This Article is From May 30, 2019

Dharmendra Pradhan Helped BJP Make Inroads In Naveen Patnaik's Odisha

Dharmendra Pradhan steered PM Narendra Modi government's biggest social initiative of providing free cooking gas (LPG) connection to poor women that helped build a base for the party in the rural hinterland.

Dharmendra Pradhan Helped BJP Make Inroads In Naveen Patnaik's Odisha

Dharmendra Pradhan has been made a cabinet minister in PM Modi 2.0 government. (File)

New Delhi/Bhubaneswar:

Dharmendra Pradhan helped build a groundswell for the BJP that broke into Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik's citadel in 2019.

Son of former union minister of state for surface transport, Debendra Pradhan, Dharmendra Pradhan steered PM Narendra Modi government's biggest social initiative of providing free cooking gas (LPG) connection to poor women that helped build a base for the party in the rural hinterland.

While he micromanaged implementation of the Pradhan Mantri Ujjawla Yojana to see LPG customer base more than double to 26 crore in just five years, he kept Odisha central to his political priorities and virtually drove many a project in the oil ministry he headed to the state.

A tough taskmaster, Mr Pradhan was picked to head the high-stake Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas when Prime Minister Modi first rode to power in 2014.

He overhauled controversy-riddled oil and gas sector but kept touring his home state virtually every week during the last five years, building a base for the BJP. This paid off when BJP clinched 8 out of 21 Lok Sabha seats in Odisha, up from just one in 2014. The BJP also improved its tally in the state assembly to 23 from 10 previously.

In 2000, Naveen Patnaik's BJD contested assembly elections in alliance with the BJP. Mr Pradhan won from Pallahara seat, news that Mr Patnaik reportedly greeted with: "Oh! I have got a problem."

Mr Pradhan was little known then and was an activist of the BJP's student wing, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), and a former student union leader of Utkal University.

Mr Pradhan became an MP in 2004 after successfully contesting from the Deogarh parliamentary constituency. He, however, lost the 2009 assembly elections.

He first became the BJP national secretary and then the general secretary. By 2012, he got elected to Rajya Sabha from Bihar. And when PM Modi swept to power in 2014 polls, he was made union minister of state for petroleum and natural gas with independent charge.

He again has been made a cabinet minister in PM Modi 2.0 government.

It was virtually because of Mr Pradhan's ceaseless efforts that the BJP made deep inroads into the BJD-ruled state, eating into the vote-share of Naveen Patnaik-led BJD.

The BJP's vote-share in the state registered a substantial rise from 21.88 per cent in 2014 to 38.4 per cent this time, while that of the BJD dropped to 42.8 per cent from 44.77 per cent.

Mr Pradhan, who did not contest the just-concluded elections, was seen touring every nook and corner of Odisha to bolster the poll prospects of BJP candidates.

He coordinated electioneering in all Lok Sabha and assembly constituencies in the state, trying to keep a tab on the pulse of the voters. Just after the first phase of the four-phase elections in the state, the 50-year-old Union minister had announced a dal-salt-rice package for the poor. It was seen as a masterstroke by many, as the promise did not figure in the BJP's manifesto for the state.

In a cabinet reshuffle in 2017, PM Modi elevated him to the rank of union minister for the same ministry, with an additional charge of the ministry of skill development and entrepreneurship.

The promotion was viewed by many as a reward for his relentless work to implement PMUY.