'I don't question my commander'

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  • Published 16.04.11

What is your assessment of Naveen Patnaik as a politician and chief minister? Do you consider him the cleanest CM Orissa has ever had or the most corrupt?

As per my assessment, Naveen Patnaik is a failure as a chief minister but very successful as a politician. There are scams after scams, farmers are committing suicide, collectors are being abducted, law and order is in a dismal state and Koraput-Balangir-Kalahandi (KBK) districts are being neglected. I can’t comment on whether he is a clean or a corrupt CM. I don’t call anyone names unless he is proved guilty.

The race for PCC president is on. Many Congress leaders have been going to Delhi. Why has 10 Janpath failed to name a new PCC chief even after you made it clear you don’t want to handle the responsibility?

I have never said I don’t want to handle the responsibility. And are they looking for a new president? They have not informed me on that. I am already there as president. Who can change it other than Sonia Gandhi? An appointing authority is the dismissing authority. There are so many trains and flights everyday to Delhi and you can’t stop anyone. They might have gone there for personal reasons.

Do you think the appointment of Jagdish Tytler as in-charge of Orissa affairs has sent a good signal to the people across the state?

What right do you have to ask me this question? My party president Sonia Gandhi has assigned him that job just like she has assigned me my job. I am a military man. I don’t question the integrity and intelligence of my commander. Don’t ask me peculiar questions.

What do you have to say about the issue regarding Tytler’s entry into the Jagannath temple and his “Hindu” identity which was raised by the BJD?

What BJD-BJD? Have you been motivated by them to interview me? Are you their dalal (broker)? Ironically, Tytler was escorted into the temple during Biju Patnaik’s reign in 1994. He is very much a Hindu. He has adopted the surname of his guardian who raised and educated him as a token of gratitude.

Who among the three working presidents — Lulu Mohapatra, Bhakta Charan Das and Chandrasekhar Sahu — is best suited, according to you, to lead the party to a possible victory in the next general elections?

I will have to ask Sonia Gandhi who does all the assessment.

Do you see any future for your party here when there are half a dozen factions vying for control over the party?

I am surprised at your question! Are you trying to compare our 125-year-old party with a 10-year-old one (BJD)? How can you ask whether we have a future or not? BJD has been crying neglect but the Centre has approved Rs 438.87 crore as assistance to farmers in 23 districts for crop loss.

The Congress failed to take advantage of the scams such as, mining scam, coal scam, dal scam and the latest NREGS scam. Are some of your party leaders and MLAs hand-in-glove with the corrupt elements?

It is a wild, motivated allegation by some members of the press. Unless you can prove it, you should not make such charges. We have not failed to take advantage. Otherwise the Supreme Court would not have responded to our allegations and ordered a CBI inquiry into the NREGS scam. Similar is the case with the mining scam and Vedanta University.

Does the Congress high command want the Orissa unit to play a friendly Opposition in the state?

Not at all. The party high command wants us to be an effective Opposition and we are doing exactly that. It will show in the 2014 elections. If some individuals posing as Congressmen have got links with the ruling BJD then neither I nor Sonia Gandhi is responsible.

There is a popular perception that the Congress high command has some kind of secret understanding with the Naveen Patnaik government.

No. It’s like you tell a lie hundred times and it becomes true. It is just a media propaganda. It is just a figment of your imagination, you and your tribe.

The BJD leaders are trying to shift the responsibility to collectors for the NREGS scam. What is your take on this?

Ask the BJD fellows to give all the answers to the CBI and not create confusion in the minds of journalists. They better give satisfactory answers or some of them will land up in Tihar jail as state guests for misappropriation of public money. CBI should take the mandate from the Supreme Court to conduct a probe in every district.

Has your royal background worked against you — both as a person and politician? Has it alienated you from people at large across the state?

Had it been a disadvantage, I would not have been elected to the Lok Sabha seven times.

How do you plan to strengthen the party?

Do you think I will tell you all my plans? My party workers and the people supporting us are my strength.

Veteran with many hats

Scion of the Dhenkanal royal family, 69-year-old Kamakhya Prasad Singh Deo is the president of the Orissa Pradesh Congress Committee

He was elected to the Lok Sabha in 1967 on a Swatantra Party ticket. Later he joined the Congress and was elected to the Rajya Sabha in 1971

Singh Deo was a minister in the Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and P.V. Narasimha Rao governments. He has held various portfolios as Union minister of state, among others, defence, information and broadcasting and department of personnel

He has also served as a member of joint select committee on the Lok Pal Bill. Shortly before the 2009 polls, he was made the PCC president and led the party to elections, choosing not to contest from his traditional constituency - Dhenkanal

He had lost the Lok Sabha elections in 1989, 1998 and 2004.

Singh Deo studied at La Marteniere, St Xavier's and Jadavpur University in Calcutta, Ravenshaw College, Cuttack and Utkal University, Bhubaneswar. He was commissioned into the Territorial Army He was granted the rank of Brigadier (TA) on the day of his retirement in 1997

Singh Deo has represented India in rowing. He has participated in several local and national-level events in cricket, hockey, rugby, and football. He was the first Asian to be an international umpire in rowing at the Asian Games in 1981 and was the founder-president of Asian Rowing Federation

What would you have been had you not been an IAS officer?

I am in politics but I am not a politician. I am a sportsperson at first, a soldier and then a social activist. When I was just three years old, they gave me a wooden gun, cap, a pair of khaki pants and a bush shirt. I was asked to salute everyone in uniform — from the chowkidaar to police and armymen. I was put under the guidance of three subedaars who taught me to drill, ride a horse, jump and climb. My parents wanted me to become a soldier and I became one. I feel I am just a misguided missile in politics.