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Naveen Patnaik will be Odisha CM for Life

By Aditi Phadnis
August 19, 2021 17:24 IST
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Because he knows Odisha; and Odisha knows him, observes Aditi Phadnis.

IMAGE: Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, seated, with the Indian men's hockey team, which won India's first Olympic medal in hockey in 41 years.
Odisha sponsors India's hockey teams.Photograph: Kind courtesy Naveen Patnaik/Twitter

India's hockey teams are on the front pages of all newspapers with Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik smiling gently in all of them.

The men's team has won an Olympic medal -- a bronze -- for the first time in 41 years -- but it is Mr Patnaik who has ensured he won the gold.

No politics in this bloodless conquest. But then, that is Naveen Patnaik's kind of politics!

He is said to be quiet, charming, self-deprecating but ruthless in eliminating competitors and potential threats.

Most political parties and their leaders tend to use politics to edge out rivals.

Mr Patnaik uses politics to befriend them, in the process, becoming the one to decide who/what his opposition will be.

Take, for example, the election of the deputy chairman of the Rajya Sabha last year.

Mr Patnaik responded graciously to a call made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and extended support to the National Democratic Alliance candidate, knowing full well that but for his help, the NDA would've lost the position to the Opposition.

In this, he appeared to lose a battle [the BJP's campaign against him and the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) in the assembly elections was strident]; but won the war: After accepting his support, Mr Modi and Amit Shah are hardly likely to denounce him all over Odisha as privileged and entitled.

More to the point, the BJP's most influential Odiya leader and possible CM candidate, Dharmendra Pradhan, will now have to fight the assembly elections (which are admittedly some time away) with one hand tied behind his back.

The BJD was born in 1997. Next year, it will celebrate its silver jubilee.

Not one of those who were associated with its foundation is anywhere around: Bijoy Mahapatra, once considered a political heir to Biju Patnaik, is now in the BJP. He was part of the group in 1997 that gave the new party its name.

Naveen Patnaik's first election to the Lok Sabha was from Aska. The seat had been held by Kumudini Patnaik and her husband Ram Krushna Patnaik was a veteran leader and minister, considered close to Biju.

The couple took Naveen, just returned from abroad and new to the poverty, deprivation and insanitary conditions of the state, under its wing.

Today, the couple is in the BJP and Ram Krushna Patnaik recently (2019) told reporters he thought Naveen Patnaik was 'mad'. And so on.

Mr Patnaik was elected chief minister in 2000. He's already served four terms and is on his fifth.

In 2014, Odisha remained unimpressed by the Modi wave sweeping the country and sent 20 out of 21 MPs from the state from the BJD.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the party could win only 12 out of 21. But in the assembly, the BJD won 112 seats out of 146.

How Mr Patnaik has managed to do this is a mystery.

Till a few years ago, he could not speak publicly in Odiya (his speeches had to be written in the Roman alphabet).

He has overcome this problem now, but he's hardly a gifted orator.

Whether it is a public meeting in Nuapada or in Kalahandi or in Rourkela, his speeches are a set piece: He begins by saying how happy he is to visit, recalls the sacrifices of a local leader (Birsa Munda in Rourkela, for instance), refers to contributions made by Biju babu to the area, followed by the message he wants to convey.

As an orator, he has the charisma of a turtle.

He also presides over a state where a man has to carry the dead body of his wife on his back and walk several miles to cremate her because there is no other means of transport.

This is the land that made 'starvation death' a household phrase.

This is where men and children were burnt alive because they were doing God's work -- only it was the wrong God.

This is also a state where a giant like South Korean steel manufacturer Posco tried but failed to acquire a piece of land because of the fierce resistance of tribal groups who held nothing more than bows and arrows.

But boy! can he win elections!

He owes this to two things. One, his public image is one of being detached from power, money and family.

There isn't a single case of corruption against him or against anyone claiming closeness to him (he dumps them the minute he finds they've been dipping into the till. And they're banished for life as many politicians and bureaucrats have found).

If politicians are arrested for corruption, the police are sure they will never get any calls from the CM's office.

Two, Odisha has a welfare system for low-income groups that actually works.

Amitabh Kant of the Niti Aayog publicly congratulated the CM (not a BJP CM) for making Bhubaneshwar the first city to achieve 100 per cent vaccination against Covid and Puri, the first city to supply 24x7 drinking water.

It seems he will be Odisha chief minister for life. Because he knows Odisha; and Odisha knows him.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/

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Aditi Phadnis
Source: source