lthough the BJP performed well in the Lok Sabha elections in Odisha, its performance in Assembly polls was dismal. Newly-elected BJP MP from Bargarh, Suresh Pujari, talking to Kuldeep Singh of
Orissa POST opines that tickets given to leaders who deserted their parties could be one of the reasons of the BJP’s drubbing in Assembly elections. Excerpts:
The BJP has won eight Lok Sabha seats in Odisha. What worked in its favour?
You need different parameters to win an election. Naturally, this time what went in favour of BJP is that the people of Odisha wanted Narendra Modi to be the Prime Minister for a second time. That worked amazingly for BJP’s success in the state. Although the Modi wave was evident all over, we succeeded in eight seats, five of them in Western Odisha. We also won in Mayurbhanj, Balasore and Bhubaneswar.
You ended up winning 23 seats in Assembly. Why?
I’m disappointed because of our poor performance in the Assembly elections. We expected more than 10 Lok Sabha seats and more than 120 in Assembly seats. BJP as a party is growing in Odisha but while fighting two elections simultaneously something has gone wrong. Right now, it will not be wise on my part to explain the reasons of our defeat in Assembly elections. But I have already requested the party to introspect to find out the reasons behind our dismal Performance in Assembly elections.
Did you see a Naveen wave in the state just like the Modi wave?
I think the Biju Janata Dal did not win the elections in Odisha. We lost the elections. Something went wrong with us and because of that we failed to defeat Naveen Babu. I did not find any Naveen wave in Odisha. Since he is the Chief Ministerial candidate fighting from Bijepur, the BJP nominee did not match his stature and lost the elections.
Several former MPs who deserted BJD and joined BJP have lost elections. What reasons do you ascribe?
While nominating candidates for Assembly or Parliamentary elections, we must identify talent within the party. When you fail to find right nominees within the party, we may go beyond and find competent persons elsewhere. I think, in the process, something might have gone wrong as a result of which BJP did not perform to the expectations of the leadership and the people.
Do you think the party decision on nominations right?
I have a bitter experience in such selection process in Odisha. When I was BJP state president in 2009 many BJD stalwarts joined the party. At that time, BJP was not prepared to fight elections alone. The alliance was terminated suddenly by Naveen Babu. At that time many top leaders from BJD and other parties joined BJP and left after losing elections. That wound is yet to be healed. I think from 2009 to 2019 the BJP should have developed its own cadre to be capable of contesting and winning elections. When we failed to do that we fielded people who came from other parties. They were neither accepted by our cadre nor the people of Odisha. Possibly, that could be one of the reasons of our defeat in Assembly polls.
What are the issues of your area which you may rake up in Parliament?
We have set our mission. We will take up local issues and simultaneously focus issues agitating the minds of the people of Odisha. There are plenty of possibilities in Bargarh Lok Sabha constituency. Bargarh sub-division is well irrigated, but the plight of farmers is precarious. During the tenure of Naveen Patnaik several farmers committed suicide. We will focus on the irrigation sector. In the last five years, we had three industries in Bargarh. The sugarcane industry closed down during Naveen Babu’s rule. The textile and the cement industry have almost collapsed. During the tenure of Naveen Babu many industries have been set up in Jharsuguda but half of them have already been shut. Displacement, joblessness, education and healthcare are major issues which we will work upon.
The BJD has been demanding special status tag for Odisha. Will the BJP MPs too join the chorus?
There is a criteria to determine the areas which come under purview of special category states. According to the present law, states on the national border come under the ambit of special category. We want a solution. We want development. When law does not permit to attain special category state, why don’t you ask for special package. Is there any bar? The BJD knows that Odisha does not come under the ambit of special category, so they want to agitate on the issue to take political mileage.
What will be the strategy of BJP in Odisha?
Behind every victory and defeat there are reasons. The party which neglects this process never succeeds. The BJP has to go for introspection to find out the reasons of its success in Lok Sabha elections and defeat in Assembly elections and try to address those problems and strengthen the party in the state.