Congress receding in Odisha, BJP emerges as main rival: Mahtab

By Brajendra Nath Singh

New Delhi: Biju Janata Dal (BJD) leader Bhartruhari Mahtab says that Congress has got “sanjeevani” (life-force) due to efforts of its President Rahul Gandhi and “revival” of the grand old party is “good” for democracy.

The BJD leader maintained that his party would neither join BJP-led NDA or Congress-led opposition front but welcomed the idea of a federal front.

“Our position is very clear. We maintain neutrality. We maintain equal distance with BJP and the Congress and we will continue to do so,” he said, adding that on issues beneficial for Odisha, the party will support whichever government is there at the Centre.

He described as “good” the proposal of a third front but said it has not concretised as yet.

Asked what would be BJD’s stand if no party gets simple majority in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, he said the question was speculative but the party will maintain equal distance with Congress and the BJP.

However, he also says that the Congress’s base was receding in Odisha and the BJP has emerged as ruling party’s main rival in the state but it will not pose a challenge to BJD in the coming parliamentary or assembly polls.

“Rahul Gandhi’s presence has boosted the morale in the Congress. Some weeks back he was in Bhubaneswar and addressed a huge gathering. Of course, the Congress, which was actually getting decimated day after day, has got a little bit of ‘sanjeevani’,” Mahtab told IANS in an interview.

A five-time MP, who has won the best parliamentarian award and is a confidante of Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, he said that Congress’s revival was “good for democracy”.

“Congress is a national party. There are Congressmen in every village even today but they lack leadership, they lack cohesiveness, they lack organisational ability. So if they feel enthused by the presence of Rahul Gandhi, it is good.” Mahtab said.

He, however, said that Congress’s base was receding in Odisha and the BJP has taken that space successfully.

“The Congress is receding day by day. The BJP wants to take that space. Quite successfully they are doing that. That is the reason why Prime Minister Narendra Modi BJP President Amit Shah and many of the union Ministers are repeatedly going to Odisha,” he said.

The Cuttack MP said the BJP’s emergence would not effect BJD’s fortunes in the coming Lok Sabha polls or the Assembly polls which would be held simultaneously.

“It is because BJD’s share of vote percentage and its support base is immense. In 2014 out of 21 seats, the BJP and the Congress were in second position in 10 seats each. The BJD won 20 seats and one seat was won by the BJP. Now, the Congress is receding. So I believe in this election, BJP will be the main contender against our party,” he said.

“We are in power in the state since 2000. Our Chief Minister will be facing the electorate asking for the mandate for the fifth time. During the last four elections, we have not faced any anti-incumbency and this election too anti-incumbency will not be a factor,” he said describing Naveen Patnaik as a “darling of the people”.

Asked about the possibility of Modi returning to power in 2019, specially in the wake of BJP’s drubbing in the Hindi heartlands recently and the Opposition joining hands, Mahtab refrained from giving his views.

“In political sphere, things change and go on changing. Politics is not static, it will evolve itself. What is the situation today may deteriorate or may improve later. We can’t jump to a conclusion,” he said.

On the alleged misuse of CBI by the BJP, Mahtab said that a perception was going around that the Central agency has become a tool of the government or a political party.

“It should function professionally and independently. But the manner in which it functioned in West Bengal and in many cases in Odisha, it seems as if it has a political agenda,” he said.

Asked whether the BJP government at the Centre had met the development demands of the state, he said something has been done but demands like special category status have not been met.

“They have allocated money. During their period, Paradip oil refinery was inaugurated. Attempts are being made to open the Talcher fertiliser plant. Investment in railways has also increased. But there are many other issues on which the Modi government has not helped Odisha.”

He said Odisha has a large concentration on STs and SCs and it was among reasons the BJD has been demanding special category status for it.


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