OPINION | Meet the Fabulous 4 Who Scripted Naveen Patnaik's Historic Return to Odisha CM's Chair for Fifth Term
Patnaik returned for a fifth term as Odisha Chief Minister in face of the Modi wave which swept the country for the second time.
Secretariat employees greet Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik for his 5th term in Bhubaneswar. (PTI)
Several people in Odisha were baffled when Naveen Patnaik chose May 29 to take oath as the chief minister for the fifth consecutive term. The surprise was understandable.
For most people in Odisha, May 29 is a reminder of the goings-on in the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) that day seven years ago when the BJD supremo’s erstwhile ‘friend, philosopher and guide’ late Pyarimohan Mohapatra decided that he had had enough of playing second fiddle and reportedly staged a coup bid while his boss was away in England on his first ever foreign visit after becoming the chief minister.
The coup bid expectedly fell flat and the BJD — and Patnaik himself — emerged stronger from the experience. But May 29 continues to be seen as a Black Day in the history of the party and hence, the surprise at choosing this particular date for the swearing-in ceremony was not entirely misplaced.
But little did those surprised know that May 29 also had another significance for the BJD: it is the birthday of V Karthikeyan Pandian, the true architect of the party’s incredible victory in the just-concluded simultaneous Lok Sabha and assembly elections in Odisha.
No one will admit it publicly since he is a government servant (the chief minister’s private secretary). But anyone with even a nodding acquaintance with the modus operandi of this dispensation knows that not a leaf moves in the party or government without his permission. From identifying the right candidates for the party, laying down the overall campaign strategy, finalising an area-specific game plan to beat the Opposition challenge and even finalising the names for the council of ministers, Patnaik’s Man Friday was at the centre of it all.
Ticket aspirants in the BJD ran to him, as did those from other parties who wanted to join the BJD and get a ticket. Working with a team of officials in the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) and a few trusted bureaucrats, Pandian gave the finishing touches to every move before, during and after the elections. Gopabandhu Das, an additional secretary in the CMO, was another key official closely involved in the exercise.
Amar Patnaik, a former officer of the Audit and Accounts Services and an ex Accountant General (AG) of Odisha who resigned from his job and joined the BJD a few months before the elections, was another key player who ran the BJD campaign from behind the scenes. He coordinated and collated the findings of a series of surveys conducted by professional agencies to zero in on the right candidate in a particular seat and gave valuable inputs on how to counter the localised disaffection against the party and the government in some pockets.
As the head of the party’s IT Cell, Patnaik also formulated and oversaw the BJD’s social media outreach. The stupendous success of the BJD — especially in the assembly elections in which it actually increased its vote share from 2014 — is proof that he did an excellent job of meeting the formidable challenge from the resource-rich BJP IT Cell.
On the political side, Jajpur MLA Pranab Prakash Das was the trouble-shooter for the party — mediating with recruits from other parties, containing resentment among those who lost out on the ticket sweepstakes and managing local equations to ensure that the party got the result it wanted.
Das, a powerful minister in Naveen Patnaik’s last government, had been relieved of his ministerial responsibilities and given organisational duties in the BJD supremo’s own ‘Kamaraj Plan’ in the wake of the debacle of sorts in the February 2017 panchayat elections when BJP got 297 of the 849 zilla parishad seats in the state. Had the saffron party managed to hold on to the share of votes it got then in this election, it would have got at least 40+ seats in the assembly.
But the fact that it had to settle for just 23 in the 147-member House suggests Das, working in close coordination with Pandian, has managed to arrest the downslide and put the party back on the road to power. Most observers were surprised to find his name missing in the council of ministers sworn in on Wednesday. But given his centrality in Naveen’s scheme of things, the possibility of Das getting an important role in the near future cannot be ruled out.
As the others worked behind the scene, BJD spokesperson Dr Sasmit Patra was all over the media, holding forth with élan and panache on issues, countering opposition propaganda and ensuring favourable coverage for the party. Extremely articulate in putting the party’s stand across in Odia, Hindi and English, Patra was the go-to man for all visiting journalists of the national media and facilitated interviews for them with the usually reclusive Naveen Patnaik.
Of course, there were hundreds of others in the party working tirelessly for the BJD’s unprecedented victory for the fifth successive time. The scale of the BJD victory would not have been possible had it not been the case. But the biggest share of the credit for the win has to go the Fabulous Four named above.
(Author is a senior journalist. Views expressed are personal.)
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