During his visit to state this April, Prime Minister Narendra Modi stopped near you to shake your hands at the airport. He had called you the oldest sainik of the party. How did you feel?
Narendra Modi is one of those prime ministers who can spot a Jamuna Singh, an Anganwadi worker from a remote area. He can take people from the ground level to a newer height. So when Modiji talked to me, I was really happy.
Despite the recognition from Modi, your party has sidelined you. You were in the race for party president post this time, but could not make it...
I was invited by the party's then president Rajnath Singh to Delhi where he asked me to take over the reins of the state unit. I had politely refused saying that it would be difficult for me to manage the affairs. Even the BJP's Odisha-in-charge Arun Singh had asked me to take up the responsibility. Later, I agreed after nearly one-and-a-half-month, but things had changed suddenly. The party leadership might have thought that there must be something lacking in me for which I should not be given the leadership at that moment.
There is a wide perception that you had been denied the role because you are not as friendly as current president Basant Panda with Union petroleum minister Dharmendra Pradhan, who is calling the shots at the moment...
I know people are talking about it, but let me tell you that it was Dharmendra Pradhan who had asked me to take up the responsibility according to the desires of the national leadership. He had assured me that everyone would work together to take the party to new heights.
Don't you think that there is a coterie in the party?
There may be some group dynamics in the lower rungs, but such things don't exist at the highest level. Our party believes in democracy and stresses on collective responsibility. We have a core committee, which takes crucial decisions. Neither Pradhan nor Oram call the shots. We even invite outsiders to the core committee for their opinion on various issues.
Why has the leadership ignored senior leaders such as Bijoy Mohapatra and Dilip Ray?
Both of them are senior leaders and they have contributed to the party immensely. Dilip Ray was present at the meetings of Amit Shah and Narendra Modi. I don't have any idea as to whether they have been ignored by the party leadership in any way...
There is a feeling in the BJP that workers are being sidelined because of outsiders. Take the example of Narayan Sahu, who was marginalised because of Ashok Panigrahi, who joined recently, as you don't have leaders in Bijepur.
It's not correct that we don't have leaders in Bijepur. Also, Ashok Panigrahi has yet not been declared as the candidate. In the last panchayat polls, we got nearly 90,000 votes in Bijepur because of our workers and the party's image. Our core committee will take a decision on the candidate and recommend it to the central leadership. Then our national president will take a final call. It's a lengthy process.
Do you think the BJP's target of winning 120-plus seats in the Assembly polls pragmatic?
Why not? There is an anti-incumbency factor in the state - people are fed up with the BJD because of its failure to bring development in 17 years. The same situation was seen in Uttar Pradesh, where we went from having 12 MPs to 71 MPs. We then formed the government with an absolute majority by winning more than 300 seats. Similar opportunities have arisen in Odisha. At the same time, the base of the Congress is melting. Now, we will have to look where that base is shifting. Amit Shah set the target after feedback from the ground level.
Odisha has two cabinet ministers in the Modi government. Who is better?
You cannot compare two individuals. Jual Oram has done well in his field and Dharmendra Pradhan has done astounding work in his ministry by successfully implementing the Ujjwala scheme.
But the BJP is projecting Pradhan as its chief ministerial candidate and his hoardings are being prominently put up at all meetings...
What is wrong with Pradhan? He is capable... On the issue of putting up hoardings, the party has decided to put up pictures of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, party president Amit Shah, two Union ministers, the state president and the BJP Legislature Party leader.
Jual Oram has said the BJP has nearly five to six chief ministerial candidates in the party. Who are they?
His statement was misunderstood. We have five to six potential candidates unlike the BJD where Naveen Patnaik is their sole leader. All the votes are polled in his name. Ours is a cadre-based party. There is no competition among our leaders, but a healthy understanding and co-operation among all the candidates. The aim of each worker is that the party flourishes.
You contested the last Lok Sabha election from Balasore. Will you contest the next polls or will you return to state politics?
It's up to the party. If the party decides I will not contest and work only for the party.
Don't you think moral values have taken a back seat in politics?
There has been a degradation of values in politics, the moral values of politicians have taken a nosedive. While it's difficult to remain honest, it's not impossible. With the philosophy of our Jana Sangh leaders Syamaprosad Mookerjea and Deendayal Upadhyay one can still go ahead with value-based politics...
Is the BJP free from moral degradation?
There has been an overall deterioration of moral values in all parties. I cannot say that all the people in the BJP are good and all the people in BJD are shaitan (evil). A lot of experiment is going on in the BJP on how to honestly run the party. The party has started accepting donations in the form of cheques only and complete auditing is also on.
Like the BJD's Prasanna Patasani, you also sport a beard giving an impression that you are a sadhu (saint) in politics. You won't trim your beard?
No, I am a politician. I tried to be a monk, but failed. Earlier, I used to be clean shaven, but now I sport a beard.
The Naveen Patnaik government has revised salary and pension of MLAs and ex-MLAs. Do you support this move?
An MLA has to do a lot of social service. People come to them with high expectations as they cannot approach the collector. He has to attend a number of events. Where will he find money to meet all these social obligations?
What would you have been if not a politician?
I had set two goals during my childhood. I decided that I would either be a sanyasi (monk) or would do something for my motherland. Accordingly, I had proceeded to be a sanyasi and went to the Ramkrishna Mutt in Calcutta. After they examined my biodata, they came to know that I my widowed mother was alive. They insisted that I go back and serve her. Then I started involving myself in social services, leading me to step into politics.