Bhubaneswar: It is an exciting and surcharged atmosphere in Odisha with both Lok Sabha and Assembly elections underway. Amidst numerous surveys and predictions, OMMCOM NEWS’ Editor-In-Chief Jajati Karan decided to catch up with Rajdeep Sardesai, Political Analyst and Consulting Editor of India Today Group, who has reported from Ground Zero during several General Elections and is the author of the book ‘The Elections That Changed India’. Here is his take on this year’s election:
Jajati Karan: You have been here in Odisha for the last couple of days for covering the elections, what is the sense that you are getting from the ground?
Rajdeep Sardesai: I have spent only two days in Odisha, I am like a ‘parachute journalist’. My aim was to get a sense from people as to what is happening on the ground because there was a lot of talk about ‘Parivartan’. In Tripura, the BJP swept aside the Left, so there was this feeling that they might do the same to Biju Janata Dal here. I don’t get the sense of a sweep, but there is definitely some sense of undercurrent for change among younger voters. But, I don’t get the sense that BJP will sweep Odisha or BJD is losing ground as much as it was being speculated in Delhi.
Particularly, because Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections are being held together and people do not generally vote differently. Number of people told me that they want Narendra Modi in Centre and Naveen Babu in Bhubaneswar but, when you go to the polling booth, you usually vote for the same party. That gives BJD an edge over their competition. But, the BJP’s vote share will definitely increase. How many seats the BJP gets is the big question?
Jajati Karan: Do you think the undercurrent is good enough to win seats?
Rajdeep Sardesai: We don’t know. We saw it in Tripura where the undercurrent became a wave. However, I don’t see that happening over here because Naveen Babu is still a very popular leader.
Jajati Karan: BJD has over 30 welfare schemes, the most recent one being KALIA. How are people reacting to these schemes?
Rajdeep Sardesai: I was surprised because lot of people said that they have not received the first installment of Rs 5000, despite their names being in the beneficiary list. The government should be worried about that. But I guess when you have been in power for 19-20 years, people trust you. Naveen Babu still retains a lot of that trust among the older voters. His problem comes with the young voters, who seem to be quite enamored by Mr Modi. They seem to see Mr Modi as the ‘development guru’.
I also believe that regional parties are putting up the tougher fight against BJP than the fight put up Congress. Maybe BJD is better prepared and better organized to take on the BJP, even among those voters who might otherwise be attracted to Modi.
Jajati Karan: Being a national journalist, how do you perceive Naveen Patnaik?
Rajdeep Sardesai: Indian politics throws up all kinds of personalities and Naveen Patnaik is among the more fascinating ones. Someone who speaks limited Odia, does not come out much in public, isn’t present on television all the times, talks less, is not a flamboyant politician, yet he has been so remarkably successful.
Jajati Karan: Why do you think he has been winning time and again?
Rajdeep Sardesai: This is a question that people of Odisha need to answer. My sense is that he has built a trust as a reliable person. He provides people with a sense of comfort that this person is providing stable governance and he is trying his best. I don’t think Odisha has been transformed in the way that people would have like it to, but Naveen Patnaik gives you the impression of a hard-working, diligent Chief Minister who is trying to help the people through his bureaucrats and Ministers. Plus, he has cultivated the vote banks of rural, poor and women. It is like Jayalalithaa.
Ultimately, this is a country of the poor. This is country where women are 50% in population. More and more people are finally realizing that there is a women vote bank out there and he is one of the first people to realize that.
Jajati Karan: In national perspective, how much prospect do you think a Modi-led government has?
Rajdeep Sardesai: I think Mr Modi still has an edge because the gap between BJP and Congress will be fairly substantial, at the end of the day. What is possible is that regional parties will play a greater role in Delhi after 2019. So, Modi with new allies is a real possibility.
The most important State is UP (Uttar Pradesh) and it is the most difficult State to predict. I don’t think the first phase has gone as well as the BJP had hoped for and that is a warning signal. If UP doesn’t go according to Modi’s plan, then BJP will need fresh allies. It could be the Biju Janata Dal, it could be K Chandrashekhar Rao in Telangana, it could be Jaganmohan Reddy in Andhra. That is a real possibility at the moment.
If the BJP goes below 200, then all bets are off.
Jajati Karan: So, you think that Naveen Patnaik could be one of the kingmakers post 2019 elections?
Rajdeep Sardesai: I will certainly not rule that out. Anyone who picks up 15 or more seats, has a chance in Delhi. It can include Mayawati, Akhilesh, KCR, Jaganmohan Reddy, DMK, Mamata, Naveen Patnaik. Add all these votes, it can be 120. And once you have a block of 120, then this block can decide who becomes the next Prime Minister.
Jajati Karan: Would you like to give any numbers for the 21 Lok Sabha and 147 Assembly seats in Odisha?
Rajdeep Sardesai: I will say that BJD will be in double digits in Lok Sabha. And in Assembly, they will get 80 seats atleast. But, they will not do as good as they did in 2014.
Jajati Karan: But, BJD will certainly come back to power. Is that what you think?
Rajdeep Sardesai: When there is a very popular leader, you need a lot of public anger to oust them. When Jyoti Basu and the Left was voted out in Bengal, people had a lot of anger. I don’t think there is that anger here. People have not had enough of Naveen Patnaik. There might be an element of anti-incumbency against some MLAs, but I don’t think people want an overnight change. People in Bengal and Odisha take time to effect ‘Parivartan’. As you know, the Left was in power for 35 years in Bengal. I don’t think Odisha will take that long, but currently Naveen Patnaik has the edge.
Jajati Karan: Drifting from politics, let us speak about media. One dangerous trend that we have been observing is that never has there been so much political interference in the newsroom. How dangerous is it and how do you deal with it?
Rajdeep Sardesai: Unfotunately, the media is also polarized like the society. Either you are with Modi or against Modi. Therefore, journalists and newsrooms are also getting divided. The government of the day wants to control the narrative. They want to make sure that any story that is against the government’s interest, does not get the kind of play that it should. And, many of the people in Government are directly in touch with the owners. So, that has compromised journalism in mainstream media. But I am glad to see digital networks, both in Delhi and here, who are more independent than TV news channels.
Jajati Karan: Many bright journalists have been quitting the profession and joining some other line. So, how do you see journalism in the road ahead?
Rajdeep Sardesai: I think we are in the multimedia age, so digital is going to get more powerful. Today, everything is in a mobile phone. News is being captured in a mobile phone. So, young journalists who are creative and passionate will find their way. But they will not have the kind of opportunities that we had 25 years ago with TV suddenly expanding and exploding. In my view, that TV explosion is over. Quantity has replaced quality.
Jajati Karan: One of the big challenges of digital media is the revenue model. How does one sustain this?
Rajdeep Sardesai: I don’t know where the revenue comes from but you can do events or a mobile TV channel where you can get advertisements. At the end of the day, I would like to believe that ‘Acche Dinn Ayenge’. Mega companies like Facebook and Google will have tie-ups with local digital channels. That has to be the only way. Large open-source platforms will have to provide some space to work with digital companies. They will have to share the money.
Jajati Karan: Your word of advice for young journalists, who have become cynical about TV journalism and the prime time debate drama. What would you tell the young journalists in order to stick to the profession and pursue quality journalism?
Rajdeep Sardesai: It is true that prime time TV has become a lot of drama. But, if you have chosen to become a journalist to be a part of the ‘Tamasha’ culture, then it is your choice. I do believe that there is space for quality journalism. So many stories are being broken today in digital platform and then being followed by TV channels. This was unheard of, 5 years back. So, you can definitely create spaces for yourself. And the challenge for young journalists is that you have to push the system, so that people around you encourage enterprising journalism.
Jajati Karan: On that optimistic note, thank you Sir for joining with OMMCOM NEWS.