Naveen Patnaik—The Master Gambler of Indian Politics

Author : Odisha Today Bureau | Posted on: 2019-01-31

From raising the state's contour to a preferred investment destination to fighting off every obstacle that comes his way, he is the ultimate man—Sri Naveen Patnaik, who established himself as Odisha's man for all seasons. He is a reluctant politician who jumped from New York high society into Odisha's political minefield as his father Biju Patnaik's legatee and transformed the state during his tenure over the last 19 years. He not only emerged as a shrewd politician but also emerged as one of the most popular and beloved Chief Ministers of Odisha. He is a public figure and guide who inspires the people around in various ways. There is a popular belief that some people are born leaders because the quality runs in their family and also in their genes. If we subscribe to this popular view then it surely applies to Mr. Naveen Patnaik. Because, like his famous father late Sri Biju Patnaik, Naveen has also been able to win the heart and minds of the people of Odisha unparalleled in Odisha’s political history since independence. And as a good leader he possesses a lot of good qualities which he must have acquired from his father who is considered as ahead of his time not only in his thoughts but also in his actions.


Naveen owns certain good qualities which are natural as well as a result of external factors—family and circumstances. His qualities are often backed by skill, experience, intelligence, integrity and instinct which together help him to attain his goals. Among his contemporaries he is known as a man of few words, but whenever he speaks, everybody takes a note. Because he speaks very concise, focused, logical, short and straight from heart. And in all these 19 years’ time, though he has been the CM of Odisha who has attracted healthy media attention, at the same time he has been able to distance himself from the media frenzy and has been successful in resisting the temptation to talk to the media on every issue of sundry, like some of the other Indian leaders do.


The years between 1995 & 2000 were the turning points in Odisha’s political history. With political instability and natural disaster ripping the state; it was looking for a way out of the situation. People of Odisha were in dilemma, searching for A leader who could arrest the stunted growth and put the state on a path of rapid development. People were also very much disenchanted with the Congress Party. Their revered and beloved leader Biju Patnaik was not there. And that was this critical moment when Naveen decided to take over the reins of Odisha. For his pro-people & reform-oriented governance, he is today the undisputed leader not only in the state of Odisha, but also in the whole country.





Naveen was born on October 16, 1946 at Anand Bhawan in Cuttack, to Shri Biju Patnaik and Smt. Gyan Patnaik. For a brief period, he started his schooling at Cuttack’s St. Joseph’s convent and later on after few years he moved to New Delhi. He was the second son of Biju Patnaik who at the age of seven went to Welham Boys’ School in Dehradun. He even partly studied at The Doon School of Dehradun where he passed out with a senior Cambridge Certificate at the age of 17. He went to Delhi to pursue his Bachelor’s degree in Arts. As a student he shined in athletic, oil painting and excelled in history. Although he belonged to an intensely political family background, he never showed any curiosity towards politics. It only happened during his stay at Delhi when he started getting little exposure towards the political climate of the country.




Upon the death of his father Biju Patnaik, the state witnessed a political and leadership vacuum. An alternative leadership to that of the Congress had to be created. The disillusionment with the J. B. Patnaik govt (1995-2000) was very stark. Naveen immediately returned back to India from the US and was initially elected as Member of the 11th Lok Sabha in by-election from Aska parliamentary constituency of Odisha. He was of course, a novice in politics then having never tasted the muddy waters of politics, but eventually stood up to the challenge. He keenly served as the member of the Consultative Committee of Ministry of Steel & Mines, Member of Standing Committee on Commerce, and Member of Library Committee of Parliament. Not only did he begin his political journey, he definitely knew the need of the hour.


A year later the Janata Dal came towards a split and this led Naveen Patnaik to form a new regional party called the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) in 1998. Showing political maturity Naveen decided to take advantage of the popularity of late Sri Atal Bihari Vajpayee at that time and decided to fight the next election in alliance with the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and, as expected, performed well.


Sri A.B.Vajpayee decided to induct Sri Naveen Patnaik in his cabinet as the Union Minister for Steel and Mines. In the year 1999, the state of Odisha unluckily faced a natural calamity called the ‘super cyclone’ which devastated the state beyond recognition. The government was unable to handle the situation and mass dissatisfaction led to vulnerable situation. During that critical period, Patnaik and his Biju Janata Dal turned out to be the silver lining. In the 2000 assembly elections to the state legislature was conducted and he devoted all his energy in leading the regional party BJD in alliance with BJP and the people Odisha were ever happy to vote the alliance to power.




So BJD won with a majority of seats in alliance with the BJP in the Odisha Assembly which led Patnaik to resign from the Union cabinet only to swear in as the Chief Minister of Odisha. Development in Odisha began from there onwards. The BJD government’s first task was to bring back the smile on the faces of the poor and the underprivileged. Patnaik believed that unless the socially backward people are not taken out of the morass of poverty, no meaningful development can take place.


This led BJD to start various programmes especially for the lower section of the society. Infrastructure development also took place with the construction of road, bridges and other similar projects. The new government aimed at bringing Odisha out of the ignominy of a laggard state and change it into a progressive one. Thus began, what his supporters say, ‘The Age of Naveen’. New major initiatives towards development and other administrative reforms were initiated simultaneously. He largely ensured that all development benefits should go to the people at the grassroots level. His determination and dedication paid him good dividends which led him to win the 2004 Assembly election with a thumping victory, again in alliance with BJP. Needless to mention that this time also he cleverly dissolved the assembly little prematurely in order to have simultaneous election for the state legislature as well as the to Lok Sabha so that he could reap the electoral benefit of Vajpayeeji’s popularity.


He again became CM for the second time in a row. However, the alliance could not last for long. During Patnaik’s tenure, the friction with the ruling partners got more apparent, especially after the killing of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati in the Kandhamal district in the year 2008. The Bajarang Dal actively started the communal riot which did not go down well with Naveen. He, being a secular minded person, could not withstand the forces that were polarising the state along communal lines. He decided to withdraw from the alliance and took the risk of going to fight the assembly election alone in the year 2009. This proved Naveen’s clever and intelligent understanding of the electoral arithmetic of Odisha voters beyond doubt. His shrewd play of politics, his never-say-die and never-give-up attitude proved him again victorious as the electorate of Odisha reposed their faith in Naveen and he won with majority.


After forming government for the third time, he took major steps to announce pro-people policies with focus on poverty alienation. To ensure food security, he introduced ‘rice at Rs. 1 per kg’ scheme. He even looked after the empowerment of women by launching ‘Mission Shakti’ and also helped pregnant women and children through ‘Mamta Yojna’ which are considered as the two important flagship programmes of the Naveen government. He was liked by one and all for his idea of establishing food canteen for the poor in the urban areas of Odisha. Development did not stop here; tribal rights have been protected and also there is a fair treatment towards forest produce. By ensuring stipends to all tribal and scheduled caste children, he made them self-reliant. The swing of development-oriented programmes brought about major changes in the urban and rural arena, which brought the Naveen government closer to the people. His pro-people scheme helped him to win election one after the other and the polls in 2014 broke all previous records. Biju Janata Dal secured 20 out of the 21 Lok Sabha seats of Odisha and 117 of the 147 Odisha Vidhan Sabha seats.




Naveen became popular among masses because of his diverse welfare schemes. He very well knows that the success of the leaders in public life comes through the heart his followers. Wining the heart and the mind of the people though is not an easy task, yet Naveen mastered it very effectively in very little time by targeting to fulfil the basic requirements of the people at the grassroot level. Even his father Sri Biju Patnaik was always committed to uplift the timing millions of his fellowmen from the abject poverty they were suffering from. During his life time he tried to improve their lives a lot, though he did not get many chances in power as his son has got. Probably Naveen learned this trait from his father’s political journey—his successes and failures. So, Naveen started introducing a series of welfare schemes that directly helps improve the basic needs of the rural masses. A state that has one of the highest number of poor population in India, Naveen understood where to focus first.


Biju Swasthya Kalyan Yojana, Banishree Yojana, Biju Krushak Kalyan Yojana, Madhubabu Pension Yojana, Ahar Yojana, UNNATI for urban development, ABADHA for culture and tourism, SWARNA for youth affairs and sports development, BASUDA for water resources, Malatidevi Prak Vidhyalaya Paridhan Yojana, Mukhyamantri Adibandha Yojana, Khushi scheme, NIDAAN scheme for health and family welfare, AMA Clinic Yojana, ANMOL scheme etc. and many more other schemes to name the few. Recently in December 2018 he introduced a new programme called PEETHA, which is a proposed part of ‘Ama Gaon Ama Bikash’ (AGAB) programme and is considered so far to be the largest people-connect programme of the Naveen Patnaik government. He also announced the KALIA scheme for farmers on December 2018, where he announced a Rs. 10,180 crore scheme ‘Krushak Assistance for Livelihood and Income Argumentation’ (KALIA), which he termed as ‘progressive and direct attack on poverty’. Without directly ruling out farm loan waiver by his government, the Chief Minister justified the KALIA, as a better option than loan waiver, while responding to the charges of his critics. Patnaik even ensured that the KALIA scheme is historical in the sense that it covers 92 per cent of the cultivators in the state and almost all landless agricultural labourers.   



He even introduced an initiative named 'Make in Odisha’, which is launched by the government of Odisha, for giving a boost to the industrial growth and production in Odisha. So far, the major investors like NTPC, MCL, SAIL, Tata Steel, TCS, Adani, JSPL, PPL, LOCL, etc. have committed their investment in Odisha. More than 80 companies are planning to invest and the state has received investment worth 30 billion US dollars. The major investment sectors include IT, Petro-chemicals, food processing, health, infrastructure, metal and minerals, manufacturing, textile and tourism, etc.




The son of a proud Odia father, Naveen still faces barrage of criticism about his ability to speak to his fellow Odia people in their own mother-tongue; in fact, his own mother-tongue also. Even after being in power for 19 years he is still facing criticism for his lack of knowledge in Odia. Opposition parties as well as organisations who are working for the promotion of Odia language in the state, have been often criticising and deriding Mr. Patnaik on this count, as he has not been able to deliver his speeches in Odia since he became Chief Minister in March 2000.



However, this is not to say that he has not anything for the cause of promoting Odia language and literature in the capacity of the Chief Minister. It was during the Naveen government that Odia Language got classical status, one of the six Indian languages granted ‘classical’ status till now; a Bhasha Pratisthan was also set up. In October 2018 he laid the foundation stone for the proposed Odia University at the exact spot in Puri district’s Satyabadi village, where Gopabandhu Das, along with his friends Acharya Hahrihara, Pandit Nilakantha, Godabarish Mishra and Krupasindhu, had set up the Satyabadi Bakula Bana Vidyalaya in 1909 to promote education in the Odia language in the ancient gurukul mode—something similar to what Rabindranath Tagore would initiate a few years later at Santi Niketan in Bengal.




Even after ruling for almost two decade the state of Odisha is still facing poverty and unemployment which showed no drastic improvement in the past 19-20 years. Still a lot of people are below poverty line and still the rate of unemployment is very high. Lots of promises made by the government are yet to be fulfilled. Lots of people are still pinning their hope on Naveen that he will ultimately bring major changes in the upcoming years. Slowly, his legislators have been losing faith from the electorate. And according to a recent 2019 survey, detailed by the ‘The Indian Express’, shows that a majority of people may repose faith in Naveen as the CM but may not prefer to vote for their local MLAs. Opposition parties claim that lot of schemes are initiated recently only to manipulate the voters especially the farmers so that BJD can claim its throne again for the fifth consecutive time.


The opposition criticises Naveen for various reasons and one of the reasons is that Naveen Patnaik shares a special bond with V Karthikeyan Pandian, who is a 2000 batch IAS officer. Pandian serves as a private secretary to CM since 2011. According to the February 2018, ‘Times of India’ article which addresses that the BJP describes Mr. Pandian as the 44-year old Tamil officer as the ‘super Chief Minister’ and working president of the Naveen-led government. In fact, it is also said that no serving bureaucrat in the state has ever occupied so much political space as Mr. Pandian enjoys right now. Mr. Baijayant Panda has repeatedly criticised the said bureaucrat, directly and indirectly, over the past year accusing him of meddling in the party’s internal affairs.


If one checks the fact one finds that Mr. Pandian served as a Collector at the CM’s home district Ganjam, and under his collectorship, Ganjam emerged in 2008, as the best performing district in the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS). From there he joined CMO under Naveen on May 2011 and has been his trusted aide ever since. He is mostly credited for handling all undertakings of the CMO but he never appears in public or before the media glare. Most of the bête noire of Naveen consider Mr. Pandian as a substitute of the late Pyarimohan Mohapatra, who was also a bureaucrat turned politician and was often accused as the de facto CM of Odisha (between 2000-2011) till he fell from grace of Naveen for his alleged attempt to topple the Naveen government through a coup. With quiet efficiency, MR. Pandian has slipped seamlessly into the role that the now late Pyarimohan Mohapatra once played, and seems to be quite happy for quietly calling the shots while staying scrupulously away from media glare. Even Naveen’s cabinet ministers struggle with each other to get an audience with Mr. Pandian. But sources close to Mr. Pandian reveal that it is because of his hard work and potential ideas that he is exercises a kind of a influence on Naveen and the CMO and not for any extraneous considerations. The dependence of Naveen over Mr. Pandian is because of his ability as a task master and performer and because of nothing else.  So, to be fair to both Naveen and Mr. Pandian, one can say that both enjoy a great working relationship that goes beyond the unsolicited rumours and newspaper reporting about the undue influence of Pandian over Naveen.  It seems the rapport between the CM and the ‘Third Floor’ (as the office of Mr. Pandian is often referred to, which is situated in the third floor of the Secretariat building) is absolutely built on faith, conviction and reliance.




Naveen continues to be the undisputed political leaders of Odisha who is most-preferred by voters and makes the opposition bite the dust at the hustings. He captures the heart of his people and mesmerises them not only by his speech but also by his calm, suave and gentlemanly personality. He shares a cordial relationship with opposition party members and never speaks ill about anyone because he thinks silence is the best weapon. In spite of being held in unpopular terms within the state for not being able to talk in Odia, on the other hand no other CM in the country speaks as good English as him, often referred to as Queen’s English. Despite limited knowledge of Oriya, the writer-turned-politician not only has gained immense popularity over the years, but also effectively side-lined potential threats within the party and marginalised the opposition, including the Congress and BJP. He is much-admired for his political outreach both nationally and internationally without compromising state issues.


No wonder that Naveen’s government in Odisha is applauded as well as criticized by various hues. He is often blamed by the opposition political parties for manufacturing scams & endorsing fast loot of natural resources of the state. But according to Naveen Patnaik, his rule in Odisha is the era of fast track progress in all most all segments. A latecomer in politics, his is the only rule which is not mixed with any scandal or scam which would have put in the defensive.


When he seeks his consecutive fifth term in office from his electorate this year in the forthcoming state assembly election, this writer, at The Odisha Today, finds that still there is immense support for him on the ground and voters in Odisha are absolute sure of his victory in 2019 assembly election. A bachelor throughout, Naveen still effectively enjoys a preponderant position not only in Odisha but in national politics as well. And surely an over-lordship position in the heart and mind of his followers as they are still mesmerised by his equipoise, charisma, charm and aura.

The Author of this article Prasant K. Sahoo is a former research scholar of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and writes on current issues of political and economic importance.



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