By Pradeep Baisakh
With the voluntary retirement of V K Pandian, the long-standing confidant of Odisha Chief Minister, from IAS and taking over the role as the chairman of 5T and Nabin Odisha, the landscape of succession of Naveen’s political legacy appears to be crystallizing. Now he is set to join the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) officially soon suggests a Times of India article on 10th November.
For last some years, the media and political analysts have been speculating on “Who after Naveen?”. There has been discussion about various possibilities. One was to bring Arun Patnaik, Naveen’s nephew (son of Prem Patnaik, Naveen’s elder brother) to politics. This scenario would mirror Naveen’s own entry to Odisha politics, orchestrated by Late Pyarimohan Mohapatra after the passing away of legendary Biju Patnaik. The other option that did the round was that of Odia IAS officer Sujata R Karthikeyan, the wife of Pandian, contesting election from Kendrapada district and understandably promoted as a Chief Ministerial candidate eventually. A Facebook post from a BJD Member of Parliament (MP) floating the idea of Ms. Karthikeyan entering politics did some rounds before it was deleted. The MP later claimed that his account was hacked to post the message. Whatever may have been the case, this was clearly one option. Still another alternative was to find a suitable leader from the existing BJD ranks to sit on the throne, among whom Pranab Prakash (Bobby) Das emerging as a prominent contender.
Finally, there is a widespread belief that Pandian will inherit Naveen’s legacy; a formal announcement by Naveen may just be a matter of time, potentially after the 2024 elections.
The long-standing criticism immediately came to the fore: now a non-Odia will rule Odisha! 26 years ago, when Naveen joined politics, he was also criticized for not being able to speak Odia. And such criticism still continues. Naveen never wanted to learn Odia and seldom he communicates in Odia. Apart from his famous one liner, “Apnamane Khusi Ta?” (Are you happy?), he would not be remembered for speaking the language.
I may have subscribed to such a criticism before 25 years, but not now. Things have changed quite a lot with time. The outsider plank looks emotionally appealing but politically irrelevant. If you compare the rule of the then CM Late J B Patnaik with Naveen, the latter has far outpaced his predecessor on every count. The biggest feat of Naveen’s rule is ending ‘goon culture’ in politics that prevailed during Congress regime. Naveen’s welfare model stands out as a master stroke. Be it empowering women through self-help movement, implementing Biju Swasthya Kalyan Yojana – a healthcare coverage scheme, or the subsidized rice scheme, he has consciously crafted the welfarism to uplift the most vulnerable groups in the state, with the Chief Minister’s Office playing a pivotal role. Yes, there are criticism about his industrialization model for not always taking the consent of the affected people during land acquisition — a concern I have consistently raised. But, unfortunately, that’s how a capitalist economy functions, which is a prevailing global trend. Had it been anyone else in the same position, he would have probably done the same.
Therefore, being a person who cannot speak Odia never prevented Patnaik to deliver and continue winning the hearts of Odia people who have elected him as the CM for five times in a row.
The answer to how Pandian became most trusted person of the CM and became so powerful lies with the modus operandi of Naveen Patnaik. From the beginning of his Chief Ministerial stint, it was Late Pyarimohan Mohapatra who won his trust and wielded power on his behalf. Mohapatra was his mentor and held his trust till they split up. After Mohapatra, Naveen identified Pandian as his most reliable person bestowing on him a lot of power and authority – both within party and the government.
Now question is if it is acceptable that a non-Odia to rule Odisha. In a globalized world I do not see any issue with that. Rishi Sunak, a person of Indian origin is the Prime Minister of England. Vivek Ramaswamy, a person of India origin, is in the race to be a candidate from the Republican Party for the 2024 US Presidential election. Well, these are not the fitting examples for Odisha. I am only discussing the state of acceptability of people of foreign origins for the top post in other parts of the world. However, Indians have cherished Sunak as the UK PM not just for being a person of Indian origin but also being India’s Son-in-law!
We have another IAS officer (former), Aparajita Sarangi, a native of Bihar who is married to an Odia IAS officer Santosh Sarangi. She too took voluntary retirement to join Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Ms Sarangi is now the standing Member of Parliament (MP) from Bhubaneswar. It is widely known that she is one of the Chief Ministerial aspirants though while joining politics she said she would work as an ordinary worker and ready to take any role that the party would assign her. For 2024 election however, it is highly probable that Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan will be the Chief Ministerial choice of the party, though Pradhan himself told recently that the BJP would not project a Chief Ministerial face for the 2024 elections. But on the idea of Ms. Sarangi being the CM of Odisha, despite being a native of Bihar, has never drawn any criticism as she is a “bohu” (daughter-in-law) of Odisha, and very rightly so.
But, if Odisha’s “bohu” could be accepted as the CM of the state, then why not Odisha’s “jamai” (son-in-law)?
“Bohu” is a member of our family as she is married to our son, and “jamai” is not part of our family as he is married to our daughter: this is an instance of our gender biasness. Time has changed. It’s time to end such biases.
(Pradeep Baisakh is well known writer, Columnist )