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Thursday, Aug 22, 2019

Former IAS contesting for Odisha RS seat brought BJP, BJD together

The 48-year-old Jodhpur born techie is the BJP’s Rajya Sabha candidate from the coastal state, who is being supported by the BJD.

india Updated: Jun 28, 2019 23:45 IST
Debabrata Mohanty
Debabrata Mohanty
Hindustan Times, Bhubaneswar
Vaishnaw worked in Odisha till 2003, when he was appointed as deputy secretary in the office of former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.
Vaishnaw worked in Odisha till 2003, when he was appointed as deputy secretary in the office of former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. (HT PHOTO.)
         

Former Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer turned entrepreneur, Ashwini Vaishnaw, is the man who has brought the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party and the ruling Biju Janata Dal together in Odisha.

The 48-year-old Jodhpur born techie is the BJP’s Rajya Sabha candidate from the coastal state, who is being supported by the BJD. “PM Modi and union home minister Amit Shah had a discussion with me on supporting Vaishnaw. We will support him,” said Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik after he filed his nomination papers on Tuesday.

With just 23 MLAs in the state Assembly, BJP was in no position to get any of the 3 Rajya Sabha seats going to polls on July 5. BJD with 112 MLAs could have won all three seats till Patnaik declared his party’s support for Vaishnaw, a 1994 batch former Odisha cadra IAS officer.

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

In Odisha, he apparently got noticed during the 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 Behari Vajpayee. When Vajpayee lost the polls in 2004, he became his private secretary. In 2006, he became deputy chairman of the Marmugoa Port Trust, where he worked for the next 2 years, and then left for US to do a 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 vice president - Locomotives and 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 PM 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 the 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 beneficiaries of the discretionary quota. Following Taradutt’s recommendations, the state government cancelled around 6000 allotment of houses and plots in Bhubaneswar and Cuttack done between January 1, 1995 and July 31, 2014.

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

Vaishnaw responded by saying he would explain his position after the polls get over. “I feel let down when people target my integrity. I have 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 River 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. He was also arrested over his role in the scam that spanned between 2004 and 2012.

On his relations with Thriveni River Pellets, 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 a Rajya Sabha MP came.”

The by-election to the six Rajya Sabha seats, including the three from Odisha, will be held on July 5. The last date for withdrawal of nominations is June 28 and Vaishnaw is likely to be elected unopposed along with 2 other BJD candidates the same day as there are no other candidates. He would have a tenure of 5 years in the Rajya Sabha.

First Published: Jun 28, 2019 23:45 IST

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