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Thursday, Nov 21, 2019

Naveen Patnaik, four-time Odisha chief minister, continues to lead BJD unchallenged

Age may have caught up with Naveen Patnaik, but the 73-year-old four-time chief minister of Odisha has lost none of the guile and political instinct that has helped him rule the eastern Indian state for 19 years on a trot.

people Updated: Mar 11, 2019 16:12 IST
Debabrata Mohanty
Debabrata Mohanty
Hindustan Times, Bhubaneswar
Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik will play a key role in the Lok Sabha elections and assembly polls.
Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik will play a key role in the Lok Sabha elections and assembly polls. (PTI)
         

Age may have caught up with Naveen Patnaik, but the 73-year-old four-time chief minister of Odisha has lost none of the guile and political instinct that has helped him rule the eastern Indian state for 19 years on a trot. An enigma to the rest of the world, the son of former chief minister Biju Patnaik still remains the most popular politician in Odisha, miles ahead of any other politician in the state.

Educated at Doon School and a classmate of Sanjay Gandhi, Patnaik, the jetsetter socialite, who could count Jackie Onassis and Mick Jagger among his friends, almost took a rebirth when he plunged into politics following his father’s death in 1997. Very few gave him a chance, often deriding him with his nickname — Pappu. But soon his detractors and colleagues in the party would discover that Patnaik was anything but Pappu as he systematically demolished career politicians in the state with the cunningness that few would have imagined. From Bijoy Mahapatra to his advisor Pyari Mohan Mohapatra or his aide Baijayant Panda, anyone who underestimated him soon learnt the lessons the hard way.

Despite his lack of knowledge of Odia in a state that was the first in India to be carved out on the basis of language, Patnaik has managed to secure a place in the consciousness of Odia voters. He speaks little, a quality that is not associated with Indian politicians. But with a plethora of government schemes starting from Rs 5 a meal to cash transfer scheme for expectant mothers as well as 4.5 million farmers, Patnaik is like a modern-day Santa Claus who has something for every section of the society including youths, Dalits, tribals and women.

Notwithstanding allegations of largescale corruption in the administration, the schemes largely benefit his voters. Acutely image-conscious, Patnaik has scored over his rivals with out-of-the box thinking like hosting athletic championships and World Cup hockey matches to cement his ties with the youths, many of whom will be voting for the first time this year.

What however helps him most is an element of inscrutability as Patnaik refuses to be boxed into either of BJP or Congress camps preaching “equidistant politics”. Shorn of semantics, it essentially means cosying up to whichever political dispensation suits him at the end of the day.

As he seeks power for a fifth consecutive term, there seems to be little challenge in the horizon despite a resurgent BJP. The primary reason — a politician with clean image who means good for people of Odisha.

Odisha will go to polls for both the Lok Sabha and legislative assembly in four phases on April 11, 18, 23, and 29. The counting will be held on May 23.