Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik says one has to be firm against crimes, especially over abduction by Maoists. Speaking to Karan Thapar on Devil's Advocate, Patnaik said that his state police officers know how to handle the hostage crisis and are able to combat the situations well. The BJD Chief says he also has an open mind towards the NCTC issue.
Here is the transcript of the entire interview:
Karan Thapar: Hello and welcome to Devil's Advocate. How effectively has the Odisha government handled the recent hostage crisis and what is the position of the Biju Janata Dal on the forthcoming presidential election… Those are two of the issues that I shall discuss with the Odisha Chief Minister, Naveen Patnaik.
Minister, let's start with the hostage situation you have just had to handle. There is a widespread view that rather than standing up to the Naxal demands, you caved in step-by-step. Would you say you could have handled the situation better?
Naveen Patnaik: Well in reply to your question, it is a very sensitive issue. After all it also deals with what you might call as humanity, and yet what has happened is obviously a crime. So we, in our state government, I think they had asked for more than 200 persons, that's the Maoists demanding their release… and you understand of course, there were two Italian nationals and after that, MLA, of my party.
Karan Thapar: You are actually putting my concern for me. The first concern people have is that you ended up agreeing to release almost 30 prisoners and the message that you gave to the Maoists was that each time they want their prisoners released, all they have to do is take hostages. Rather than stop hostage-taking, you have encouraged the problem.
Naveen Patnaik: Well, I have just given you that reply earlier. Their demand was for the release of 20 hostages. In fact, we processed the bail applications of several detentes, of more than 20 detentes, and I understand that five of those have been released.
Karan Thapar: And you have agreed to release a total of almost 30. That's why people are concerned. In contrast, a few weeks later when the Sukma collector was abducted, the Chhattisgarh government was able to secure his release without agreeing to any of their demands. You could have taken a similar stance but you didn't. Why?
Naveen Patnaik: I am not totally clear about what happened in Chhattisgarh about those demands. But again I repeat, when the total release of 200 detentes is demanded by the Maoists and out of that, only 20 are being processed, for bail applications and at the end of it all, if I remember, only five persons are released, this is for two Italian nationals and one young tribal MLA.
Karan Thapar: I take your point that you have brought down the demand from 200 to around 30. Actually the figure is around 30 that you have agreed to release. Even then…
Naveen Patnaik: Let me interrupt you there. It is not ‘agreed to release', it is ‘agreed to process of bail applications'…
Karan Thapar: It is the same thing. Because you are simply encouraging them…
Naveen Patnaik: We have a judicial system. Do understand that foreign nationals, nationals from abroad, is a very delicate, diplomatic subject. And the young MLA I speak of, Jhina Hikaka, is tribal, is very young, has a reputation of excellent work.
Karan Thapar: Alex Paul Menon was young. He was on his first post. He is a collector. His life was as valuable to the Chhattisgarh government as Jhina Hikaka's was to you. His release was secured without releasing a single person to the Maoists. My point is this, rather than even agree to release 30, if you would have stood your ground, you would have actually ended up making the Maoists bow to your will. In the end they made you bow to their will. That's the point I'm making. Did you cave in?
Naveen Patnaik: In answer to both your points, firstly, I am not going to make comparisons between the government of Odisha and the government of Chhattisgarh. And here is not an argument of who bows to whose will. It is an argument about humanity. It is an argument about life. Of course, one has to be firm against crimes, especially over abduction by Maoists.
Karan Thapar: But chief minister, it is also an argument about governance and administration. The second concern is in the process, you have ended up demoralising the police. Many of them had paid with their lives to fight the Naxals and the next second, they were led to believe that those lives were lost in vain. What do you say to them when they turn around and argue that we died to bring Naxals to justice. You wasted our lives by releasing the prisoners.
Naveen Patnaik: Well you have put it in an extremely black and white way. I understand that you have a television show which has to sound a bit emotional and sensational, I feel equally emotional about it. But I am not in television.
Karan Thapar: But aren't you evading my question?
Naveen Patnaik: I am not evading your question at all. All I am saying is that if you are in the field, if you are the head of a state government, you have to deal with these issues in a rational, humane manner.
Karan Thapar: Demoralising the police is rational?
Naveen Patnaik: How do you feel that the police is so demoralised in my state?
Karan Thapar: I will tell you why I say it. None other than Ajit Doval, the former head of the Intelligence Bureau, said to this channel just a few weeks ago that as a result of the fact that you were releasing the very Naxals that the police had paid with their lives to capture, it was possible that in future, the police officers would not arrest Naxals prisoners because they would be scared that once again they would be released. He darkly hinted that the police might now choose to kill and shoot instead.
Naveen Patnaik: You have told me about what the IB… er.. the IB head in Delhi has said. Let me make it quite clear that if you come to Odisha, our police officers know how to handle the situation. We have an excellent police force, the SOG (Special Operation Group), which was raised by the state government who know how to combat the menace of Naxalism. I think if it is right what you have said the IB chief has been saying, I think it is being put in a rather distant manner, a sort of statistical…
Karan Thapar: The key point is this that today, after agreeing to release perhaps as many as 30 Naxal prisoners, that you have the full confidence and support of your police officers, the next time they are required to carry out the Naxal operations, which is a constant demand in your state.
Naveen Patnaik: Let me tell you the anti-Maoist operations continue the whole time.. There are brief spells like in Chhattisgarh or anywhere, like they have abducted a person… followed by brief spells of low firing as long as there is no violence from the side of the Maoists.. that does happen.. But as you know, Maoism is rife in many parts of India and also in Odisha, we do combat that.
Karan Thapar: Odisha is my concern as of now.. Do you believe the Indian political system has the capability to refuse Naxal demands even at the risk that hostages could die?
Naveen Patnaik: Well to get to the beginning of that, India is a federal structure and as the Government and the union home minister says police and law and order are state subjects. We have had meetings on NCTC. Let's see what proposals come up.
Karan Thapar: I will come to the NCTC in a moment. Can you ever envisage yourself as Odisha Chief Minister standing up to the Naxal demands at the cost of hostages dying… Do you have that capacity as CM?
Naveen Patnaik: All of us have that capacity as chief ministers that is of many things. But this is not a game.. These are plans that have to be formulated properly, discreetly and humanely.
Karan Thapar: Do we need a national hostage policy as Mr Chidambaram has suggested that the country should consider?
Naveen Patnaik: I am sure that will come up for discussion at these national meetings.
Karan Thapar: Would you be for it?
Naveen Patnaik: Let's see what he has suggested…
Karan Thapar: So you have an open mind..?
Naveen Patnaik: Yes, I have an open mind on anything that will benefit my state and country.
Karan Thapar: Let us then come to the second issue - the BJD's attitude to the presidential poll. Many people believe that we need a politician as president. Others want a non-political candidate. Where do you stand on this issue?
Naveen Patnaik: We will discuss with our party members and other parties to formulate a decision. There should be a consensus. There is need for discussion.. Let's see how it gets on.. It is still early days.
Karan Thapar: Alright. Will the BJD make up its own mind on the candidate or will it consult other parties like the AIADMK, the TMC or the JDU?
Naveen Patnaik: It is possible, perhaps probable.
Karan Thapar: I am trying to interpret that. You are suggesting it is likely you are going to sit with Mamata, Jayalalithaa, perhaps even Mulayam Singh Yadav or his son Akhilesh, to come up with a consensus on a candidate.
Naveen Patnaik: Well you have said something that I never said. But since you have said it, it is very important to examine it Mr Thapar.
Karan Thapar: This means you are likely to follow this route. You are smiling... Is that a way of hiding your yes?
Naveen Patnaik: It is fascinating how an anchor always has to be an investigators and you are rather good at that.
Karan Thapar: I will tell you why I ask. People in India believe this is a very important political decision, and how they make it. So I am asking you once again. Will you consult other parties or will you make up your own mind?
Naveen Patnaik: It is likely that we will consult.
Karan Thapar: That is a clear answer. Another question.. Could the BJD support the Congress' presidential candidate?
Naveen Patnaik: We will have to hold consultations... But it would seem difficult.
Karan Thapar: Let me go one step further… One of the candidates the press says the Congress party has been throwing its weight behind is Hamid Ansari, Vice President as the next President. Would the BJD support it?
Naveen Patnaik: A very interesting question, of course. However, consultations are required within the party.. and in any case, it is early days.
Karan Thapar: Suppose Mr Ansari were put forward by the Congress, would you support it?
Naveen Patnaik: Again consultations are required. Ours is a democratic set up.
Karan Thapar: Sushma Swaraj said that she believes that Hamid Ansari doesn't have the stature to be President.
Naveen Patnaik: That's not very charitable to speak of any personage in that manner.
Karan Thapar: It was a mistake on part of the Opposition leader to speak of a sitting Vice President in that manner...?
Naveen Patnaik: You are saying...
Karan Thapar: That you are not disagreeing. Prakash Singh Badal, it is widely believed, has expressed his interest in becoming the Vice President. You have worked closely with the Akali Dal in the days when you were member of National Democratic Alliance. Would you be happy if Badal became VP?
Naveen Patnaik: I have a great deal of respect for Badal sahab. He was very close to my father. However, again, discussions are necessary.
Karan Thapar: But is it difficult to accept him like how you said it will be difficult to support a Congress candidate for President.
Naveen Patnaik: I have told you I have great respect for Badal sahab and Ansari.
Karan Thapar: It is interesting the way you have said this. You have a great deal of respect for Mr Sahab and Mr Ansari. Does that suggest that you are prepared to accept one as President and the other as Vice President?
Naveen Patnaik: You are putting the cart before the horse. These things take more time than 20 minutes on your celebrated show.
Karan Thapar: Let's come to the NCTC. Are you opposed to it or are you in favour of it?
Naveen Patnaik: When this NCTC rule was passed, none of the state governments were informed. It is the duty of the Centre and the Home Ministry to tell the states, but it was not done. Also, matters ought not to be controlled by the Central eye. That has draconian proportions.
Karan Thapar: Let me stop you there.. You have mentioned two important things - that this law impinges on states' rights and that law and order is a state subject.
Naveen Patnaik: It impinges in the way us not being informed. We ought to have been informed. There should be no over all control because that has draconian flavour, which is terrible for this country.
Karan Thapar: Have Mr Chidambaram's recent proposals allayed your fears or worsened them?
Naveen Patnaik: I am sure they will come up for discussions at the NCTC meeting.
Karan Thapar: Do you see the NCTC happening at the end of the meeting?
Naveen Patnaik: Let us see, Mr Thapar, how the meeting goes.
Karan Thapar: Alright. It is too early to tell.
Naveen Patnaik: Early days.
Karan Thapar: Minister, a pleasure talking to you.