Naveen Patnaik Present Perfect Future Shaky?
One of the most plausible personalities in Indian polity, Naveen Patnaik, is on his way to complete his third term in office as the Chief Minister of Odisha. A very reluctant politician, he has transformed dynasty into participative democracy. Naveen is a well groomed aristocrat who guards his privacy well; never gives interviews, seldom meets his own party men, and prefers to remain cocooned either in his office or his sprawling house.
In India’s political jungle where publicity is considered oxygen, Naveen Patnaik stands out as a maverick. He is rarely seen or heard, not even talked about in his own party circles and bureaucracy, yet in the past 15 years, he has won three parliamentary and three assembly elections. Even after all these years at the helm, he is still not adept with the Odia language. His vision is to win elections and he has mastered that art without even speaking to his voters in their tongue. He has the charisma of being the ‘leader of the masses’, and exudes simplicity, genuine sincerity and a deep commitment to Odisha and its people.
Even the opposition’s sharpest mind readers find it difficult to outguess him; he just doesn’t reveal any ambition. He is perhaps one of the few chief ministers who have never visited any country in search of invisible investment. His one and only jaunt to Britain resulted in a failed coup-d’etat back home. He has not hosted any Vibrant Odisha International Investors’ events, yet the Poscos, Anil Agarwals, Jindals and Lakshmi Mittals come to his land of plenty, to mine the riches of the earth and earn brownie points for moving up the Forbes list of billionaires. He gives them local support but does not lobby for them at the Centre. Almost each of the projects has been embroiled in controversy in the power play of New Delhi, yet Patnaik has still won three straight Assembly elections.
Naveen comeuppance is dynastic, and even though he lacks the iconic stature and credibility of his father; he still basks in the glory of Biju Patnaik. However he has kept his close relatives at bay, and has no apparent visible successor, neither from his family, nor from any rung of the Biju Janata Dal leadership. Naveen Patnaik is not a run-of-the-mill neta, yet, after fifteen years of stewardship of the BJD, no one is any closer to a judgment on whether he is a politician at all. With a profound sense of what constitutes right and wrong, he has rarely allowed himself to be derailed by mundane political considerations. It is this moral positioning that has stood him in good stead.
Biju Patnaik, who had been a flamboyant, crowd-friendly political animal had once said to his party men: “Be loyal not to me but to the destiny of the state.” Unlike his father, Naveen commands and demands utmost loyalty from his party men. He may come across as soft-spoken and evasive, but this soft exterior hides a steely streak. Many of his former party colleagues who were at the receiving end, term him a “cold blooded killer.” Naveen’s present think tank consists of a handful of retired and serving bureaucrats, half a dozen public schooled party leaders, and a few young Turks of recent vintage. He has a visible discomfort with politicians of the old school, not for him the dhoti-clad, pan-chewing, loud-mouthed panderers. Adulation and fawning on is despised and party men have learned to keep a safe distance. He empowers his civil servants more than his ministerial colleagues, most of who, in his opinion are jokers in the pack.
He believes in keeping all his actions in suspense and this has kept many of the BJD flock on their toes over the years. He has sacked 35 ministers during the last 12 years in office while four resigned on their own (they read the writing on the wall well in time). They were sacked on grounds of corruption or moral turpitude, or just because they did not enjoy his confidence any more. Only four out of these 39 ministers were able to make a comeback.
The Biju Janata Dal supremo does not allow or tolerate any trace of dissent. A master of realpolitik, Patnaik has in the past crushed all signs of rebellion in the nick of time. In 2000, he sidelined Bijoy Mohapatra, a former Minister and a founder-member of the party. Mohapatra was shown the door soon after the last date for the nomination for the Assembly elections, denying him a chance to contest the elections even as an independent. Dilip Ray, who was considered a foster son of Biju Babu, too, was unceremoniously dropped from the Union Cabinet. Nalinikanta Mohanty and Rama Krushna Patnaik were crushed clinically, they just withered away into oblivion.
The late Biju Patnaik had shielded his children from the quagmire of politics. Naveen’s upbringing was an anti-thesis of a politician’s son. His schooling in Welham Boys and Doon School kept him away from the hoi polloi. He spent his holidays in London and the Riviera. He counted Mick Jagger and Jackie Onassis as his friends, drank tea at Fortnum and Mason’s and shopped at Saks Fifth Avenue. Far from the heat and dust of Odisha, he led an insular life, jet setting along with the who’s who of the world.
His rivals have questioned his ability to understand the sentiments of the people of Odisha. How Naveen has bypassed the political class and reached out directly to the voters has bewildered many. The people of Odisha seem to accept the Chief Minister for what he is, rather than what the rule book says politicians should be.
Naveen’s spin doctors have created such an image of him that everything negative against him gets shrugged away like water off a duck’s back. The yard long list of scams leveled against him as the CM and the BJD chief has been raised both at the regional and national levels. Instead of shredding his squeaky clean image to bits, he has emerged stronger after every controversy.
The Pyarimohan Mohapatra Affair reads like a Shakespearean drama set in modern times. Pyari’s association with the Naveen Patnaik began even before he ascended the throne as the Chief Minister in 2000. He was roped in to help Naveen Patnaik, who felt lost in the strange quagmire of Odisha’s political scene. It is believed that he was called at the behest of Naveen’s mother Gian Patnaik. Pyari was an old fox, he had picked up the ropes as the numero uno bureaucrat during Biju Patnaik’s time. He soon went on a image building spree for his new boss and with deft masterstrokes, turned Patnaik into Odisha’s tallest leader.
Pyari soon took centre stage, and Naveen became more cut off and reclusive. After being sent to the Rajya Sabha in 2004, he took up an open role in party affairs, focusing on making the BJD a cadre-based party in the manner of the CPM. Pyarimohan was known to have Left leanings right since his college days, in fact it is rumored that he was instrumental in getting the help of the Maoists to orchestrate the BJD winning streak in the subsequent polls.
This “Uncle from Saheednagar” as he was popularly known, became the buffer and guide for Patnaik. He ensured he himself got all the bad press while the chief minister was bestowed the accolades. Everyone in the BJD knows that Naveen sacked most of his ministers on Pyari’s advice. He was the chief strategists during the 2004 and 2009 assembly elections. During seat-sharing talks with BJP in 2004, Pyari ensured that the BJD got more winnable seats.
Such was his clout that he used to decide how the party and government must run. The ministers and bureaucrats used to make a beeline to seek his instructions. Without his nod nothing could move in the BJD or in Odisha. Mohapatra started a unique system of governance in which ministers used to report to the bureaucrats, in fact there was a joke doing rounds in the state—‘PM’ is in charge of the state,
not the CM.
Pyarimohan has confessed that it was he who had made Naveen sever the ties with the BJP during the 2009 elections. The reluctant Naveen would have been happy to continue with the BJP, but Pyari convinced him that there would be rich pickings if they went alone. The results were a coup de grace on the rivals, and the high point in the Pyari-Naveen relationship.
After the sweeping victory, Pyari increased his influence at the grassroots level besides commanding the allegiance of several ministers and MLAs. He formed a strong coterie and commanded utmost loyalty. However, many of the senior BJD leaders started loathing him for his highhandedness.
The first indication of the rift happened during the Athagarh by-election. Pyari’s bete noire Raja Swain’s victory in the by-poll came as a rallying point. The other party stalwarts like A.U Singh Deo, Baijayant Panda, Kalikesh Singh Deo, Damodar Rout were fed up with Pyari’s antics and they formed an alternate lobby. The group started influencing Naveen, leading to a rift between them. That trouble was brewing in the BJD became evident each time Naveen Patnaik went about outwitting his uncle. Very soon, Pyari was a persona non grata in the party.
The outcome was the failed coup, its aftermath will remain a milestone in Odisha’s political history. It all started one hot and humid evening when some 30 BJD MLAs, including four senior ministers were called to his residence on 29th May. The legislators were asked to put their signatures on paper to choose him as the new leader of the BJD Legislature Party. Pyari had sought an appointment with the Governor for the next day to stake claim to form the government. Even the Congress would have lent him their tacit support. But last minute glitches led to a cropper and he failed to muster the desired numbers to topple Naveen.
Pyarimohan recently threatened to use a “brahmastra” against Naveen. He threatened to reveal the facts of the illegal mining. He floated a pressure group called Odisha Jana Morcha (OJM) to “ensure democracy” within the BJD, and after being thrown out, is now converting it into a full-fledged political party. The OJM is a party of BJD dissenters that aims at destabilising the party by eating into its support base. Mohapatra has sent feelers to the BJP and may even join hands with the Congress.
But where does the BJD stand minus Pyari? It is a fact that most of the BJD MLAs were Pyarimohan’s men. But, blood runs thicker than water. Most of them have switched sides and are now sworn Naveen loyalists. Pyari may not win many seats, but he will surely play spoilsport in many places. If he joins hands with either the BJP or the Congress, he will be a force to reckon in the forthcoming elections. (AD)
Besides the much hyped mines and coalgate scams, the list of demeanors against his government stretches from the MNERGA scam, the midday meal, Dal supply scam, the diversion of river water to industries, Vedanta land allotment, Posco, Khandadhar, seeds for farmers, diversion of SC/ST funds et al. The agriculture sector is perhaps the biggest sufferer. resulting in suicides and distress sale. Farmers are taking crop holidays due to unsustainable price support, non-availability of fertilizers and seed and acute water crisis.
Strictures, admonitions, warnings, indictments and condemnation by various courts, tribunals, committees and constitutional bodies have not dented the unruffled demeanor of the cool CM one bit. He wriggles his way out of any situation with a smile and his cryptic comments “the law will take its own course”, and “we shall look into the matter”. Had this grand scale of scams occurred in any other state, the governments must have surely bitten the dust. An indicator is probe into the mines scam by the Shah Commission. Justice Shah was prompt in announcing his decisions in Karnataka and Goa, but come Odisha, the commission has hit many roadblocks, and even before the completion of the probe, signals have been sent out giving a clean chit to the state government. Senior BJP leader Murali Manohar Sharma is a crusader against the mines mafia in Keonjhar. He led the agitation against the withdrawal of water from the Baitarini River and was successful in moving the national Green Tribunal against it. According to Sharma, but for procedural action against some mine owners for non-compliance of mining rules, the illegal quarrying and transportation of mines is still very much prevalent, right under the nose of the administration. In fact, the scarcity due to the closure of many mines has driven the price of the black market ore skywards.
THE SOPS OPERA
Of late, the Chief Minister has also been distributing sops left, right and centre. Naveen is undoubtedly one of the most populist Chief Ministers of the country. His track record of delivering more than what he had promised has made him the darling of the poor masses.
The government has initiated a slew of packages for varied sectors of the society. Constructions workers, weavers, artisans, sericulturists, kendu leaf pluckers have been included for special packages. Apart from giving Rs.200 to each elderly, widow and disabled person as winter assistance to buy blankets, his government recently also announced bicycles for 1.6 lakh Class X students from poor families.
While deciding to continue with its cheap rice scheme for the poor at Re 1 per kilo, the Chief Minister has also announced free mobile phones for farmers. 20,000 phones would be distributed to the farmers under the Digital Mandi Scheme. Green SIM cards for one lakh fishermen with free access to information on catch areas are another innovative idea.
The Mamata Scheme of Rs 5000/- for pregnant women, the Rs 100 crore package for Women’s Self Help Groups, old age pension, widow allowances etc. is targeted at half the population of the State. Recently he announced a Rs 10,000 grant for each registered youth club of the state. A Rs 1800 crore kitty was set up for building concrete roads in the gram panchayats. The farming sector was assured a dedicated feeder service for power supply. More packages are on the way, including the proposal for increasing the retirement age from 58 to 60 years. Mission Yuba Shakti has been recently launched under the new youth policy. With unemployment in the state touching at 30 lakh, Naveen hopes to tap this big chunk with hopes and promises. He has even announced distribution of free laptops.
The total outlay for these gimmicks will cost the state exchequer Rs 60,000 crore in the next fiscal. Naveen is banking on the hope that by then he would have won his fourth election. What happens when the chickens come home to roost is not on his agenda today, another victory is all that matters. (AD)
Devanand Mohapatro, another BJP leader who contested against the CM in the last elections, says that Naveen has the “mohini mantra”, which loosely translated means “seductress charms”. His own constituency Hinjli has seen acute lawlessness, the Maoists have made it their hotbed, development work is zero, but the crowds still get pulled in.
PM IN WAITING?
In May 2012, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was seen licking his wounds after the seemingly innocuous letter by Naveen, opposing the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) snowballed into a controversy with a dozen chief ministers joining the cause. The row ignited fresh hopes about that perpetual mirage of Indian politics—a stable third front—making some wonder if Naveen was nurturing larger dreams.
The very fact that a lackluster leader from a politically lightweight state like Odisha could even be rumored to be eyeing the prime post speaks volumes about Naveen’s success. This is not the first time that Odisha nurtured the prime-ministerial dream. Naveen’s father Biju Patnaik came close to the finishing line in 1996. There are people who still wistfully remember the incident with a sense of regret. Biju Babu lost the PM’s post by a whisker due to political machination by the Congress and a few of his own MP’s. Samajwadi Party Chief Mulayam Singh Yadav has already hinted the formation of a Third Front before at the upcoming elections. In case this happens, Naveen Patnaik is likely to lead the pack as the others like Mulayam, Nitish Kumar, Jayalalitha and Mamata Banerjee are not set to gain seats. There are indications that Naveen is positioning himself for the prime minister’s post. It is well known that he maintains very cordial and personal relations with the head honchos both in the BJP and the Congress. In the event of the failure for the UPA and NDA to get a majority, Naveen and the BJD will play a very crucial role. (AD)
The government’s own figures have recently stated that the crime graph has gone up by 30 per cent. Twenty two of the thirty districts are Maoist infested; in fact sixteen districts have deployment of central forces. Whether Naveen and his BJD are facing credibility crisis is a question which plagues many. There is no doubt that the Naveen-Pyari split has left the BJD vulnerable. It will be the first time that he will go to the polls minus his Man Friday. The opposition parties will go hammer and tongs at him; he will be the sole target. Naveen can smile at the past and the present, but as for the future it is tense.
By Anil Dhir from Bhubaneswar
ALL THE CHIEF MINISTER’S MEN
The enigmatic Naveen Patnaik has taken the centre stage of Odisha’s political scenario inasmuch that he overshadows all his other party men. The BJD has many stalwarts and heavyweights who keep a low profile and are only too happy to play second fiddle to the party boss. Naveen’s Cabinet has often been termed as a revolving door, his strategy to weed out leaders with unsavory reputations with clockwork regularity adds to his own clean image.
Bijayshree Routray, a five-time MLA and son of the former freedom fighter and Chief Minister Nilamoni Routray is one of the most erudite and academic faces in the Cabinet. The well read and witty politician has handled many portfolios in the Cabinet and is known as an astute and honest person. Even he had to face the ignominy of having to resign when charges were leveled against him for alleged bribes, however Naveen was forced to reinstate him after the probe gave him a clean chit. He now handles three important portfolios, including the Forests & Environment Ministry.
The two-time MLA Arun Sahoo is leading the brat pack of the young Turks of the party. Arun was the cool strategist who was used by Pyari to strengthen the party’s student and youth base. He was pivotal in the electoral wins in the three bye-elections. It was Arun Sahoo who had rushed to the CM’s residence on the night of 29th May and read out the riot act to his party MLA’s, who scurried back from Pyari’s fold. He was rewarded and made the State’s energy minister by Patnaik, an important portfolio due to the multitude of power projects that are being set up in the State.
Sanjay Das Burma is another young Turk who is a close confidant of the CM. This first time MLA broke into the Congress bastion of Brahamagiri when he defeated Congress strongman Lalatendu Bidyadhar Mohapatro in the last elections. He is termed the giant killer and is now the Deputy Chief Whip of the party, and as party spokesman, the voice of Naveen Patnaik in the local media. Debasish Samantaray, the MLA from Cuttack is another MLA who is in the inner circle.
Bhartruhari Mahtab is a four-time MP from Cuttack. A seasoned parliamentarian, he is known for his well researched debates in the Lok Sabha. Baijayanta Panda is into his third term in Parliament and is the suave face of the party. He has headed the Young Parliamentarians Forum and is a member of many committees. Dr. Prasanna Kumar Patsani has done four stints each in the Assembly and Parliament. He is a known litterateur and poet and is an ardent fan of the CM. Tathagata Satpathy, son of the former Chief Minister Nandini Satpathy, is one time MLA and three-time MP, heads a media empire in the State and is also close to Naveen.
Raja Swain is a five-time MLA who created electoral history when the Supreme Court ruled in his favour and ordered a repoll in his constituency at Athagarh. Damodar Rout is another legislator who has had a bumpy love-hate relationship with the CM.
It is a fact that Naveen is the keystone in the BJD arch. No one in Odisha can perceive the structure of the BJD minus him. The entire election campaigns figure him singularly. He is portrayed as the messiah of the poor and downtrodden. He has very cunningly created an impression of the state being a victim of the Centre’s apathy. During the last elections, he fielded many non-entities who won with big margins. All his ministers are advised to “talk less, work more”, which they adhere to seriously. (AD)
THE BJD-BJP RIVALRY
It is an irrefutable fact that Naveen rode piggy back on the BJP during his initial days. It was Vajpayee and the BJP which catapulted this greenhorn socialite into mainstream politics. The toddler in politics, Naveen was practically hand held and spoon fed before he picked up the ropes. Because of Pyarimohan, Naveen had always been uncomfortable with the BJP leaders of the State as most of them were experienced stalwarts of the old school. During both the coalition terms, the BJP Ministers had functioned very well in their assigned ministries. Most of the schemes that made Naveen popular were implemented by the BJP ministers. In fact the credit for all the good and hard work done by the coalition partner was taken by the BJD and Naveen Patnaik. He got the bouquets, the BJP got the brickbats.
The reins of the BJP are now in the hands of K. V. Singhdeo, who is a four time MLA and the worthy grandson of former heavyweight Chief Minister R.N.Singhdeo. KV is a popular leader and has the experience and connect with the people. He is known for baiting the CM both inside the house and outside. His taking charge has been a shot in the arm of the BJP—he has been making whirlwind tours of the State and is drawing a big response.
It is providential that Naveen’s father and K.V. Singhdeo’s grandfather had been arch rivals and were at loggerheads in their political domains. Unlike Naveen, Maharaja knows the pulse of the people and has successfully handled many portfolios in his earlier stints. He was the cabinet minister in the BJD-BJP government from 2000 to 2009 and held portfolios like industries, urban development and public enterprises. KV has already blown the poll bugle for his party, and is strongly against any coalition with the BJD, the party would face the elections on its own strength on its own development agenda. The Party is back on a revival mode and will take full advantage of the corruption of Naveen’s government to turn the tide of public opinion. According to Pratap Mohanty, a senior political analyst, Naveen’s vulnerability will make him extend the olive branch towards the BJP. This would be a strategic move for the BJD, but, Mohanty also adds, “for the BJP, it will be nothing short of political hara-kiri.” (AD)