A man for all seasons
An educationist, policymaker and empathiser of the needy, Achyuta Samanta has uplifted some of the most deprived sections of Odisha – he discusses his unending pursuits in an exclusive interview
A politician and educationist, policymaker and businessman, Achyuta Samanta has fulfilled many dynamic roles in his journey of inspiring and uplifting lives. A Member of Parliament representing Kandhamal Lok Sabha constituency and founder of Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology (KIIT) and Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences (KISS), Samanta has committed his life to the empowerment and welfare of weaker sections of society. Born amid palpable poverty while struggling to fulfil his basic needs, Samanta today ensures food for at least 50,000 children every day. In a free-wheeling discussion with Millennium Post, Samanta talks about his inspiration and vision, while discussing the many responsibilities that he has been entrusted with by Odisha Chief Minister and Biju Janata Dal (BJD) president Naveen Patnaik. Excerpts:
You have been a successful entrepreneur. What then motivated you to adorn a new role and join politics?
Yes, it's true that I've seen some success in providing quality education to all, particularly underprivileged children, while also being a newcomer in politics. But, in practice, I don't find much difference between donning the hat of politics and performing the tasks of a social reformer – the task is quite similar. What political leaders propose to do is what I have been doing for many decades. I have been in constant touch with lakhs of people all the time, you can even say at every moment. I've been reaching people with the help of KIIT and KISS as social service for the entire community through educational institutions.
I've entered politics with the blessings and good wishes of party president and state chief minister Naveen Patnaik. Last year, I was first offered a Rajya Sabha seat and this year, by acknowledging my contribution to society, the party selected me as the contender for the prestigious Kandhamal Lok Sabha seat. I do believe that destiny has played a significant role in me receiving this new role, and I am really grateful to our beloved chief minister for recognising my work and giving me an opportunity to further serve the people of our state.
In my opinion, politics is a bigger platform to serve people and society – for this, I am confident that I can serve the social welfare mandate of the BJD chief in a bigger and better way.
Your journey has been marked by struggle. In fact, the constituency you now represent is also perhaps the one plagued by most challenges. In that respect, how have you have prepared a roadmap for resolution and upliftment?
My journey has truly been marked by a lot of struggle – right from childhood. I started my institution with just Rs 5,000 while staying in rented accommodation. The biggest service that God has done through me is to have given a decent life to 50,000 poor tribal children. Out of them, 20,000 have already passed out and 30,000 are enrolled in the campus across primary, Master's and doctoral programmes.
KISS is directly transforming the lives of 50,000 underprivileged persons while indirectly, several lakhs are being benefited. So, KISS has become a beacon of tribal empowerment. It's not a question of just throwing some education at them as they are poor. We are completely transforming their lives by tapping their talent in sports, academics and across every other field.
For me, every challenge is an opportunity. So, issues regarding the overall development of Kandhamal constituency will always be my priority and they will be addressed well within the stipulated time. Kandhamal is the poorest district in the entire state and it also finds recognition under the prime minister's aspirational districts undertaking.
In the district, above 52 per cent of the population comprises STs and 17 per cent belong to different SC communities. So, the district's SC/ST population stands at about 70 per cent, well over the majority. I have immense development work to undertake in the area as I have an uphill challenge of making this poorest district a model district. So, now that our chief minister has vested the responsibility of transforming this district on me, the work is well underway and we will surely see success soon.
Do you agree that the Lok Sabha ticket was a reward for your contribution towards the welfare of Odisha's tribal population?
It's known to all that I have been long engaged in social welfare activities. Besides, I'm a bachelor and live a very simple life in a rented house. My life is committed to the welfare of weaker sections only. So, that may be the driving factor behind selecting me to serve the people of the state.
Your party has retained power for the fifth consecutive term in Odisha, what would your major priorities be?
The major priorities of CM Patnaik circumscribe the holistic development of the entire state. It includes everything – addressing issues of poverty, hunger, creating employment for the state's youth, etc. The other very important goal is to lay more emphasis on tourism as Odisha presents great opportunity to attract more tourists.
Inviting industries to set up their units in the state is also a key concern for our CM as it would positively induce employment generation among the youth of the state and the state's economy would consequently witness a major boost.
What is your roadmap towards creating employment in the area?
I've deliberated and also done a lot to generate employment in the state. I'm focusing on methods to improve employability in my district, for which I have planned several models. My areas of emphases are education, health, employment generation, exploring tourism opportunities in Kandhamal district and most importantly, making drinking water available and irrigation facilities more robust and reliable.
What are your plans for KIIT and KISS?
There is no plan to further expand KIIT. We are now focussing on improving the quality of education in KIIT and, in case of KISS, we are planning to open 10 to 20 new branches in about as many tribal districts of Odisha. Apart from the state, branches of KISS will also come up in Maharashtra, West Bengal and some foreign countries like Bangladesh and Kenya. More branches of KISS are also scheduled to come up in the states of Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand in the coming years. If all goes as per the plan, KISS branches would be opened in 15 states in the next five years. Presently, the institute is located across Odisha, Delhi and is coming up in Kolkata and Mumbai.
How do you plan to channelise your time and energy between your new political responsibilities and your old commitment to your institutions?
When a person is totally committed to the welfare of downtrodden people, then s/he won't face much difficulty in handling multiple responsibilities. I do not see much problem in handling both political responsibilities and taking care of educational institutions.
What would be your message to the youth of the country?
We all know that it's the youth that holds the potential to transform nations from within. It is, therefore, essential that the youth remains good to themselves. It is only when they are good to themselves that they can do true good for others.
(The author is Special Correspondent, Millennium Post)