He is fluent in French but cannot speak the state's native language, Odia. He has decimated the Congress in his state and yet, he enjoys an excellent friendship with the Gandhi family. He was among Delhi's top glitterati till 50, today he is one of the most successful politicians.
Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik talking with the villagers at a Multipurpose Cyclone shelter at Binchanapalli of Ganjam District of Chattrapur, Odisha. (Subhendu Ghosh/HT)
Meet Naveen Patnaik, a politician who has never sat in the opposition bench ever since his entry into politics in 1997 after his father Biju Patnaik died. He was a part of the ruling coalition. He became a Union minister (1998-2000) and since 2000, he has been ruling Odisha.
During his "road show" Wednesday, his car stops briefly at a busy Berhampur market. Bypassers try to catch a glimpse while zealous BJD workers shout slogans with bouquets and garlands in hands. The CM doesn't even roll down the window. Just nods his head a few times and workers throw the flowers on his SUV's luggage carrier. Patnaik pulls out a microphone (which doesn't work). Speaks a few broken sentences. The cavalcade moves on.
"One of his keys to success is fund management for the workers. Unlike the Congress, BJD's money reaches booth-level workers," says Pyarimohan Mahapatra, Patnaik's mentor who was thrown out of the party last year. Mahapatra now heads his own outfit - Janmorcha.
The common people, however, point out to the smooth implementation of many social schemes, especially the monthly 35 kilo rice at Re 1/kg for BPL families. "We have excellent roads even in rural areas. I reach my village in almost 1/4 th of the time that was earlier required" says Mushtaqim Khan of Kakatpur, who returned from Saudi Arabia to cast his vote.
A dilapidated opposition is perhaps the biggest advantage. The Congress is weak, courtesy - its internal squabbling. He has marginalized the BJP too. "The other opposition parties like my Amo Odisha or Janmorcha are yet to evolve as an organization. Thereby, they do not pose any major threat to BJD", says Amo Odisha party chief Soumya Ranjan Patnaik.
Inside the party, Naveen allegedly curbs the growth of his lieutenants. "In every election, he changes almost 50 % candidates," says a party leader.
His opponents also allege coercive tactics. "My phones are tapped. The police keeps a tab on visitors. His aides threaten people to stop them from donating to my party. He had even deployed anti-Maoist commandos outside my residence," alleges Pyarimohan.
Meanwhile, at his inability to speak Odia at a rally in his family bastion of Aska, many elders giggled as Naveen Patnaik read out from a written speech. But they say, "Never mind his speech. We need someone who can deliver."