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Odisha: Is a big Transition in BJD on Cards?

DN Singh |
Now that Naveen Patnaik is 77 years old, there is obvious chatter in political circles over “who after him”? More so, after the rise of his trusted aide, V K Pandian.
Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik

Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik. Image Courtesy: PTI

Odisha is one state where a regime enjoys enviable political control without an Opposition worthy of any mention, except for Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) occasional nit-picking on certain issues. The Congress (which once ran a government in the state) in Odisha suffers an ignominy, and has been virtually floundering since the past over two decades.

The ruling Biju Janata Dal supremo Naveen Patnaik has today become a legend as a regional chieftain in India, like his illustrious father, late Biju Patnaik, whose fame and popularity had crossed over state contours. He was seen as an unconventional political leader and a ‘maverick’.

Now that Naveen Patnaik is 77 years old, there is obvious chatter in political circles over “who after him”? Has he mentored any one to whom he will hand over the baton, is still unclear.

However, one thing is out in the open -- ex-IAS (Indian Administrative Service)-turned BJD member V K Pandian, is an enthusiastic proxy for his boss for doing anything that otherwise would have been done by Naveen Patnaik – be it drawing a road map for the future, including suggesting welfare measures.

Right from the panchayat level to the cities, Pandian has, in the last one year, become ubiquitous by his presence, representing the BJD chief. In a way, he remains a blue-eyed boy of Naveen Patnaik, whipping up some anxiety among his erstwhile colleagues in the administration as well as curiosity among people.

Being an able administrator at the district level during his initial days as an IAS officer, Pandian (who resigned and joined BJD in November 2023), has down the years succeeded in reading the pulse of the people in Odisha. The lessons that he learned during his close association with the Chief Minister have taken the shape of action today, and some credit BJD’s electoral victory in 2019 to his “administrative and political dexterity”.

An early riser, there have been stories of Pandian air-dashing or traveling in jeep to public places to conduct reality checks at the ground level, admonishing officials who slip up. That way, he has been successfully sending a message among the people that he wears the mantle of the “most powerful man” in the state after Patnaik.

Yet, when questioned about his inclination to get into politics or into the shoes of Patnaik, Pandian has always chosen to rubbish the speculation and instead maintained that he was just a “messenger of the BJD supremo” and stands for all that is “good for the state” -- a narrative that many political pundits refuse to buy.

Pandian’s actions on the ground somehow lay bare one thing – that his efforts to become a trusted lieutenant of Naveen Patnaik is not concealed anymore.

His de facto role as a Naveen Patnaik’s ‘political reserve’ is already playing out and it remains to be seen if the BJD supremo gives his nod for his de jure position in the power hierarchy to the former bureaucrat in the days to come.

In present day politics, although many formulaic notions are dispensable in practice, when the issue concerns transition of power in a party as strong as BJD, the rank and file is bound to question: Who is next?    

The writer is an independent journalist. The views are personal.

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