Naveen Patnaik is a man of few words. But when he speaks, everyone takes note. At the valedictory function of the Odisha Literary Festival 2016, the Odisha Chief Minister opened up in a freewheeling interaction with Editorial Director of The New Indian Express Prabhu Chawla. From alliance politics to choice of his official car, Naveen spoke on an array of topics. Here is the full interview.
Prabhu Chawla: A very important member of your party has hinted at possible alliance with Congress. Is it because BJP is emerging stronger and you want to have an anti-BJP alliance ?
Naveen Patnaik: The gentleman you have referred to has said he was misquoted. I have also clarified that there is no question of an alliance with Congress. In fact, our (BJD’s) policy is to remain equi-distant from the BJP and Congress. Just a little more than two years ago in elections, out of 147 seats in Assembly, the BJD got 116, Congress 16 and BJP 10. Odisha has 21 Lok Sabha seats out of which BJD won in 20 and BJP in one. There is no sign of those parties gaining in strength in the State.
PC: When we say equi-distant which party is more distant, BJP or Congress ?
NP: As I have said earlier, we are equi-distant from both BJP and Congress.
PC: Why Odisha is still not in national mainstream. When somebody talks about Odisha, it is always about its poverty and such things. Why is nobody talking about the good things ?
NP: Odisha has become a rice surplus State which is a major achievement. Odisha was buying rice before 2000. We came to power in 2000 and in 2006, Odisha became a rice exporting State. We are among the first three States in the country for doing very well in agriculture.
PC: But look at the national newspapers and television channels. There is more about Dana Majhi and other such incidents. Why has the image of Odisha not changed ?
NP: It has changed. For some years now, we have the scheme of 25 kg rice at `1 per kg for which starvation has become a story of the past. The Government has also built one million pucca houses during the last two years. We will certainly see that there will be no kutcha houses left in the State during next two years. In many development fields and welfare schemes, Odisha is doing extremely well.
PC: You had two meets on investment in Mumbai and Bangalore and will be having another one in Bhubaneswar soon. But flow of investment to the State has not been as expected. Why?
NP: Till two years back, we were among the top two States in the country in drawing investment. There has been certain failures like Posco, the biggest FDI in the country, because the Centre has changed policy and cannot give mines to them. Otherwise, a number of other projects have come up and are doing extremely well.
PC: Most of the international projects which had shown interest in Odisha including Posco are no longer showing interest. Is it because of the negative publicity, the bureaucracy or something else?
NP: That is because of the global problem. Global aspect has to be kept in mind.
PC: Suddenly you have raised the Mahanadi river water dispute with Chhattisgarh. Is it because of the panchayat election in 2017 ?
NP: If the Chhattisgarh Government builds small barrages, there will be no problem. But Chhattisgarh has plans to construct big barrages and has a masterplan because of which flow of water to Mahanadi will stop. Naturally, it is a matter of concern and the Government is exploring all options including legal ones. We may go to court to tackle the problem.
PC: You say, Mahanadi river water dispute has nothing to do with panchayat polls ?
NP: It has nothing to do with panchayat polls. We have raised the issue for water for irrigation, drinking water and power.
PC: Prime Minister Narendra Modi talks about cooperative federalism. Do you have a feeling that it is working ?
NP: I don’t think there is much of cooperative federalism because the Centre has cut off large amount of funds to the State. That is a very big problem for us.
PC: You want to say cooperative federalism is just a slogan for Modi?
NP: I do not see this (cooperative federalism) is in operation.
PC: But still you support GST
NP: Yes. GST is good thing.
PC: You think you will get more money ?
NP: Let us see.
PC: Now it has been 17 years for you in Odisha. Don’t you think you should play a role in national politics ? How can Biju Patnaik’s son not be a national leader ?
NP: My foremost concern is for the State. That is what I am concentrating on. I don’t want to move to Delhi. I have been a Central minister. I am very content to be here and work for people. There is a great deal of unfinished work here.
PC: Are you grooming any leader in Odisha ?
NP: I think the people in their judgment will choose their own leader at an appropriate time. There is no need to groom any leader.
PC: One of your political opponents admired your lifestyle. You are the only Chief Minister to be using a modest car where as other CMs prefer SUVs. Is it your simplicity or are you making a statement ? How is a tall leader like you comfortable in a small car like SX4 ?
NP: (Smiles) I am happy and comfortable with the car the Government has provided for me.
PC: What are the three achievements of your Government and two failures?
NP: Odisha has become a food surplus State. Women SHGs have become hugely successful providing livelihood for five million and production of steel has increased by five times.
I think Odisha still has a problem of poverty which we are trying to tackle.
PC: Good and bad things about Modi Government.
NP: I cannot think of them rightaway. But I think he ought to be given more time as India is a huge country.
PC: Are you happy with what he has done ?
NP: I think a lot has to be done.