"Ensure zero casualty," Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik told officials and administration across the state, hours before cyclone Phailin was to hit the coast.
As Odisha braces itself for the cyclonic storm, Patnaik has been personally supervising the preemptive measures as well as relief and rescue arrangements. How the chief minister handles the crisis will have a crucial impact on his electoral future, as Odisha goes to polls next year, around the same time as the general elections.
Patnaik came to power in 2000, soon after the super-cyclone in 1999 devastated Odisha, and has enjoyed an interrupted run since then. He was seen to be the biggest beneficiary of the natural disaster, which killed nearly 10,000 people and led to the downfall of the then-ruling Congress government.
Importantly, coastal Odisha, which is the most vulnerable to the cyclone's impact, is a stronghold of Patnaik's Biju Janata Dal (BJD). Hence, if Patnaik seems to fail in any way in dealing with the calamity, it could spell doom for the BJD in the 2014 assembly elections.
Besides, the timing of the cyclonic storm could not be worse, coming during the Durga Puja, a major religious festival in eastern India. After the cyclone threat emerged, Patnaik cancelled his visit to New Delhi and has been closeted in a series of meetings with his officials.
He has personally reviewed the relief material arrangements at Kalinga stadium in Bhubaneswar. Patnaik also visited the state emergency control room, in the office of the special relief commissioner of Odisha, from where all rescue and relief operations will be monitored.
However, the state is much more prepared for the cyclone this time than it was in 1999, when it was caught off-guard by the super-cyclone. Nearly 5 lakh people from seven districts had been evacuated to cyclone shelters by the time this story was filed on Saturday evening, while last time the government had managed to evacuate just about 20,000 people.