The Tuesday Interview | 'BJD is an independent party, and will not align with any bloc,' says Sasmit Patra

'We remain equidistant from the BJP-led NDA and the Congress-led UPA, which is now the I.N.D.I.A. bloc. If the BJD and the I.N.D.I.A. bloc are walking out from Parliament, it does not mean we are walking out with them.'
Last Updated : 09 July 2024, 03:47 IST

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The Naveen Patnaik-led BJD is in Opposition in both Odisha and Delhi, a first for the 27-year-old party. After being in an alliance with the BJP till 2009, the BJD under Naveen Patnaik walked the political road alone. But as it is defeated in Assembly and Lok Sabha polls, BJD Parliamentary party leader Sasmit Patra spoke to DH’s Shemin Joy about what is in store for his party.

Post 2024 elections,the BJD’s moves were keenly watched by people and politicians. Several see a change in your attitude. Why so?

There is no change. We were equidistant to both NDA and UPA, which is now I.N.D.I.A. We continue to remain equidistant. If BJD and I.N.D.I.A bloc are walking out from Parliament, it does not mean we are walking out with them. As an independent entity, we can walk out on our own. We don't need to be tagged along with an alliance to be provided legitimacy. The BJD is an independent party. We are fighting both the BJP and the Congress in Odisha.

There was a perception that the BJD bailed out the previous BJP government at critical junctures. Opposition used to accuse BJD of being pro-BJP. What is the difference?

As far as our support to the government of the day, we have never supported any government. You are looking at a period between 2014 and 2024. I would like to extend that time period to 2004 to 2014 also. People forget these ten years. This was the period when the BJP was not in power. There were a number of issues on which the BJD supported the UPA government. Our support to legislation is an independent piece of business. So BJD has not supported or gone against any government. Our support has been completely based on legislation. There are certain Bills like which we have opposed. We walked out in Parliament over farm bills. On certain issues, we expressed our reservations. In others like the CAA, we supported the government. However, on NRC we have opposed it. So our support has been based on the issues at hand and not necessarily the government.

After the 2024 elections, Naveen Patnaik has specifically asked its MPs to be an aggressive Opposition in Parliament. Isn’t the coinage different this time?

We have been a governing party in Odisha for the past 24 years. This is the first time we have become an all-out Opposition party. So you would naturally expect a party which is in opposition in Delhi and in Odisha to become more assertive, aggressive. As a party in government, you have to engage with the union government. But today, we cannot have the same strategy. When you are a governing party, there is always a sense of engagement. If the situation changes, our strategy would change. It happens with any organisation.

Are you saying that there is no coordination with the I.N.D.I.A bloc in Parliament?

There is no coordination, there is no floor management. In fact on July 4, we actually walked out of Parliament much before I.N.D.I.A bloc did. That is there for everyone to see.

Do you mean to say you are not allowing any particular bloc to appropriate the Opposition space?

Parliament is a place where every individual MP has a voice unless there is a Whip issued by the party. Parliamentary democracy provides a voice to every MP. Similarly every political party has an equal voice. Now they may choose to align or not align with a certain combination. We are an independent entity. We fight the BJP and the Congress in Odisha. There is no question of aligning with the Left or the Right.

Congress and other Opposition parties used to accuse the BJD and YSR Congress of being pro-BJP. After elections, YSR Congress is not perceived to be aggressive like BJD. Why is it so?

Well, I do not want to hold the brief for the YSR Congress. I can speak about what BJD is doing and why we are doing it. I would be exceeding my brief by talking about another party.

What was the assessment and message by Naveen Patnaik to the MPs?

His message was very clear – work for the interests and just demands of the people of Odisha. Our state has been denied the special category status. We had raised this demand in Parliament several times. The primary objective will be to ensure special category status. Today, the NDA allies TDP and JD(U) are talking about special category status. I am sure the BJP, though being in the government, cannot wish them away. TDP’s N Chandrababu Naidu has already committed to the people of Andhra Pradesh before the election. JD(U) National Executive now has talked about special category status. We have been demanding it for 20 years. Ironically, the Odisha BJP, in its 2014 election manifesto, had promised that if it comes to power, Odisha will have special category status. So we are holding the BJP to their own words.

All we are saying is we are with you. What Naveen-ji is telling is to be the voice of 4.5 crore people of Odisha. We are a constructive Opposition. There are major issues relating to rural housing. National Highways have not been constructed and the existing ones are deteriorating. Six districts in Odisha are still untouched by Railways even after 75 years of independence. Coal royalty has not been increased for the last 10 years. The banking density is very low. If you look at the tribal population, there are 162 pending proposals for tribal inclusion. Demands for inclusion of several languages in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution are pending. If you look at education, we have been demanding for a Kendriya Vidyalaya in every block. In the health sector, we have been demanding three AIIMS. There are a number of demands that are still pending.

After 24 years, BJD has been relegated to the second position in Odisha. What are the organisational problems the party has identified and what are the strategies you are going to adopt to overcome this decline?

As the Parliamentary Party leader, it would be inappropriate for me to talk about organisational matters. It should come from the Organisation Secretary and the party president.

So, one can see a more aggressive BJD in the next five years. Isn’t it right?

We have always been very assertive. We will be a very forthcoming dynamic opposition. We will continue to raise the voice of people. The BJP MPs from Odisha cannot raise its voice on the injustice meted out to Odisha because they are a part of the ruling government in Delhi. So who would be that voice? It is the BJD and that is why we are going to play the role of a very strong opposition.

Published 09 July 2024, 03:47 IST

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