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Monday, June 09, 2014

POLITICS DEMOCRACY ODISHA  

Odisha: 'Bureaucratic monopoly has resulted in rampant corruption at grassroots', says Pyarimohan Mohapatra

 

"Bureaucratic monopoly, led by a coterie of a few officers, has resulted in rampant corruption at grassroots and the poor common man of Odisha is tortured and harassed. People are helpless as their elected representatives, who they turn to with grievances, are too helpless by this bureaucratic governance", says Odisha's Rajya Sabha MP Pyarimohan Mohapatra during his conversation with a facebook user 'Commonman's Voice'

 
Facebook user Commonman's Voice  
   

Commonman's Voice (CV): You have been known as Naveen Patnaik’s right hand man, his mentor. What went wrong?

Pyarimohan Mohapatra (PM) : Not exactly Naveen’s man, I was all along Biju Patnaik’s man and ultimately the Party Man. I built up the party from a crowd of power-seekers to the strongest and largest political organization in Odisha – from mere 10,000 odd members to 27 lakh at present. And, that was what he was afraid of. Being a man who never meets people - he does not visit even the CM’s grievance cell, does not like to meet party workers – he was afraid of such a huge army of party workers. And what went wrong was the massive mandate I secured for him in 2009 elections – 103 MLAs out of total 147 in Odisha Assembly, that too in the face of natural anti-incumbency after two terms in government and going alone without the decade old alliance with BJP.

 

You know, absolute power corrupts absolutely, and this 2/3rd majority corrupted his attitude. He felt he is the party – just One Man Party. Then I committed another mistake – in the panchayat elections early this year, I campaigned in politically difficult 13 districts which we had lost 5 years back and became successful in wresting 12 Zilla Parishads out of them. His ‘I-am-the-Party’ syndrome could not tolerate another person with such a vast worker base and election campaigning-cum-winning ability.

CV: But, why should Naveen be afraid of you? After all, it is the image of Naveen Patnaik that brings vote while your name is associated with everything wrong.

PM: In politics, he who works more is more prone to the blame game while the empty hand is always clean. Till date, BJD, and for that matter Naveen too, gets votes in the name of Biju Patnaik. But, Biju Babu was not so fortunate like his son, he had lots of scandals and rumors against him. As a matter of strategy, I had stonewalled Naveen’s image against anything wrong, because he was our public face and leader of the party. So, I was the natural target. Secondly, in any party, credit for everything goes to the leader only.

Take the example of rice at Rs.2/- per KG. I was trying to convince the CM since 2007 to provide rice at Rs.4 per kg in KBK (Kalahandi-Bolangir-Koraput) districts, known for hunger and starvation deaths. As usual, Naveen referred it to bureaucrats who turned it down. Then Raman Singh provided rice at Rs.3/- in neighbouring Chhatisgarh and I again went with this request. Bureaucracy rejected it once again. In 2008, YSR gave rice at Rs 2/- per kg in Andhra Pradesh. When I renewed my pleading to implement that in Odisha too, bureaucracy dismissed the proposal on the ground that it would cost 900 crore per annum to the state exchequer. At that time came the proposal to implement recommendations of the 6th Pay Commission and the Chief Minister passed an annual bonanza of 2001 crore. I was deeply hurt.

You can afford to bear 2001 crore per annum to please mere 8 lakh government employees and pensioners in the stroke of a pen, but you are reluctant to manage only 900 crore to feed 54 lakh families below poverty line? My conscience forced me to revolt. The chief minister handed over the phone to the chief secretary and his principal secretary by turn to convince them. But I made it very clear that if the government could not feed hungry people, I would not allow it to pay for your luxury out of the taxpayers’ money. They had no other way than accepting my proposal. This is the story behind Odisha government’s most popular rice-at-Rs.2-a-kg scheme. See now who takes the credit – obviously the chief minister. Can I or any minister, MP, MLA or party worker take credit for any good work they do?

CV: Well, you were a bureaucrat too. What’s wrong if he depends on some other officers?

PM: His over dependency on bureaucracy has been a bone of contention between us from the very beginning. Since I was a bureaucrat, people had a wrong notion that I was responsible for this. But no, I was always insisting on political governance to serve the hopes and ambitions of the people in the real sense of democracy. Senior cabinet ministers feel neglected. Secretaries pass files and take decisions bypassing ministers. Even clerks do not listen to MLAs. Bureaucratic monopoly, led by a coterie of a few officers, has resulted in rampant corruption at grassroots and the poor common man is tortured and harassed. People are helpless as their elected representatives, who they turn to with grievances, are too helpless by this bureaucratic governance. I raised this point in 2010 State Council meeting of the party, which he took as a symptom of revolt.

CV: Anyway, Odisha has prospered a lot during Naveen’s 12 year rule.

PM: Prospered? Having worked with Biju Babu for long, I am influenced by his belief that real development of the state means prosperity of every family, not the wealth of a few. It is this lack of political governance and bureaucratic monopoly which made development first causality in the state. If this statistics of so called growth rate publicized by government is really development, why then people like Jhintu Bariah still die in starvation? Why our farmers commit suicide? Why our educated youth run to Surat and Andhra Pradesh for work? That too when you are hyping about industrialization? When I was handling the 2004 elections for BJD, I included in our party election manifesto a clear blueprint about India’s first employment mission to provide employment and self-employment to 29 lakh youth of the state within 5 years. After electoral victory, I had to fight for over 1 year to get a high power employment mission formed under chairmanship of the chief minister. Little did I know that with the chief minister as head, nothing would be done. Such an important body formed to shape the future of our youth remained a mere signboard.

CV: Why industrialization fails in Odisha?

PM: Working with Biju Babu, I have seen the magic of political willpower to make any developmental work a success. Any developmental work, including industrialization, is basically meant for development of the people at large. People are the real beneficiary of any developmental program, they should not be victims of development. This concept of harmonious development is missing in Odisha, for which both the people and the industrialization have become victims. The political willpower, which represents the interest of the people, is missing.

CV: There are allegations that you raised 200 crores to topple the government. Are you open to an enquiry?

PM: Yes, I welcome an enquiry, not only to this allegation, but to all the allegations so far. Rather I say invite allegations from public and send them to enquiry too. But the big question is : who should enquire? The state vigilance, when the chief minister and his party colleagues are the accusers? Can it be impartial? If you are true, then hand over enquiry to an independent agency. Why not CBI?

CV: There are rumors that you are planning to join hands with Congress to topple the government.

PM: Rubbish. All these years I have built up the organization against both Congress and BJP. I cannot betray the labour of my own 27 lakh party workers who fought against the main opposition party Congress at the grassroots. And, I cannot betray my own 12 years of struggle against Congress.

CV: What’s your status in BJD, now that you have been suspended?

PM: I am still in BJD. I was, I am and I shall be with the 27lakh members of BJD till my last breath.

CV: What are your future plans? Do you aspire to be the Chief Minister of Odisha?

PM: Repeatedly I have said, there are many leaders in BJD - the chief minister, senior ministers, vice-presidents - but I am Worker No.1. Though it’s an open secret that I was selecting candidates in elections, suggesting names for different government and party posts, I have not brought a single member of my family into politics. While many leaders of the party were lobbying hard for tickets for their kith and kin, I was lobbying for the real grassroots workers and youth. I feel rewarded when I see the faces of half a century young BJD MLAs with no political family background. If you really want a change, then change this feudal form of politics, free politics from the clutches of a fortunate few and create more leaders at grassroots. That is the real empowerment of the ordinary people. All these years I was doing this and I will continue to do so. My 27 lakh party workers and these grassroots leaders will decide ‘our’, not mine, collective future course of action in the best interest of Odisha and its people.

Declaration: The interview is published on permission.

[Commonman's Voice is a facebook user initiating discussions on political and other issues.]

 

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