Worried about Naveen being under siege of coterie: Jay Panda

Former MP from Kendrapara who resigned from BJD and Lok Sabha, in OTV’s Khola Katha programme opened up about his decision to quit and what lies ahead of him. Here are the excerpts of the former parliamentarian’s interview with senior journalist Rajaram Satpathy.

After resigning from BJD, you have distanced yourself from the party. Will you contest 2019 elections and if so, from which party?

I come from a non-political background but I have strong ideals and value system. This is like a challenge to me at this phase. It was a matter of self respect which is why I resigned from the party. I am yet to decide on my future course of action because I am looking at various options. I have gained knowledge and want to use it for the development of Odisha. I meet leaders from various political parties and am taking their suggestions. And such decisions cannot be taken hurriedly. I will think and decide.

Are you in discussions with various political parties, particularly when there are discussions about you inching towards the BJP?

I have friends in all parties even before joining politics. This is not something that I started doing after May 28. And after being an MP for a long time, keeping a rapport for the larger interests of the state and its people is even more pertinent.

You met Congress chief in Odisha Niranjan Patnaik recently. Are you contemplating joining the Congress?

I have not taken any decision so far. All options are open for me. I am considering all options. Meeting leaders and that too senior ones is nothing wrong.

Are senior BJP leaders like Amit Shah and Modi in touch with you?

As I said, I have a rapport with many leaders, met many and they have advised me many things. But am considering all options and am yet to decide anything.

Why is there a delay in deciding?

I have been associated with the BJD for the past two decades. Since 1995-97, Biju Uncle was highly impressed with the work I did by organising industrial exhibitions and started entrusting some works on me. Two years later, he passed away and Naveen Babu started BJD when in the late 1990s there was too much hooliganism and corruption prevailing. BJD was founded with some sound ideals to fight such menace. I was proud to know that the legislators had no say in transfer postings and could not use pressure tactics through police administration. But now, look at the corruption and crime graph. The NCRB records show that while crime rate in India increased by 19 pc in India, in Odisha it grew by 50 percent.

You had such a wonderful relation with Naveen Patnaik, what went wrong all of a sudden?

Yes, everyone knows about our family relationships since Biju Babu days. Even I treated Naveen Babu as an elder brother. But BJD has started deviating from its principles and values in the past four to five years. Now I doubt and am worried about Naveen Patnaik remaining under siege of a coterie.

You have never named any particular person in this coterie. But as there are discussions about VK Pandian, do you think an officer can lay siege on a CM?

I respect bureaucrats but there is a limit to the way they should conduct themselves. According to the Constitution, a serving bureaucrat cannot interfere in party matters particularly collecting funds and arranging tickets for candidates. It’s illegal.

Then you should have complained to party leader NP. Can Pandian do all these things without NP’s approval?

All journalists and politicians know about these things. After I raised the matter in public, there are around six to eight senior leaders in various parties who have also come out in open about it. I feel there should be a CBI or ED probe into this. It is the person that people have voted who should be answerable. Pyari babu came into the party fold after retiring from active service. Officers close to CM do have an impact but that should be on the administrative side not party’s funds collection and ticket distribution.

BJD was founded to bring in a clean & transparent government. You say it has left all that?

In the first three terms, 36 ministers were dropped even when there was a whiff of corruption, but in the last four years, no action has been taken against a single person, politician or officer named in corruption.

Naveen’s image is clean despite whatever you say.

NP image is BJD strength but NP image is not the image of other party members. If their images remain tainted it will affect the party. Take for example child mortality rate. 20 years ago Odisha was last in the list and now it’s only second last. This can be called development, but in 20 years things could have changed more.

People say BJD has more contractors in its fold?

Value-based people have been sidelined. Now the contractors are there for their vested interests only.

Why isn’t CM taking action?

Please ask him. I had spoken and written to him. I wanted discipline in the party. I started writing publicly only after Naveen babu said after panchayat polls that we need to analyse and introspect on where we lagged. I started writing openly about these analyses and introspection and I was termed as indisciplined. I was attacked in the process.

Were these attacks done without Naveen’s approval?

A: There was open threat before I went for the inauguration at Mahanga. Though locals welcomed, there were others who organised press conference and declared that they won’t allow me. So there were attacks on me in presence of police. But what hurt me most was my leader never called me up to find if I was well.

In all this, your family businesses are also being attacked. Be it Therubali, Ortel or OTV. Is it a revenge on you?

Since the day I joined politics I distanced myself from family businesses. In last 18 years, none can say that I have sought favours from anyone for my family business. And I am proud of this. About attacks on my family business, all I can say is – it’s up to the people of the state to decide. I won’t and can’t believe this can be instrumented by Biju Babu’s family. It is certainly the impact of the coterie.

So the CM is helpless?

I blame the coterie. Ultimately it’s the people who will decide that the man who they voted has done his job or not.

BJD leaders say you support the rival parties more than the own party and write about it openly in newspapers.

These are all false and a propaganda. Let me prove it here. For example, some days back the CM supported one nation, one election call by PM. I said the same thing last year through my columns and the same coterie tagged me wrong. Last 18 years I have been writing in newspapers. I supported Aadhar since Manmohan Singh’s tenure so that corruption can be stopped. I wrote against using red beacon in vehicles and VIP culture. You can google it and check. In the last four years, many of these have been implemented. Can I be a hypocrite and say that I object to it because it was a Modiji’s scheme? Same with demonitisation as well. I supported and NP also did the same. Naveen babu is accepting all of these one by one.

NP is still popular despite mining and chit fund scams

First 14-15 years were different. Last four years things have changed. Anti-incumbency particularly in matters of corruption will certainly affect the election prospects of the party.

Is CM considering you as a threat?

I never wanted to be a threat. Inquiry commissions were constituted against me where I was not heard. Report was made in three days; I wonder why the same commissions are not probing Ratna Bhandar and Kunduli cases. It was hard for me because the party changed and so much mean-mindedness has crept in and the biggest example is BJD boycotting my father’s funeral. I thought enough is enough.

In 2019, who do you think will be in power – BJD, BJP or Congress?

I don’t want to speculate. Nationally Modiji is the most popular leader so advantage BJP, but Mahagathbandhan, seriously taken, is a big challenge. It can be done in all states but not an easy matter. In Odisha, last two years byelections and Panchayat elections have shown many different hues. BJP became number two and Congress number three. But I think none can be taken lightly. Congress has a strong presence in villages and BJP, how far can it go is a matter of speculation. BJD did not do well in Panchayat elections but was good in the bypoll.  So it can go in any direction.