As he sat on the back of a bike on his campaign trail in the temple town of Puri in Odisha, The Quint caught up with BJP spokesperson and Lok Sabha candidate Sambit Patra, to ask him some tough questions about his party’s campaign controversies, the government's refusal to release unemployment data, communal remarks made by Yogi Adityanath and Maneka Gandhi, and whether PM Modi's remarks on the Balakot airstrike are in violation of EC guidelines.
The following are excerpts from the interview.
Why Is Modi Govt Not Releasing Official Data on Unemployment?
Sambit Patra: Employment generation is an important issue. Some of the most important factories, like the sugarcane factory in Nayagarh, are closed. We would be reviving it, so that employment can be given to the youth of Puri.
The Quint: But with high unemployment in the Modi years, why should voters trust BJP on jobs again?
Sambit Patra: PM Narendra Modi had himself debunked all the false claims about unemployment on the floor of Parliament when a no-confidence motion was brought to the same effect. We saw how the BJP government won on the issue of unemployment – because we won the no-confidence motion.
The Quint: The leaked NSSO report states unemployment in 2017-18 was at 6.1%, the highest in 45 years.
Sambit Patra: Bunkum talks are not going to help – on data, PM Modi has emerged successful on issue of employment.
The Quint: If so, why is the government refusing to release the latest official data on unemployment, which is the NSSO report?
Sambit Patra: See, many fake news have done rounds as far as employment data is concerned. Ironically, up till now, 70 years after independence, no data… no real-time data was available on employment. For the first time, the same is being done by Narendra Modi and his team.
From Maneka to Yogi: The BJP’s Communal Card
The Quint: Maneka Gandhi threatens Muslims that if they don’t vote for her, she won’t get their work done. Sakshi Maharaj has said that he will curse those who don’t vote for him, and BJP candidate Siddheshwar Mahaswami calls himself God and asks for votes. At this point of time, don’t you feel the BJP should stop defending and start apologising for these condemnable remarks?
Sambit Patra: See, BJP’s mool mantra is sabka saath, sabka vikas. I firmly believe that it’s only by inclusiveness that BJP has moved ahead, and we will continue to do so.
The Quint: But Yogi Adityanath tells voters, “They have Ali, we have Bajrangbali.” Even you have been accused of violating EC norms by holding up an idol of Lord Jagannath during a roadshow.
Sambit Patra: No, no, no. Actually, no one gave me a notice on this regard. Actually, someone gifted me a Lord Jagannath statue on my way for nomination, which I held to my head as is the norm in our state. It was only for 50 seconds, so I don’t think I have breached the Constitution or the rules in any way. We all hold the Election Commission in highest regards, we all abide by whatever rules they lay down.
On Modi’s Comments on Balakot Airstrike, Despite EC Advisory
The Quint: But Modi is asking first-time voters, “Can your vote be dedicated to the veer jawans who carried out the air strike in Pakistan?” The EC has specifically asked parties to not use “activities of defence forces” in election campaigning.
Sambit Patra: No, no one is flouting any EC regulations. National security is a very pertinent and important issue. To discuss national security and the policies as to how we would deal with it, is nothing wrong. As far as using pictures of Pulwama jawans, etc is concerned, the Congress has done the same. Urmila Matondkar was using Abhinandan’s picture for campaigning in Mumbai. So, I believe the Congress should look within itself before criticising others.
See, people are extremely intelligent. They are seeing how Modi’s economic policies and national security policies have catapulted India from a position which was low in the UPA regime to a high pedestal.
The Quint: Why aren’t you or other leaders of the BJP campaigning on the plank of demonetisation, which was one of the Modi government’s biggest moves? Also, ‘smart cities’ has gone missing from the BJP manifesto.
Sambit Patra: Leave these to the people’s intelligence, people understand everything. People know that a corruption-free India is, in fact, being built by Narendra Modi. We will be successful this time.
Amit Shah’s Statements on NRC a Targeted Communal Move?
The Quint: The BJP official handle tweeted, “We will remove every single infiltrator from the country, except Buddha, Hindus and Sikhs: Shri Amit Shah.” Barring the glaring error in trying to write Buddhists and writing Buddha instead, the BJP is saying that they are okay with infiltrators in the country as long as they are Hindus, Buddhists or Sikhs?
Sambit Patra: Nothing like that. I mean, a certain stringent format has been made, and that format is being passed by the Parliament of the country, I mean still pending in the Rajya Sabha, but formats have been passed. So, it’s only after due deliberation that these are being done.
The Quint: But the only (large) community missing from this list is the Muslim community. So, isn’t this a targeted communal measure?
Sambit Patra: No, no, no. I don’t think it that way.
The Quint: An investigation by Huffington Post has shown that the group Association of Billion Minds (ABM) is working for the BJP and it rampantly spreads fake news across social media. Is spreading fake news a part of BJP’s brief to ABM?
Sambit Patra: No, I don’t know any such news. So, I would not be speaking on an issue I am not aware of.
Patra’s Promises to Puri
The Quint: As a Lok Sabha candidate, what is Sambit Patra promising the people of Puri?
Sambit Patra: As a doctor, I would say that it is unfortunate that Puri does not have a good hospital. We have promised a good hospital here. Secondly, Puri has a potential for tourism which isn’t being developed. Thirdly, it’s a temple town. There are several issues of the temple, which need to be resolved.
Today, there is a ground vibration for PM Narendra Modi. People across the state of Odisha are seeing a wave of PM Modi’s good work, and this is the reason why Puri will vote BJP to power. Just as we won Uttar Pradesh and Tripura, you will see a great partivartan in Odisha as well, thank you.