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'There's Pro-Incumbency Wave In Odisha'

April 23, 2024 09:24 IST
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'The BJP is not as mighty a political force in Odisha as it is made out to be.'


Arup Patnaik, the former Mumbai police commissioner, will take on the Bharatiya Janata Party's Dr Sambit Patra from Odisha's Puri Lok Sabha constituency.

"We are a peace-loving people and are very happy with the persona of the chief minister as someone who is very concerned, empathetic, and kind," Arup Patnaik tells Prasanna D Zore/

What are the issues before the people of Puri in this election?

My campaigning is in full swing. I start my day around 6.45 in the morning and end up maybe around 11.30 pm. There are seven assembly constituencies -- Puri, Satyabadi, Brahmagiri, Nayagarh, Ranpur, Chilika -- with about 16 lakh (1.6 million) voters that makes up the Puri Lok Sabha constituency.

What are the main challenges before you? You contested the Bhubaneswar Lok Sabha seat in 2019, but weren't successful.

I contested, but I fell short by a very small margin.

Obviously, Puri is a new constituency for me compared to Bhubaneshwar; the plus point is it is my home district. My home place also falls within the Puri parliamentary constituency. Village-wise I belong to Pipilly Delang in Puri. I have a strong connection to Puri. You can say that I am a local boy and that's my advantage in this seat.

Challenges like connecting with my voters, supporting and connecting with my booth workers to spread the BJD's message of all-round development -- this I learnt last time (while contesting from Bhubaneshwar in 2019) is very, very important to ensure that we win the election.

This is not only about telling your voters how good you are and how you plan to work for their development but also about being able to structure the whole electoral machinery and logistics to your advantage.

A good strategy involves building a strong rapport with the elected MLAs from these seven assembly segments and dove-tailing their victories to connect with the grassroots workers and ensuring you are visible even at the gram panchayat level.

What's the thrust of your campaign? What are the programmes you're talking about to your voters as a BJD candidate?

Fortunately, the honourable chief minister (Naveen Patnaik) has focused on Puri's infrastructure and development in a big way. Whether it is improving the infrastructure network or getting a new airport for the city, he has done it all.

Puri is a pilgrim city and the work on the world famous Shree Mandir corridor (Shree Jagannath Heritage Corridor) is almost complete.

Puri is famous for being the seat of Lord Jagannath and people from all over the world, especially from India, come here on a daily basis. Our chief minister has worked very hard to develop Puri as a pilgrim centre as well as a global tourist hub.

A lot of welfare schemes touching the lives of people have been floated in the last five years.

The next stage now is focusing on the youth. The BJD manifesto is very much inclined towards the welfare schemes and development of the poor and the underprivileged and largely revolves around the persona of the chief minister.

The soft aspect of his personality like his compassion, honesty, and simplicity is beyond comparison and these aspects will definitely carry the day for the BJD especially during elections.

Naveen Patnaik is known as the man of development and during the last 25 years the state of Odisha has seen humongous development and infrastructure projects coming our way enabling huge employment opportunities.

Will the chief minister be campaigning in Puri? Will he be addressing any rally in Puri because it's a prestigious seat and you are contesting against Sambit Patra...

I wouldn't know that because the chief minister's office chalks out their own calendar. Whether the chief minister would actually be coming and campaigning for me remains to be seen but I am certainly hoping that he comes.

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra D Modi and Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik laying the foundation of multiple development projects in Chandikholet. Photograph: ANI Photo

The BJD and BJP were very close to forging an alliance, but that didn't work out. Why?

I am not in the know of that. I'm not privy to that. Such important issues, obviously, remains in the chief minister's domain. There were talks about it (an alliance between the BJD and BJP) in the media but strictly speaking I was not privy to it. It is the chief minister's domain; if at all such a development was in the making, then it was very, very, confidential and not for people like me to know.

The BJD has moved the Election commission against Sambit Patra for distributing clocks with party symbols. What's happening on the ground?

Whatever I know is based on whatever I have seen in the media.

Literally, I have no time to delve into all these things. Whatever I've seen in the media, our party has registered some complaint with the Election Commission regarding some clocks that were distributed (by BJP candidate Sambit Patra).

How many seats from Odisha do you think the BJD will win? What's the BJD's internal assessment?

I have absolutely no information about it.

Most of the contests will be direct contest between the BJD and BJP...

That's true. But as a party worker my job is to work hard to improve the image of my party and our chief minister and ensure that all his good work translates into votes for us so that he can continue to work for the state's development and progress.

How does the BJD plan to take on the might of the BJP? How do you plan to take on Sambit Patra in Puri?

Let's not talk about personal contests, but I can assure you that the BJP is not as mighty a political force in Odisha as it is made out to be. I'm not being complacent when I make such statements. I am telling you what I have been seeing on the ground. As of now, the BJD is having 112 out of 147 seats in the Odisha assembly, the BJP has 23 and the Congress 9.

We have seen expulsion of couple of people (BJD MLAs who joined the BJP) for anti-party activities. Even on the parliamentary side we have a majority of seats (out of the 21 Lok Sabha seats the BJD won 12, the BJP 8 and the Congress 1 in 2019) and obviously our effort will be to improve upon our total in this election.

The people of Odisha have been electing the BJD and our chief minister since 2000 so there is no anti-incumbency against him. In fact, every time the number of our Vidhan Sabha seats have increased.

This proves a wave of pro-incumbency exists in Odisha. This has happened only because the people of Odisha trust Naveen Patnaik when it comes to handing over the reign of the state to him.

In fact, in Odisha we have seen only pro-incumbency in favour of the chief minister. In the 2024 Lok Sabha election too, this pro-incumbency wave will be in our favour and this will definitely help us increase our tally (the number of Lok Sabha seats).

Ours is a very benevolent government which has lot of credibility, lot of trust. That trust factor, the benevolence factor, works for the BJD.

The state has remained very peaceful; there are hardly any disturbances, riots in Odisha. We are a peace-loving people and are very happy with the persona of the chief minister as someone who is very concerned, empathetic, and kind.

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