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Friday, Aug 16, 2019

BJP’s Ashwini Vaishnaw elected unopposed to Rajya Sabha from Odisha

After being declared elected, Vaishnaw said he would not behave like a politician and would be a brother to people.

india Updated: Jun 29, 2019 09:31 IST
Debabrata Mohanty
Debabrata Mohanty
Former Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer-turned-corporate honcho and then entrepreneur, Ashwini Vaishnaw was on Friday elected unopposed to Rajya Sabha from Odisha as BJP candidate
Former Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer-turned-corporate honcho and then entrepreneur, Ashwini Vaishnaw was on Friday elected unopposed to Rajya Sabha from Odisha as BJP candidate (HT Photo)

Former Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer-turned-corporate honcho and then entrepreneur, Ashwini Vaishnaw was on Friday elected unopposed to Rajya Sabha from Odisha as BJP candidate along with BJD spokesman Sasmit Patra and BJD IT cell head Amar Patnaik. With only three candidates in the fray for the 3 vacant Rajya Sabha seats, the three were declared elected at the end of Friday, the last day of withdrawal of candidature.

After being elected, Viashnaw said he would be like a brother to people of Odisha. “While I was in IAS, people would come to me and address me as brother. I would still be the same,” he said. Vaishnaw would have a tenure of 5 years in Rajya Sabha as he has come in place of BJD’s Soumya Ranjan Patnaik, who was elected to the Upper House last year.

While the election of BJD’s two candidates was a foregone conclusion due to the brute strength of the party in the State Assembly, it is Vaishnaw, who seems to have brought bitter rivals Bharatiya Janata and the ruling Biju Janata Dal together in Odisha. BJP with just 23 MLAs in Odisha did not have enough numbers to put up a candidate of its own, but a last-minute phone call from PM Modi and Home minister Amit Shah to chief minister Naveen Patnaik helped the party get its own man elected.

The 48-year-old Jodhpur-born techie was the BJP’s Rajya Sabha candidate from the coastal state, but had BJD’s support.

“PM Modi and union home minister Amit Shah had a discussion with me on supporting Vaishnaw. So we supported him,” said Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik.

Vaishnaw, a 1994 batch IAS from Odisha cadre, passed out from Rajsthan’s Jai Narayan Vyas University in 1992 with a gold medal in electronic and communications engineering course and then completed his M Tech from IIT Kanpur, before cracking IAS in 1994 with an all-India rank of 27.

In Odisha, he apparently got noticed during 1999 super cyclone. Officials, who have worked with him, said days before the super cyclone hit the state, Vaishnaw logged into a US Navy website to track the path of the cyclone. “He tracked the cyclone every hour and sent a report to the chief secretary at regular intervals, which became a major source of information for the Odisha government about the cyclone,” an official who then worked in the chief secretary’s office said.

Vaishnaw worked in Odisha till 2003, when he was appointed as deputy secretary in the office of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. When Vajpayee lost the polls in 2004, he became his private secretary. In 2006, he became deputy chairman of Marmugoa Port Trust, where he worked for next 2 years, and then left for US to do an MBA from Wharton School of Business, Pennsylvania.

“After my MBA in Wharton, I was deep in debt. Studies in US can be very expensive and mine was a full-fledged MBA. I figured that it would take me long to repay my debt if I stayed in IAS. So I quit (in 2010) and worked in private companies like GE and Siemens and came out of debt,” said Vaishnaw, who worked as a vice president - Locomotives & Head Urban Infrastructure Strategy of Siemens in Gurgaon.

In 2012, he quit the corporate sector and set up Three Tee Auto Logistics Private Limited and Vee Gee Auto Components Private Limited, both automotive components manufacturing units in Gujarat. “I went to Gujarat and built my units while living in a container for 7 months as I wanted that factory to come out in record time,” he said.

A senior Odisha BJP leader said Vaishnaw was noticed by Modi and Shah during his entrepreneurial days in Gujarat. “They knew him since his days in Vajpayee’s office and had probably marked him out for bigger role,” said a senior BJP leader.

A former chief secretary described him as a copybook bureaucrat - professional, skilled and low-profile. “He was brilliant and yet always took care to stay below the radar,” he said.

The opposition Congress, however, smelled something fishy and accused Vaishnaw of being in nexus with the mining mafia. Congress legislature party leader Narasingh Mishra alleged in state assembly on Wednesday that Vaishnaw was hand in glove with the mining mafia and his name featured in the December 2014 inquiry report by former bureaucrat Taradutt in the allotment of government plots and houses under discretionary quota.

Vaishnaw was one of the several beneficiaries of the discretionary quota. Following Taradutt’s recommendations, the state government announced cancellation of around 6000 allotment of houses and plots in Bhubaneswar and Cuttack done between January 1, 1995 and July 31, 2014.

“How a person, not an Odia and who has been hand in glove with the mining mafias, is going to protect the interest of the state. A doubt arises that something is behind the screen,” alleged Mishra of Congress.

Vaishnaw responded by saying he would soon explain his position. “I feel let down when people target my integrity. I lived a transparent life. I never had a fascination for politics. I was indeed surprised when the offer to contest came. But once elected as an MP, I will do that with full public spirit,” he said.

Much of the Congress’s accusations against Vaishnaw stem from his joining Thriveni Pellets Limited, a sister concern of B Prabhakaran’s Thriveni Earthmovers Pvt Ltd as one of the directors in 2017. Prabhakaran was named in the justice MB Shah Commission of Inquiry that probed into the multi crore mining scam in Odisha in 2013.

In 2018, Vaishnaw along with Sajjan Jindal of JSW Steels and B Prabhakaran of Triveni Earth Movers Limited, took over the sick Brahamani River Pellets Limited, in Kalinga Nagar in Jajpur district of Odisha producing iron ore pellets out of iron ore concentrates.

Vaishnaw said: “My goal was to create an enterprise that can sustain 1500 families. In the Kalinga Nagar plant, we are giving subsidised food even to our contractual employees. I was happy achieving my target and working towards a goal of sustaining 5000 families till the offer of MP came.”

First Published: Jun 29, 2019 08:15 IST

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