Ever since he left the BJD, the buzz around the national capital was that Panda would join the BJP. However, it's been seven months and the parliamentarian is yet to take his next call. In an exclusive interview to Financial Express Online, Jay Panda opens up about what is holding him from deciding what he has to decide ahead of the upcoming general elections.
Former lawmaker from the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) Baijayant Jay Panda has been keeping his cards close to his chest on his next political move. Ever since he left the BJD, the buzz around the national capital was that Panda would join the BJP. However, it’s been seven months and the parliamentarian is yet to take his next call. In an exclusive interview to Financial Express Online, Jay Panda opens up about what is holding him from deciding what he has to decide ahead of the upcoming general elections. Besides Odisha politics, Panda also shares his views on the prospects of the Mahagathbandhan, reservation, Sabarimala, and more.
Edited excerpts from the exclusive interaction:
We are just a few months away from the crucial general elections. Any decision on which political party are you going to join?
I left BJD with a lot of heartaches because I had been involved with it right from its founding. The party has been captured by a new coterie and all the original ideals have been lost now. I tried to help the party get back to its original ideal. But that did not work out. I left the party on principles. My decision (to join new party) will be based on principle – whoever is willing to seriously try for a change in Odisha, I am willing to cooperate with them. Both the major national parties are talking about the change in Odisha, they are talking about the same things – crime, corruption, and joblessness – but how far they are serious, I am not so sure. The BJD was very successful for 19 years in playing the BJP and Congress off each other. Both of them got convinced that they should not fight very hard in Odisha because in future BJD may help them. As a result, the Congress harmed itself and slid to the third position. The BJP has come to the second position in Odisha but now making the same mistake. And there are others who are asking me to start a new party so I am in the final stages. I will either cooperate or will ally only with people who are serious about change in Odisha. Not half-heartedly.
So you will form your own outfit and then ally with any of the parties at the Center?
That is one of the possibilities. That is one of the options. Of the major national parties, Congress’ mistakes are older, they made these mistakes 20 years ago and continued and now they are talking very aggressively – in Odisha and nationally. BJP in Odisha was growing until recently and now has started making mistakes. Same mistakes that Congress used to make earlier.
What kind of mistakes is the BJP making?
From the highest levels, the national leaders are not seriously criticising the state government. Many commentators and media reports are indicating that there is some kind of tacit understanding, so that is a mistake. If you have a tacit understanding, your own growth will be affected. So, as I said, my decision will be based on which party is clear about change in Odisha. A lot of people are supporting me that Odisha needs change. But some of the parties in the opposition should be clear about this but they don’t seem to be.
The Prime Minister addressed two rallies in Odisha but did not mention Naveen Patnaik or BJD in any of his speeches
Exactly. And if you are serious, you will challenge the number one party, not the number three party. So it’s a very odd situation in Odisha that the challenger – the number two party – not attacking the number one party but it is attacking the number three party. So that shows some lack of clarity in that party at least for Odisha.
You have written about reservation and whether it has benefitted the people. After 10% quota, many are now coming out asking for an extension in their existing reservation. Where are we heading?
This is not a controversy that is going to die down anytime soon. Many of the beneficiaries of the existing reservation have been asking for more. Those who have been excluded have been asking something for them. And this seems to be a step in that direction. Reservation is a way of correcting social ills. It was originally intended to overcome discrimination. For those who have been discriminated, it has served the purpose. But there are many arguments coming up that whether second generation or third generation or fourth generation people who availed reservations should continue to avail reservations or should it be one generation thing. Even though those who are marginalized and discriminated, once they reach a certain stature and certain society, there can be an argument that you let others in that class/caste/group have some access to those benefits.
Do you think that the time has come for an evaluation of the existing reservations?
The constitution itself says that it will be evaluated every ten years. So, it is supposed to be re-evaluated every ten years. The original wording in the constitution says that it is not meant to be a permanent thing, it is something to correct the imbalance in the society. What has been happening is that it has been renewed every ten years. Now, in that renewal, more application of mind should be there. It should not be just unthinking renewal. Some of the little tweaks, little change –whether the first generation should get priority or also second, third generation beneficiaries should have equal access- these are the issues that should be debated every time it is renewed. I just wish when this comes up next time, there is a greater debate on the issue rather than just only simple reservation.
You have argued in your book – Lutyens Maverick – that Sabarimala and Triple Talaq are two different examples and therefore should not be read in one line. Explain that
This issue goes to the fundamental issue of secularism. Secularism classically has meant what is called separation of Church and the State. The state – which means parliament, courts, and governments – should stay away from the religion. Religion is a private matter. How people practice religion is up to them. Our secularism is very strange because Hindu temples are managed by the government – it’s a very very odd situation. The government should not be managing the places of worship. This is not the case for any other place of worship in India. Sikh Gurudwaras are managed by the Sikh community. Masjids are managed by the Muslim communities.
When it comes to civil laws and criminal laws, every individual should be equal before the law. But when it comes to religion, you practice what you want at home is different but when you go to a place of worship, government interfering or court’s interfering is something that makes me uncomfortable. A place of worship is something that members of that religion have evolved. The state banning Sati, the state establishing uniform marriage rights like what happened with triple talaq recently – these issues go the core of individual rights of the citizens irrespective of religion. But when the state goes to a place of worship and says this is how you should practice your religion, that makes me uncomfortable.
You have talked about India-Pakistan relations in your book. You also referred to a foreign policy expert who said that PM Modi tried to normalise the situation before stopping the talks with Islamabad. How do you see Indo-Pak relations going forward?
It’s not just Modi Ji but every Indian Prime Minister has tried to normalize the relations with Pakistan. They have done it in their own different ways. The reality is something very different. The people of Pakistan are like us and they want peace. But they have been brainwashed by their establishment into thinking that India is the aggressor. The reality is that all four wars were started by Pakistan. But they (people) believe India is the aggressor. The reason for this is that Pakistan is a very peculiar country where foreign policy is not being controlled by its civilian government. Pakistan’s foreign policy especially India-Pakistan policy is controlled by the army. And the army has had the mindset right from Pakistan and they have secured a dominating position in Pakistan’s establishment. And that will be threatened if there is normalcy with India. So I’m not hopeful of any major breakthrough with Pakistan until or unless the foreign policy of Pakistan is controlled by the civilian elected government.
But then what do you have to say to those who say India should talk to Pakistan?
What is the point of talking to Pakistan if their army is not fundamentally willing to agree to any settlement? It’s not that we have not talked to Pakistan, we have talked to Pakistan for 70 years. What has it yielded? There is some merit to the idea that you can’t be talking and shooting at the same time. Nowhere in the world even when two armies are fighting when there is some peace discussion, there is some temporary truce. How can you have shooting and talking at the same time?
Shah Faesal recently quit civil services and later made very scathing remarks. I quote: “The marginalization and invisibilization of around 200 million Indian Muslims at the hands of Hindutva forces reducing them to second-class citizens”. Is it fair to make such a statement?
He has quit the civil service and I believe he has announced that he is interested in politics. That sounds like political assessment. That is not a new political assessment, there are many people on the Left who make that kind of assessment. I do not agree with all of it. There may be some things in some areas. Jammu and Kashmir is the most disturbed part of India and it has always been. So we will have to understand what is happening there with care. But to make such a sweeping statement about all of India, I am not so sure if that is correct.
How do you see this Mahagathbandhan forming up? Do you think this alliance has something to offer?
Mahagathbandhan is significant because elections are both about arithmetic and chemistry. The chemistry is the argument that goes around but arithmetic cannot be ignored either. I had wondered whether they could come together for a general election – it’s one thing to have a gathbandhan (alliance) for a by-election and tougher than that is to have an alliance for the state elections and it’s truly tough to have it for a general election. Although I understand it doesn’t involve everybody like Congress is not part of it and I don’t how much it will affect. But it should not be underestimated – whether there is a credible way forward or not is a different issue, but arithmetic of these parties coming together is significant. It is a contest, it is not a walkover for either side this time.
You are a politician and you also own one of the largest media houses in Odisha. Is there not a conflict of interest?
I come from a business family which has many different business interests. But I can very honestly tell you that ever since I got involved in politics I have kept an arm’s length away from all family business interest and you will not find anybody in Delhi or Odisha who can say that I have ever used my political position to seek any favor.