No chance of an alliance with BJD: Dharmendra Pradhan

Bhubaneswar:
[He is already being talked about as the future Chief Minister of Odisha. As the NDA government completes two years in office, he has been rated among the five best performing ministers in the Narendra Modi government. But with an eye on the future, Dharmendra Pradhan has not restricted himself to the affairs of his ministry – at least not in Odisha. He has intervened in every major issue in the state – whether it is jaundice deaths in Burla or the repair of the Jagamohan in the Shree Jagannath Temple in Puri, frequently earning the wrath of the BJD government in the state.
In this exclusive interview with Shubhankar Behera of odishatv.in, Pradhan talks about a range of issues: the results of the latest round of Assembly elections, the prospects for his party in the state in the near future, speculation about his Chief Ministerial ambition, the affairs of his ministry and much more.
Excerpts:]

Your party has won convincingly in Assam Assembly polls. But simultaneously, there has been no gain for the party in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal. What went wrong?

In the past, we had done well in the Lok Sabha polls in Assam by winning seven seats. But we had not tasted success in the Assembly polls. This time, the mandate went in our favour. In a state like Assam which has a complex character and where the Assamese society has been fighting for decades on issues of their identity, infiltration of Bangladesis, basic rights of their society, we got a huge majority. For us winning a single Assembly seat in West Bengal and Kerala, where we are new entrants, is a great achievement. In Bengal, we got about 10 per cent of the votes whereas it was 15% in the southern State of Kerala. In Tamil Nadu, we failed. But the mandate we received in these states is amazing and it will go a long way to help make BJP a truly national party. This election has proved that the Communist party’s fall has begun in West Bengal and the saffron party will emerge as a strong alternative for the people in the coming days. I will say nothing went wrong in these States. If anything, some good things have started to happen.

Though the party is gaining slowly in new States, at the same time it is losing its support base in States like Bihar and Odisha. How does party plan to recover lost ground in such states?

In Bihar (after Jharkhand was carved out of it in 2000), we never got more than fifty Assembly seats (out of 243) while contesting alone. During NDA I, it went up to 95. But in the last Lok Sabha polls, we got a good response from the voters. So far as Assembly seats are concerned, it was new for us. This time, the party has created itself as an alternative for the people and emerged as a political force in the State.

In short, the party is slowly rising as a political power across the country. Building on this winning momentum, we will consolidate our gains and march ahead as a national power in the coming days.

How is the BJP readying for the panchayat polls in Odisha next year and the general election in 2019?

In the last general election in 2014, we were at the number three position. In the coming two polls, which are vital for the party, we want to reach out to all 36,000 polling booths of the State. It’s the fourth time the BJD is in power. But I will say considering the mandate he has been given, Naveen Patnaik is making the people despondent by failing to create employment opportunities in the State. The State is resource-rich and mineral rich, but it is at the bottom economically and in human development index. So I feel Odisha is moving towards a political vacuum.

People have seen Congress and BJD for a long period. The way Prime Minister Narendra Modi is taking the initiative in implementing public welfare schemes across the country, it will give us a chance to offer as a viable political alternative in the State. I strongly hope in the coming polls, people will give us a chance to serve the State.

Any chance of Odisha witnessing a BJP-BJD alliance in 2019?

There is absolutely no possibility of any alliance between BJP and BJD in future. Sometimes, it happens in States to realign political equations. But as per the strategy the party has adopted at this point of time, I believe we are self sufficient to win the hearts of voters in Odisha and there is no need for a coalition government.

35 Union ministers have visited Odisha so far during two years of your government at the Centre. What does it suggest? How many times you have visited the State within this period?

This is nothing new as they have visited other States also. As a minister, I too have visited almost every part of the country. Hence there is nothing extraordinary about their visit to Odisha. The common men have reposed their faith on the party as well as the Prime Minister. Hence, it becomes our utmost responsibility to make sure the welfare schemes of the government reach the people so that they can get maximum benefit. So they need to travel.

How do you respond to talk that you are the future CM of Odisha?

Our party does not run according to the desires of the party men. Our primary aim is to make the party No 1 in the country and strengthen it at the grassroots level. And we are working hard for that. When time comes, a system, not a single man, decides about the leader, who can take the state on the path of development. If such a situation comes in Odisha in future, then the party will decide who will be entrusted the leadership.

Do you have a personal desire to become the CM of Odisha?

I have no personal wish. It all depends on my party. I have never thought of becoming a Union minister, a member of the Upper House from another state, a Lok Sabha member and an MLA. So the party will decide depending on the situation.

It is alleged that Vyapam recruitment scam kingpin Sudhir Sharma had mentioned your name in his income tax returns saying that he had booked tickets for you. How far it is true?

At that time, I was the party’s general secretary and was not even a member of Parliament. The party had facilitated all my travel expenses and a return air ticket of Rs 5,000 to Delhi was made for me by the party itself. It is in record also. The person you are talking about was a party worker then and was in charge of handling party’s affairs. So why should I bother who booked the ticket and whether it was made from party’s account or anybody’s personal account?

Whistleblowers of the scam lament the slow pace of the probe after names of political bigwigs and party workers of BJP came to fore. Your comments?

I don’t agree with this.

In the D-brothers issue, the BJD alleged that the notorious siblings got your political patronage to expand their empire of crime. Your comments please.

The ruling BJD government must investigate who has got political patronage from whom. As I have said earlier on this issue, I had attended a social programme on the request on my friend Sameer Dey. I am also not above law. If the State government can convict me in the case, then I am also ready to face any punishment. I dare the BJD to probe and find out the truth.

Under Pradhan Mantri Ujjawla Yojana, your govt aims free LPG connections to five crore women BPL households in the next three years. While implementing the scheme, categorisation of women based on Socio Economic Caste Census (SECC) is easy in rural areas. What about the BPL women in urban areas?

For urban women under BPL category too, the scheme will be implemented through SECC which is prepared by urban development department. From this year, the Centre will implement all the welfare schemes basing on this data in both rural and urban areas.

You have declared that 25 Lakh gas connections in rural areas and 15 lakh connections in urban areas will be provided in Gujarat alone. What is your ministry’s target in Odisha?

In Gujarat, 25 lakh rural consumes will be given new LPG connection. Since there is a huge network of gas pipeline in the State, we will give 15 lakh new connections in urban areas.

In Odisha, there were 27 lakh LPG consumers by the end of 2014 when the total number of households was one crore. In the past two years, the figure has reached 39 lakh. The consumers of eastern States, including Odisha, will get the maximum benefit of the Prime Minister’s clean cooking Ujjawala scheme as the LPG penetration is less in these States compared to the national figure.

My ministry aims to increase the LPG consumer base in Odisha to 75 lakh in next three years.

Under GiveItUp scheme, after the surrender of 1.17 crore LPG connections out of 15 crore consumers, is your ministry seriously considering to stop LPG subsidy to well offs beyond certain income level?

The dialogue is on. During refilling of LPG, the consumers need to submit an affidavit declaring their annual income is above Rs 10 lakh and they should not get the LPG subsidy. But again, since a lot of people with income level above Rs 10 lakh are not paying income tax, we are unable to draw a conclusion on this. The LPG subsidy should be only for the poor and needy.

Kerosene is being sold through fair price shops. There was also a concept of bio-metrics. Can that also be linked to DBT? How will you source data? Is bank connectivity an issue?

We are in consultation with many States regarding this. Our aim is to stop black marketing of the product. The needy must not be deprived of a single drop of Kerosene.

Will the retail prices of petrol and diesel go up when production cost of Bharat Stage (BS) –IV and VI automobile fuel standard rises?

See, there is no link between production cost of BS-VI standard fuel and the price rise of retail products. It all depends on the global market price of the fuels. My ministry will ensure all investments needed for better products are made to reduce pollution level.

In the absence of anchor load customers, is the Petroleum and Natural Gas Regulatory Board (PNGRB) considering cancellation of contract given to GAIL in 2012 for installation of the 1,724 km-long Surat –Paradip inter-state gas pipeline project?

We have worked on the above proposal’s financial management part. Not only the Surat-Paradip project, we are also planning a new pipeline to Allahbad from Paradip. After these projects, Odisha will be the hub of fuel supply in the eastern part of the country. For implementation of these projects, GAIL will open an office in Odisha soon.

In the absence of big ticket projects in Odisha, how do you see your recent proposal to Centre for an industrial corridor in the State?

Industrial units have started coming up in Odisha. In future, the Centre’s Chennai-Kolkata industrial corridor project, which has reached Vishakhapatnam now, will be helpful for Odisha for transportation of raw materials and industrial outputs. The ports here will also get the benefit of the corridor which will also be helpful to expand the economy of Odisha. Besides, the Centre’s Sagarmala project will also complement this project.