Secretary general of the Biju Janata Dal Damodar Rout talks to Dilip Satapathy on why his party snapped the decade-old ties with the Bharatiya Janata Party and the politicial options before the BJD.
Why did the BJD snap its 11-year-old ties with the BJP?
The BJP ditched us. Their unreasonable demand for more seats in the assembly elections resulted in the snapping of the alliance. The BJP was trying to expand its base in the state and seemed to give priority to its own interests while the BJD always gave priority to the interests of Orissa. In the run-up to this year's polls in the state, the BJP demanded more than 63 assembly seats on which it had contested the last time. But in reality, their popularity was down.
What is the basis of your claim that the BJP's popularity is down?
It is based on public perception and elaborate surveys. We roped in some reputed agencies to conduct a detailed assessment for all the 147 assembly constituencies in Orissa and found that we would not be able to offer more than 35 seats to the BJP if we go by winnability. In 2000, we offered the BJP 63 seats, out of which it won 36. In 2004, it won only 31 out of these 63 seats.
The BJD won 68 out of the 84 seats it contested in 2000 and 61 out of these 84 seats in 2004. Moreover, in 2000, about 69 per cent votes polled by the BJP were BJD's votes. Our assessment was that if we offered 63 seats to the BJP in the coming elections, it would barely win 20. This would have seriously jeopardised the chances of the alliance coming back to power. That the BJP's popularity is on the wane can be guessed from the fact that four BJP Members of Legislative Assembly joined our party immediately after the ties were snapped.
Add to this, the BJP this time has a hardcore Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh man, L K Advani, as its leader, and not Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who was acceptable to all due to his moderate stance.
Were the communal riots in Kandhamal a reason why you snapped ties with the BJP?
When we entered into a seat-sharing arrangement ahead of the 2000 assembly polls, our objective was to provide good governance to the people of Orissa and to keep the Congress out of power. When the BJP started pursuing its Hindutva agenda, it resulted in communal violence in Kandhamal. The BJD, being a secular party, was naturally upset by this hidden agenda of the BJP.
Will the break-up split the anti-Congress votes and weaken your chances?
The snapping of the alliance will split the anti-Congress votes to some extent. However, the BJD expects to compensate for this by securing rural votes, which will come to the party due to the government's several rural development schemes. Moreover, many Congress leaders have started joining our party in the last couple of days. We also have got support from the Left, the Nationalist Congress Party and the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha.
Are you going to enter into alliances with the Left, the NCP and the JMM, whose MLAs have pledged you support after the BJP pulled out of your government?
No decision on poll alliances has been taken. But we may have a seat-sharing arrangement with the Left and the NCP. The actual number of seats to be given to these parties is yet to be decided. The BJD has not talked to the state unit of the NCP yet and negotiations have been held only with NCP chief Sharad Pawar. The Communist Party of India and the Communist Party of India - Marxist have pockets of influence in select constituencies of Ganjam, Jagatsinghpur and Brajrajnagar.
Up to how many seats will you leave for the Left and the NCP?
See, with the BJP, we were reluctantly prepared to offer 35 assembly seats and five Lok Sabha seats. Though it is yet to be decided how many seats we may leave for the Left and the NCP, it can be 15-20 assembly seats at best. We may contest all 21 Lok Sabha seats in the state on our own.
What about sharing seats with the JMM?
The BJD is fully committed to the territorial integrity of Orissa. We cannot tolerate anybody demanding even an inch of Orissa. The JMM has to drop its demand for including Mayurbhanj, Keonjhar and Sundergarh in Jharkhand.
There is speculation of the BJD joining the Third Front? How do you see the party's role in the post-poll scenario?
We have kept all options open. At the central level, the BJD is open to post-poll alliances with the United Progressive Alliance and the Third Front. However, we have reservations on backing the National Democratic Alliance as the BJP ditched us in the state.
What will be your poll plank?
The step taken by the government to provide rice at Rs 2 per kg to 5.5 million below-poverty-line families will be one of our major poll planks. Besides, the focus will also be on overall development of the state in areas like finance, industrialisation, social welfare and rural development under the leadership of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik. Patnaik will be projected as a star campaigner due to his clean image. We will also showcase other achievements of the government like the Biju KBK Yojana and the Gopabandhu Grameen Yojana for development of rural areas in 11 coastal districts.
But the Congress says all these programmes are run with the Centre's money/subsidy?
The Centre may be giving the funds, but the schemes are delivered through the state government, creating the impression that the state government is delivering. This has endeared Naveen Patnaik to the people.
The BJD has been in power in the state for the last nine years. How will the anti-incumbency factor impact its prospects?
Anti-incumbency will have very little impact. Naveen Patnaik may not have the towering personality of his illustrious father, Biju Patnaik, but he is the most popular leader in the state at the moment. Patnaik's charisma and his ability to pull crowds remained intact and have, infact, grown.
Are you going to introduce a number of new faces in the coming elections?
We are thinking of introducing new faces for the assembly polls but a decision is yet to be taken. There are some unpopular ministers and legislators, according to our survey, and the party may get rid of them. The BJD expects to win 85-90 Assembly seats, but we are yet to arrive at a figure for the Lok Sabha polls as the list of candidates is yet to be prepared.
What about intra-party squabbles?
There is no infighting in the BJD. Naveen Patnaik is the supreme leader.