Debasis Nayak was out of Naveen’s charmed circle long before quitting BJD | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Debasis Nayak was out of Naveen’s charmed circle long before quitting BJD

ByDebabrata Mohanty
Feb 26, 2024 08:31 PM IST

Veteran Biju Janata Dal leader Debasis Nayak failed to get a BJD assembly ticket in 2019, something he feels sure of getting in his new political home, the BJP

When Debasis Nayak quit the Biju Janata Dal on Saturday and joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), no one in Odisha's political circles was surprised about the former minister and one-time confidante of chief minister Naveen Patnaik switching sides. Nayak, the last of the old BJD guards who have been close to Patnaik, has been out of the network coverage area of the BJD chief for over five years now and often told TV channels how the BJD today is not the same party that was launched by Patnaik when he broke away from the erstwhile Janata Dal in 1997.

Former Odisha minister and senior Biju Janata Dal (BJD) leader Debasis Nayak (Twitter Photo)(HT_PRINT) PREMIUM
Former Odisha minister and senior Biju Janata Dal (BJD) leader Debasis Nayak (Twitter Photo)(HT_PRINT)

Denied a BJD ticket from the Bari assembly constituency of Jajpur district, and then not considered for subsequent Rajya Sabha nominations, it was obvious to all that Nayak had fallen from Patnaik's grace. Nayak, who was once Patnaik’s most trusted confidant, had also questioned the BJD supremo's style of functioning in the last five years. With elections to the state assembly less than a month and a half away, Nayak switched to BJP, confident of getting a ticket from Bari, from where he was elected four times between 2000 and 2014.

The 64-year-old Nayak was perhaps among the first Odisha politicians on whom the chief minister placed great trust after the demise of his father Bijayananda ‘Biju’ Patnaik in March 1997. Son of Chitta Ranjan Nayak, a former minister in Congress chief minister Sadashiva Tripathy’s ministry of 1965, Nayak was spotted by Biju Patnaik when the latter wanted to revive his newspaper, Kalinga. Nayak started his political career with the Jana Morcha founded by late prime minister VP Singh in 1987, and joined the Janata Dal a year later. The Jana Morcha had combined with other parties including the Lok Dal, to form the Janata Dal under the leadership of VP Singh. After Biju Patnaik's loss in the 1995 assembly polls, Nayak served as Biju’s office secretary, keeping newspaper clippings ready for the former chief minister for debates in the state assembly.

Hanging around with Biju Patnaik during his last days as MP for the Aska Lok Sabha constituency, which he won in the 1996 general election, Nayak drew the attention of the former chief minister’s family members including Naveen Patnaik. After Biju Patnaik's death and the formation of the BJD, Nayak worked as officer-on-special duty to Naveen Patnaik, then union steel and mines minister in the Atal Behari Vajpayee government. Till 2000, Nayak served almost as Naveen Patnaik’s private secretary, keeping him informed about the political developments in the state till Patnaik became CM of Odisha that year.

Once Patnaik was chief minister, Nayak continued to have unhindered access. As Patnaik was new to Odisha and did not know many of the political actors, Nayak would dutifully show up at Naveen Niwas, the chief minister's private residence near the Biju Patnaik airport, and read out news from Odia papers. Anyone who came to meet Naveen was asked to meet ‘Debasis babu’ before meeting the CM.

In 2004, Nayak was given the ministerial portfolio of minister of state with independent charge of Information and Public Relations, Sports and Youth Services, till he was thrown out of the ministry over a controversy with a woman marshal of the State Assembly in May 2008. The woman marshal alleged that then Assembly Speaker Maheswar Mohanty was calling her to his chamber much to her discomfiture, following which Mohanty had to resign. However, when Mohanty alleged that Nayak had triggered the controversy, Patnaik booted him out of the ministry. In 2009, Nayak got the party ticket for the Bari seat despite much opposition from Pyarimohan Mohapatra, the chief minister’s then-principal adviser.

The wedge between the chief minister and his one-time trusted aide further deepened in 2011, when Nayak alleged that Patnaik was being “remote-controlled” by bureaucrat-turned-politician Mohapatra and a sense of fear-psychosis prevailed in the party. Nayak however, was brought back to the party in 2012 and again given the party ticket for the Bari seat in 2014, which he won.

The gulf between Nayak and Patnaik continued to grow as VK Pandian, who joined as private secretary to the chief minister in 2011, slowly cut off his access to Patnaik. In 2019, Nayak was denied a party ticket from Bari but reportedly assured of a Rajya Sabha nomination, which never materialised. A piqued Nayak later told TV channels that the chief minister should not have made a promise which he could not keep.

Patnaik later admitted that he did not have any access to the chief minister after the 2019 elections. “I had some access to him before Covid. But after Covid, I never visited him. There was no communication between us,” he said.

In TV interviews and private chats, Nayak would often claim that he was writing a book on “untold stories of Odisha politics”. “It would have more masala than what you have read so far. Just wait for it,” he would say, often brushing away further queries about the book.

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