'Lack of a leader affects the state' HOT SEAT: Lalatendu Bidyadhar Mohapatra, WORKING president, Orissa Pradesh Congress Committee

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By Lalatendu Bidyadhar Mohapatra, WORKING president, Orissa Pradesh Congress Committee SHILPI SAMPAD AND SUBHASHISH MOHANTY
  • Published 26.02.11
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You are also in the race for PCC president. How far do you think you would be able to revive the party in the state?

Besides me, two other senior leaders — Niranjan Patnaik and Chandrashekhar Sahoo — have been asked by the high command to go to Delhi to reach a consensus regarding the selection of candidate. Reviving the party is not an easy job and needs a collective effort. We have to draw a concrete plan. In the last 12 years, the attacking organisations of the party — block, district and frontal organisations — have been defunct. We need a minimum of six months to activate them.

What, according to you, has contributed to the failure of the party?

The main problem is that we have more leaders and fewer workers. Those who are lobbying in Delhi as leaders have no political activity in the state. I don’t need to take names. People are intelligent enough to understand whom am I referring to.

Congress has not yet been able to appoint a party president in the state so far. How do you foresee the future of the party?

There has also been some delay in other states such as Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh due to various scams such as 2G Spectrum, Commonwealth Games and others. The issue is going to be settled soon. Lack of a leader affects the state. There is no one to take decisions now. The leader is someone who anchors the ship. We have to fight against the corrupt Naveen Patnaik government.

You were very close to J. B. Patnaik. Is it true that you are not in good terms with his extended family?

When I entered politics, he was the chief minister. Every Congress politician, including myself, is J.B. Patnaik’s product. You need to be loyal to that one person and not to their naukar-chaakar (servants).

Congress MLA Ramesh Jena, who had allegedly fired at the police earlier this month, was arrested from your village in Puri after police raided the place. Has this incident affected your image?

His apartment was raided on February 1 and he spent the entire day at the police station although police had not recovered any bullet from his house. After he was released on conditional bail, he wrote two letters to the police on February 2, saying that he was going out of Bhubaneswar. He wanted a place to stay and rest for two days. Shouldn’t I have provided that much assistance to a sitting MLA?

But Jena has several criminal cases against him. Do you think it was right on your part to help him?

Several BJD MLAs including Pradeep Maharathi have criminal records, too. Jena is only an accused. He has not yet been convicted, therefore he is not a culprit.

People have formed a negative opinion about you and often allege that you have contributed to “criminalisation of politics”. What is your take on this?

I don’t feel I have a negative image. In my career spanning 20 years, no one can say that I have done a wrong deed. Not one case has been lodged against me. Do I need to dress up like Mahatma Gandhi and walk with a stick to prove that? When you talk about criminalisation of politics, what about the “transparent” BJD government that is feeding spurious dal to 1.7 crore children?

In the last two years, there has been student unrest in Utkal University. Do you think staging dharnas in front of the university matches your stature?

That university has been within the Congress fold since the last 17 years. If there is some unrest and the police resorts to lathicharge, then I will naturally react. After all, I am in-charge of the student and youth Congress.

Why is there always a rift between the police and you?

If police don the role of goondas, I will definitely oppose. They are working on the instructions of political bosses to humiliate me. Bhubaneswar DCP Himanshu Lal is not an IPS officer; he is BJD’s worker in uniform.

You have had a dominant presence in Brahmagiri but now Sanjay Das Burma has emerged as a potential threat to you. What is your take on this?

I cannot comment on this. Only time will tell.

Do you wish to switch over to any other party?

I started my political career with Congress and it will end with the Congress.

Unfazed by controversies

Not one to pull his punches, Mohapatra remains unfazed by the numerous controversies he has courted over the years.

After completing his graduation in history and political science from BJB College, he entered the political arena in 1984. He has been the president of the state’s National Students’ Union of India and the State Youth Congress.

Mohapatra was elected to the state Assembly from Brahmagiri constituency as Indian National Congress candidate in 1995 and continued till 2009.

He has been a member of various committees such as public accounts, public undertakings, library, cooperatives, members’ amenities, subject committee on water resources and on agriulture, house committee on tourism, cyclone/flood, medical college, Jagannath temple administration, and others. He was also part of the house committee to look into the irregularities in printing and publication of Haribansh Puran by Utkal University in 1995.

He held the position of vice-president of Orissa Pradesh Congress Committee (OPCC) from 2004 to 2009. At present, he is a working president of the OPCC and is also in the race for heading the party in the state.

Mohapatra spends most of his time visiting places and is an avid pet lover.

What would you have been Had you not been a politician?

Honestly, I have not given much thought to that since I have been associated with politics ever since I completed my matriculation. I am the third among six siblings and everyone else is into central government jobs or business. They are miles away from politics. When I decided to step into politics, there was stiff opposition from my family members. Now, being in the political sphere for nearly 20 years, I have had no time to contemplate whether this has been the right or wrong decision. My family has accepted my choices. If not a politician, perhaps even I would have opted for a government job.