Leader of Biju Janata Dal (BJD) in the Lok Sabha Bhartruhari Mahtab, a picture of poise and candour, was conferred the Best Parliamentarian of the Year award for 2017 recently.
Representing the Lok Sabha constituency of Cuttack for the fifth term, 60-year-old Mahtab led a BJD walkout from the Lok Sabha ahead of the debate on the no-confidence motion against the BJP-led NDA government, citing his party’s differences with the Congress party and BJP.
The BJD thereafter came out in support of the Narendra Modi government inside the Lok Sabha, under fire from Opposition parties including Trinamul Congress, over the NRC in Assam.
Mahtab, however, scoffed at the suggestion that the BJD-BJP’s past bonhomie was back on track ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha and Assembly elections in Odisha.
He said BJD stood by its principled stand of maintaining equal distance from both the BJP and Congress.
In an interview to DIPANKAR CHAKRABORTY, Mahtab said Narendra Modi might not be able to repeat his 2014 magic and even if he returns to power in 2019 it will be with a lesser margin. Excerpts:
Q: You were recently conferred the award for Best Parliamentarian of the Year for 2017. The award is a recognition of your over two-decade stint as a parliamentarian. How do you view it?
A: I feel very humbled. The award has happened because of my party Biju Janata Dal (BJD) reposing faith in me to represent the Cuttack parliamentary seat.
The people of Cuttack also have been voting me to Parliament since 1998. The credit goes to them because they reposed faith in me. I am also indebted to the selectors who nominated my name for the award for 2017.
I am not aware on what criteria they selected me. But this gives me more responsibility to shoulder and also to work for the people at large and ventilate their issues inside Parliament in a fruitful way.
Q: During the recent no-confidence motion against the government your party chose to walk out of the Lok Sabha even before the debate on the motion could take place. What prompted you to take such a decision reportedly at the eleventh hour?
A: Walking out from the deliberations on the no-confidence motion moved by the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) was our party’s position. We thought that there was no point participating in that deliberation. Ultimately what happened also proved our point.
Q: But other parties made use of the occasion to put on record their grievances against the government. You too could have done that.
A: As a regional party we have certain issues relating to our state of Odisha. Other regional parties like TRS and AIADMK who participated in the discussion also ventilated their issues.
But, sadly, the Prime Minister did not respond to any of the issues they raised. AIADMK of course took part in the discussion and voted in favour of the government. That was their political decision.
Q: But other parties opposed to the government did take part in the debate…
A: TRS participated in the discussion but walked out. Trinamul Congress was in support of the motion against the government.
But as a regional party and maintaining equi-distance from both the BJP and Congress and as we have some issues with Andhra Pradesh over construction of Polavaram Dam very little purpose could have been served by participating in a discussion.
As such on other days we have been ventilating our causes. On a no-confidence motion related to Andhra Pradesh we saw no point in taking part in the discussion.
Q: The Modi government has been receiving flak over its alleged inability to stop incidents of mob lynching and prevent gau rakshaks from taking the law into their hand. How do you see the development?
A: Lynching is a very inhuman activity. It is a heinous crime. This is a crime committed by a group of persons who taking advantage of the situation to target one or two persons.
That is something which needs to be addressed. Lynching as such, I would say happens because of fear psychosis.
This fear is of a group of people. Lynching has been happening in our country for quite some time now. Individually we are peace loving. But a crowd mentality at times drives such heinous crimes.
Q: There has been a suggestion to propose death penalty for lynching. How effective do you think that would be?
A: How far law can be enforced is another issue. But making the society conscious about various issues related to lynching has to be of greater priority.
Q: How do you see the role of gau rakshaks amid the prevailing scenario of social unrest and especially those who claim to represent a particular organisation, etc.?
A: People indulging in such activities (violence in the name of cow protection) should be dealt with an iron hand.
As far as I understand incidents of gau rakshaks indulging in mob lynching is a north Indian phenomenon.
We had one such gau rakshak in Dara Singh in 1999 involved in the burning of Graham Staines and his two children in Mayurbhanj district when the Congress was in power.
That also forced the then chief minister to quit. The main culprit Dara Singh is from Mirzapur in Uttar Pradesh.
Q: Do you see a particular party or group giving tacit support to gau rakshaks and their activities?
A: I would address that issue by saying that an impression should not go around that you are siding with and are in favour of such crimes.
Q: BJD president Naveen Patnaik has suspended his four-time MP Baijayant ‘Jay’ Panda from the party for alleged anti-party activities. Panda is said to be planning to join the BJP. What do you have to say about this?
A: Mr Panda was suspended from the party for his anti-party activities. He resigned from the post of BJD Member of Parliament after some months. He is now independent to chart his own course.
Q: Is it a warning to other members that if they speak against the party chief they might meet a similar fate?
A: In short, I can say that every disciplinary action in the party is a lesson for everyone.