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Let BJD be called as Pyari Janata Dal: Damodar Rout

Dr. Damodar Rout is a veteran politician and prominent face in Biju Janata Dal (BJD), the ruling party in Odisha. He was a Panchayati Raj minister during Biju Patnaik’s regime. Under Naveen Patnaik government, he first served as Panchayati Raj minister and then Agriculture minister. But he has been recently dumped by the party owing to internal squabbles among the top leaders. After resigning as a minister, he has launched Biju Bichar Manch to keep himself going. Speaking exclusively to Pradeep Baisakh and Pratichi Hota, he laments the deviation of his party from the ideology of Biju Patnaik, comments on his arch rival Pyarai Mohan Mohapatra and criticizes the opponents of POSCO project.

Orissadiary: You have launched Biju Bichar Manch. What is it exactly? Is it just an intellectual forum or anything beyond that?

Damodar Rout:
Biju Bichar Manch is basically a forum to discuss and propagate the ideology, life, work and visions of Late Biju Patnaik. He was a true Odia and dedicated himself for the cause of Odisha. Before he came to politics he was a big industrialist. But he was quite aggrieved to see the poverty stricken people of Odisha. Odisha was poor despite being rich in natural resources as there was not enough scope for industrialization, which could reduce poverty. He therefore tried very hard and lay down the plan for development of Odisha for next ten years. He brought about visible development like Paradip port, many engineering and medical colleges, Agriculture University etc to the state during his tenure as Chief Minister. He became a popular person among Odias and called as a ‘Kimbadanti Purush’.

He passed away in 1997 and was succeeded by his son Naveen Patnaik. People accepted him as he was son of a great leader. In the mean time, 14 years have passed. Some people who opposed his ideology are now enjoying power in Biju Janata Dal (BJD). Somehow I feel that the party and the government are not following the path shown by Biju Patnaik. Therefore this manch is for discussing the vision of the legendary Biju babu, sensitize the younger generation about Biju’s real ideology so that the state follows his ideology and prosper.

Orissadiary: You are saying that BJD is deviating from the ideals of Late Biju Pattnaik? Can you give some examples to substantiate your claim?

Damodar Rout: With help of N Khosla, one of the then prominent engineers of India, Biju Patnaik prepared a blue print called decade of destiny for industrial development of Odisha. Considering the availability of mineral resources, water resources, the forest and sea coast, he cited how many industries of different type could be built while maintaining the sustainability of natural resources. He wanted a second steel plant. He invited Swaraj pal to put up a steel plant at Duburi and then called it Kalinga Nagar. Duburi is very ideally located in terms of communication and availability of iron ore.

But what is happening now? We have signed MoU for more than 48 steel plants, half a dozen of Aluminum plants, about 20 power plants, more than 54 sponge iron factories so on and so forth. If all plants come into being how much ore would be consumed, what would be the quantum of emission to the air, and what is the likely impact on environment? Therefore appropriate discussion on how much mineral resource could be utilized should be done.

When the bill on naming the technical university was discussed, I pushed for it to be named after Biju Patnaik. So now we have Biju Patnaik University of technology (BPUT). But now the government is announcing schemes after schemes in name of Biju Patnaik e.g. Biju setu, Biju KBK yojana, Biju Krishak Yojana etc. As enough care is taken for their proper implementation, they bring bad name to Biju Patnaik. The process the government is adopting is not in line of Biju Patnaik’s ideology. I have no grudge against the government though.

Orissadiary: Does not sound it contradictory where you are a great supporter of POSCO project and on the other criticizing the ‘indiscriminate’ industrialization process of the state government?

Damodar Rout: As far as POSCO steel plant is concerned, we are going to set up it at the sea shore. There is no question of land acquisition as they are mostly government land. Since it is on the sea shore, there is least possibility of pollution. They are also brining the modern technology where the pollution level will be less. Again, that is an underdeveloped area. The land is of low productivity due to salinity. If the south Asian company comes with 12 billion dollar investment, there will be development in the area. It will generate a lot of employment and create ancillary industries. So I welcome the project. But the state government should provide needed infrastructure like electricity and port along with land, water, and mineral. But the government is not able to provide them. So the project is basically not bad, but the implementation is. And there are many politicians who oppose it as they do not understand the benefits of such industries.

Orissadiary: Your government is allegedly crushing the democratic voice of the people there who oppose the POSCO project. What you have to say on this?

Damodar Rout:It is not a fact.

Orissadiary: Television channels showed how your police force attack and intimidate people.

Damodar Rout:: It is unfortunate that my dear media friends, without going deep into the matter, are interested to propagate something that will draw attention of the people. I am a man of that area. I represented that area for 35 years as a Legislator. There are 22,000 people staying in the three Panchayats (Dhinkia, Gada Kujanga and Nuagaon). There is dearth of ground water there. Once this water is exhausted what will be the fate of people there? None has examined this aspect.

Only a handful number of people will be displaced and that too willfully. No one is forcing them.

Orissadiary: Your Chief Minister had promised to go to the area to speak to the people. But he did not keep his promise. Why?

Damodar Rout: The Chief Minister did not promise to go there. It is some communist party people who are opposing POSCO project, have been forcing the CM to go there. One outsider is helped financially and politically in many ways to oppose POSCO project there.

Orissadiary: you are hinting at Abhaya Sahoo of Posco Pratirodha Sangram Samiti (PPSS). I also asked him that Damodar Rout alleges that he is an outsider. He said you also do not belong to that area!

Damodar Rout: But I have many relatives there. I represented that constituency earlier.

Orissadiary: You could have launched the Biju Bichar Manch while you were a minister, but you preferred to launch it only after you resigned. Do you want your political ambitions fulfilled by this platform?

Damodar Rout: When Biju Patnaik was Chief Minister in 1961, he first started the Panchayati Raj (PR) system in Odisha. In 1964, Jawaharlal Nehru remarked in AICC session in Odisha that Biju’s panchayat system is more progressive than others.

In 1991 Biju Patnaik said me to amend the state Panchayati Raj law to introduce 33% reservation for women in it and I did so. This was first of this kind in the country. I was very much appreciated all over the country as the Panchayati Raj Minister. In Naveen Patnaik’s government I was again made the Panchayati Raj minister. Odisha got national award twice for the success in its PR system. Manishankar Iyar, the Panchayati Raj minister at the centre took me abroad as the ambassador for PR system. Then I became the agriculture minister. In 2010-11 Odisha got first prize and two crore rupees cash award for better agriculture production in Odisha. I was following the path of Biju Patnaik so was getting success.

Has anyone blamed me? Then why I was dropped as a Minister? As I am not a minister now, so I started Biju Bichar Manch. I will propagate the ideas of Biju Patnaik and not allow hypocrisy in name of Biju Patnaik.

Orissadiary: It is believed in political circle that Damodar Rout is used by party to silence the opposition. That’s the reason¬ why you were brought in as a spokesperson during the election or even after. With BJD coming to power for the third time and opposition being silenced, do you think your utility for the party has diminished and therefore you were dumped?

Damodar Rout: When Naveen Patnaik came to politics, people voted him not for his political ability but as the son of Biju Patnaik. He should therefore try to reciprocate the gesture to the people. For last ten years I tried to protect the leadership of Naveen Patnaik. But now I got this reward. I have been thrown away from the cabinet.

Who are the ministers now? Do they know the ideology of Biju Patnaik? In the hankering for power many people have deviated from Biju’s path. To enjoy opportunity and power and to accumulate wealth they should not use the name of Biju Patnaik.

Let them call the party as Pyarai Janata Dal. I do not mind.

Orissadiary: Tell us frankly what’s the harm if Pyari Mohan becomes close to Naveen Patnaik and enjoys a lot of power? In every political party that happens. Some group of party cadres close to the party supremo enjoys a lot of power. Why do you object to this?

Damodar Rout: I don’t agree to this. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had some people with him who would help raise fund for party and help him selecting candidates for elections. Indira Gandhi had also some advisors. Now Sonia Gandhi has also advisors to advice her on political matters. They are political people.

But here senior politicians are available to Naveen for advice, which is not taken. Pyari Mohan was a bureaucrat. He was critical of Biju Pattnaik branding him as communist. Now he takes decisions. There is no internal democracy in the party now.

Orissadiary: During your stint as the Agricultural Minister, you laid down road maps for increasing agri-production, milk and egg production in the state. That is a welcome step. But on BT cotton seeds, which are proved to be fatal in AP and Maharastra, have made inroads to Balangir and Bargarh like districts during your tenure. How can you allow such killer seed to Odisha? Are the companies like Monsato and others who produce such seeds more important for you than your own farmers?

Damodar Rout: First Kerala government and then me, we opposed BT cotton. I wanted to form a group with the minister of agriculture of Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh and to meet the PM on the issue. Odisha government has refused BT cotton in principle. BT cotton available now has been introduced by the private firms. There is no backing of the government for it.

Orissadiary: Now Damodar Rout has become a tech savvy person. You have created a facebook account to propagate the ideas of Biju Bichar Manch. Why did you choose to do this?

Damodar Rout:I have taken help of some young friends to operate facebook account of Biju Bichar Manch. As now social media has become useful in reaching out to many people, I felt it important to make use of it.

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