Naveen Patnaik: Politician who beat all odds to lead Odisha faces a setback | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Naveen Patnaik: Politician who beat all odds to lead Odisha faces a setback

Jun 04, 2024 11:12 PM IST

Naveen Patnaik, 77 not only made Odisha his home but came to dominate its politics like no one else had before, not even his legendary father

When he entered politics after the death of his father Biju Patnaik, no one thought Naveen Patnaik, the suave, urbane and anglicised figure who was more at home in the salons of Manhattan than the corridors of Bhubaneswar could survive the rough and tumble of Odisha’s politics. The critique was loud: He didn’t know the local language. He didn’t know the society. He didn’t know the politics. He didn’t know how to administer and govern. But in a sign of true political genius and resilience, Patnaik, 77 not only made Odisha his home but came to dominate its politics like no one else had before, not even his legendary father. The BJP encouraged the formation of the Biju Janata Dal as a way to counter the Congress’s hegemony in the state. Patnaik allied with the BJP for a decade, but then he branched off on his own.

Biju Janata Dal (BJD) chief Naveen Patnaik didn’t read the state’s mood in time and lost the plot, and with it, power. (Sonu Mehta/HT FILE PHOTO)
Biju Janata Dal (BJD) chief Naveen Patnaik didn’t read the state’s mood in time and lost the plot, and with it, power. (Sonu Mehta/HT FILE PHOTO)

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And through his two-and-a-half decades in power, he remained the leader who came to dominate Odisha’s political consciousness. He wasn’t the most fluent orator, but he knew how to construct and deliver on welfare schemes. He wasn’t the most visible politician, but he exercised control over his party and his government minutely. He wasn’t the most rooted in the state’s language, but he knew how to play on the state’s social and political contradictions in the most shrewd of ways. But like all political lives, the end of Patnaik’s stint in power is a partially tragic story.

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In the past decade, Patnaik ended up relying excessively on a bureaucrat, VK Pandian, who is originally from Tamil Nadu. It was an open secret that Pandian ran the government, but as long as there was an appearance of Patnaik being in control, Odisha’s citizens lived with this reality. But when Pandian joined politics, and was virtually anointed the successor, the BJP moved in for the kill and campaigned on regional pride. Ailing and perhaps shorn of the political skills that had guided him so far, Patnaik didn’t read the state’s mood in time and lost the plot, and with it, power. Age and health doesn’t allow him the luxury of a comeback but Patnaik will go down in Indian political history as a rare and successful politician who transformed a desperately poor state and gave it political stability and economic hope.

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