Long before he moved to Bhubaneswar to become a politician, Naveen Patnaik was an international globe trotter, an aesthete whose company was sought out by people like Jacqueline Onassis (who edited his books) and the capital's culturati.
After he became Odisha chief minister, Naveen Patnaik became Naveenbabu, the state's beloved chief minister (he has been in office since March 2000) even though he did not speak Odia, his legendary father Biju Patnaik's native tongue, and had never dipped his toes in politics despite his formidable paternal legacy.
Naveenbabu, we believe, has not traveled abroad after becoming CM, and apparently no longer has a passport. He abandoned his suits and loafers for white kurta-pyjamas and chappals and has no airs about sitting barefoot at meetings as we discovered in Mumbai five years ago.
Naveenbabu turned 75 last October and there have been rumours of ill health, which he denied last Friday.
'I can assure all of you that I am in perfect health and very happy to serve the people of Odisha ... Whenever there is an election, rumours about my health circulate,' Naveenbabu stated.
PTI reported that the statement is considered significant as he did not campaign for Biju Janata Dal candidates in Odisha's panchayat election.
'Whenever there is a rumour, the Biju Janata Dal, you can be assured, is going to do very well,' Naveen babu added as he visited the 11th century Shri Lingaraj temple in Bhubaneswar to review the work of the Ekamra Kshetyra Amenities and Monuments Revival Action Plan on Friday, February 18, 2022.
Naveenbabu has been working from home since the pandemic began and not attended office at the Lok Seva Bhavan for two years.
Please click on the images to view Naveenbabu in a different sartorial avatar at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar.
IMAGE: Naveen babu, in a tee shirt and track pants, greets athletes at the Kalinga Stadium. Photographs: PTI Photo
IMAGE: Naveenbabu has been elected chief minister five times, a record he holds jointly with West Bengal's Jyoti Basu and Sikkim's Pawan Chamling.
IMAGE: Few recall that before he became Odisha's chief minister, Naveenbabu was India's steel and mines minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Cabinet of 1998-1999.
IMAGE: Though he is still not fluent in Odia, neither that linguistic deficiency nor his previous unfamiliarity with politics has deterred Naveenbabu in running his party and state efficiently, thwarting both attempts by rivals in the Biju Janata Dal and the Bharatiya Janata Party to destabilise him.
Good health is a must for Naveenbabu who needs to locate a political heir if he wants to protect the BJD from future irrelevance and extinction.