From art lover to five-time CM, Naveen Patnaik is leader for all seasons
His lack of proficiency in Odia — the state was the first in the country to be carved out on the basis of language— has never been a stumbling block in his popularity. Since then, Patnaik has never looked back.
From a one-time dilettante who teamed up with erstwhile royal Martand Singh to start Psychedelhi, an art boutique in the national capital in the 1960s, to winning a fifth term as chief minister of Odisha, no one who knew Naveen Patnaik well would have ever thought of the younger son of Biju Patnaik charting such a political course for himself.
When Biju Patnaik died in 1997, millions of grief-stricken Odias thronged a 65km road from Bhubaneswar to Puri, where he was cremated with state honours. As followers of Biju searched for a successor, the mantle was passed on to Naveen, who was chosen to head Biju Janata Dal, the newly formed regional outfit to cash in on the sympathy wave. BJD joined hands with BJP to make Naveen the chief minister in 2000. His lack of proficiency in Odia — the state was the first in the country to be carved out on the basis of language— has never been a stumbling block in his popularity. Since then, Patnaik has never looked back. While the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government failed at the hustings in 2004, Patnaik reaped the harvest of a Vajpayee wave by winning the assembly polls in partnership with BJP.
But Patnaik ditched BJP just ahead of the assembly elections in 2009 and still won comfortably. In 2014, he bucked a nationwide Modi wave to win a record 117 of the 147 assembly seats and 20 of the 21 Lok Sabha seats.
But faced with a resurgent BJP, led by an aggressive Modi-Shah duo, Patnaik reinvented himself as he went around the state addressing over 150 meetings. To keep the anti-incumbency sentiments at bay, earlier this year, he started a ₹10,000 a year cash transfer scheme for over 57 lakh farmers in the state.
The women voters, who have supported him over the last couple of polls, were also rewarded — he gave a cash assistance of ₹15,000 to the 6-lakh strong women self-help groups apart from facilitating bank loans for them. He also picked women to contest 7 of 21 Lok Sabha seats. Six of them are currently in the lead and are likely to win. To beat the BJP’s high voltage campaign, Patnaik’s party worked overtime to fill the front pages of all local newspapers with advertisements of his government’s numerous welfare schemes.
The Modi-Shah duo’s blitzkrieg in Odisha may have somewhat dented the BJD citadel as far as Lok Sabha seats are concerned. But in Assembly polls, it‘s Naveen Patnaik all the way