniji paid a price for his statements made at the mausoleum of Mohammed Ali Jinnah."
  • "Advaniji is my mentor; it does not mean that I'm his slave."
  • "To date (as on April 9) there are 60 per cent chances that I will win the Kandhamal Lok Sabha constituency. If I say there are 100 per cent chances I will be deceiving myself. Till yesterday my chances were only 50 per cent."

For every statement he makes he is asked if he was on the record. He smiles at you and says disarmingly: "Yes, I'm dangerously honest." Indeed.

Says Sahu: "I am an ex-cop and I was taught to be honest. And I haven't forgotten it after becoming a politician." He was an Indian Police Service officer from 1976 to 1997 -- a part of which he served in strife-torn Assam -- and takes pride in saying that he was mentored by top cop K P S Gill.

"I was a terror in Assam; ULFA (United Liberation Front of Asom) felt terrorised by me," he thunders during the course of the hour-long interview.

Sahu joined the BJP in 1997, because he thought that it was the only nationalistic party that can safeguard the interests of the country and Hindus. However, a brief stint in the party fold made him feel disappointed about the crop of BJP leaders then and he joined the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh to "take up the cause of Hindutva."

In fact, it is this cause that is so dear to his heart that compelled him to join the electoral fray from the communally-charged Kandhamal Lok Sabha constituency.

"If voters in Kandhamal are polarised along religious lines then it is a fact and the BJP is not apologetic about it. Yes, Swamiji's (Swami Laxmananada Saraswati) death is an election issue and that's the reason why I am contesting from Kandhamal," he says without batting an eyelid.

He firmly believes the Naveen Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal government failed to provide adequate protection to Saraswati despite several threats to his life.

When asked why the BJP, a coalition partner of the BJD, did not intervene, his answer, is not dangerously honest and couched in realpolitik.

"All along the BJP was a sleeping partner and a few selfish BJP ministers led us into a sense of complacency as far as the threat to Swamiji's life was concerned. You shall see that people will vote for me overwhelmingly on this issue," he retorts.

"Last time Orissa sent seven BJP MPs to the Lok Sabha, but this time the tally is likely to improve to nine," he continues. The Kandhamal and Puri Lok Sabha constituencies will be the new additions, he adds.

Sahu is confident he will win the Kandhamal seat even if he is pitted in a tough triangular fight against the Congress's Suzit Padi and the BJD's Radhamadhav Ray. In 2004 Sugrib Singh of the BJD won Kandhamal, a reserved constituency then. In 2009 Kandhamal became a general seat after delimitation.

Despite his aggressive comments Sahu is realistic in his assessment of the BJP's strength in the Orissa assembly after the elections. He accepts the BJP does not stand a chance to form the next state government. "From 32 assembly seats in the 147-member Orissa assembly we will improve our tally to 40 this time around," he says.

"However, we are in Orissa for the long-term and the snapping of ties with the BJD will benefit the BJP in the next elections," he adds.

"People of the state have tremendous faith in the BJP's ability to provide a clean and efficient government that will look after the all-round development of the state and they are in a mood to punish 'traitor' Naveen Patnaik. He will learn his lessons this time," Sahu says angrily. He is confident the BJP will form the government in Orissa in 2014.

"That's our game plan and swamiji's death has galvanised our cadres to work towards our ultimate goal," he says.

In fact, Sahu firmly believes his party would never have won from Kandhamal had they not split the alliance with the BJD. "It had become a burden on us after swamiji's death," Sahu adds.

Sahu, who shot into limelight since the murder, considers L K Advani as his political mentor. That, however, does not deter him to oppose his mentor.

"I believe Advaniji paid the price for writing that Pakistan is an incontrovertible fact and India has to accept its existence as a separate nation. This had ruffled the RSS no end as the organisation and its various affiliates including myself still dream of Akhand Bharat," he says.

The very next moment the shrewd diplomat in Sahu makes its presence felt and he says: "The people who form the Sangh Parivar may have matantar (different views or opinions) but can never have manantar (difference in their ideological roots).

Discussing the BJP's Hindutva agenda, Sahu argues there is no harm in correcting the wrongs of the history. "By condemning Ghazni do you think I am spreading communal hatred? Why shouldn't we correct the blunders made by Delhi politicians?"

But Sahu is a clever politician. Throwing his bait at Sharad Pawar, he says "Pawar is a good man, an able politician and administrator. If he sides with the NDA post the election and if he has the required numbers then I don't think the BJP will have any problem with him becoming the PM."