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March 19, 1998


His Father's Legacy

Naveen Patnaik In December, 1997, Naveen Patnaik, the newly-elected president of the newly-constituted Biju Janata Dal, told the media:

"The Janata Dal is dead. The future will decide who's the true heir to Biju's vision."

That was just after he, the son of Orissa's legendary politician and former chief minister Biju Patnaik, had split the JD to form his BJD. True to his words, the future did decide the heir. And it definitely was not the JD. Naveen's party, riding strong on his father's charisma, swept nine of the 21 seats, leaving seven to poll ally Bharatiya Janata Party, five to the Congress and none to the JD.

The 52-year-old Patnaik has played his cards well. Not only did he consolidate his infant party's position in the state, he, through astute planning and following his father's footsteps, assured an important role for himself at the national level.

"We," he said in December when asked whether the BJD would support a BJP government, "will cross that bridge when we come to it."

Again, true to his calculations, the BJP formed a government. And Naveen Patnaik, who took up active politics after his father's death, is part of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government.

An alumni of the Doon school, Naveen entered Parliament for the first time when he won a by-election to the 11th Lok Sabha from his father's constituency, Aska. After Patnaik's death, the JD had been desperately looking for someone to hold the party together. Naveen, the legendary politician's non-political son, seemed an ideal choice -- he was charismatic, he was intelligent and, most importantly, he had the Patnaik name.

Unfortunately for the JD central leadership, Naveen could not get along with the ambitious politicians who were all striving for his father's mantle. His major complaint was against former Union minister for parliamentary affairs Srikant Jena. Naveen had been led to believe that he was his father's anointed heir. But Jena was the fly in the ointment -- he insisted on remaining the state's sole representative in all-important Delhi.

Thus, it was not very surprising that, with a little help from certain factions in the party, the discontentment found reflection in a split. No sooner had the I K Gujral government fallen in Delhi, Naveen, prodded by the pro-BJP forces in the JD, was out on his own.

"My father had a lot of dreams about Orissa," he said in the second fortnight of December, standing under a giant cut-out of his father at Naveen Niwas, the family home in Bhubhenshwar, as he announced his breaking away from the JD, "To realise those dreams is my goal."

The Janata Dal, he felt, was a shadow of what it used to be. "It refuses to accept ground realities," he said, "We parted way because we had exhausted all options."

Now that his political career is taking off, it is quite unlikely that Naveen can devote much time to his other interests -- mainly, writing. He has three books to his credit (A second paradise, A desert kingdom and A garden of life -- all dealing with Indian culture, history and environmental knowledge). Besides, he has been a member of the consultative committee of the ministry of steel and mines, standing committee on commerce, and the library committee of Parliament.

Naveen is also a founder member of the Indian Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage. He has done pioneering work in Indian design, bringing it international recognition. He has also made a significant contribution to help handloom weavers enlarge home markets for Indian textiles.

Naveen Patnaik proving more than a one-poll wonder

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