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OPINION | Jay Panda's Suspension Proves That VK Pandian is the Second-most Powerful Man in Odisha

The man who is unofficially running both the party and state administration, on his boss’ behalf, is IAS officer V Karthikeyan Pandian. Officially, private secretary to the CM, the Tamilian seems to wield a lot of influence in the eastern state.

Sandeep Sahu | News18

Updated:January 30, 2018, 6:42 PM IST
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OPINION | Jay Panda's Suspension Proves That VK Pandian is the Second-most Powerful Man in Odisha
VK Pandian. (Image: News18)
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Bhubaneswar: As suspended BJD MP Baijayant 'Jay' Panda just found out, no one rubs V Karthikeyan Pandian, the private secretary to the CM Naveen Patnaik, the wrong way in the state.

Cabinet ministers vie with each other to get an audience with Pandian. Party leaders work overtime to be in his good books and senior bureaucrats are wary of taking decisions without getting them vetted by him. Furthermore, large sections of the media are also afraid of him.

Officially, private secretary to the CM, the Tamilian seems to wield a lot of influence in the eastern state. But how?

In his 20 years as the president of the BJD and 18 years as chief minister, Naveen Patnaik has made it abundantly clear that he just does not have the appetite to be involved in the nitty-gritty of running the party or the administration. He is happy delegating the task to someone he can trust while he looks after the bigger picture – charming his way into the voter’s heart with a mixture of personal charisma and populist schemes.

Retired bureaucrat Pyari Mohan Mohapatra, who was once Principal Secretary to Naveen’s father Biju Patnaik played the role with clinical efficiency for about 12 years after Patnaik junior became chief minister in 2000. However, Mohapatra’s ambition got the better of him. On March 29, 2012, while Naveen was in England on his first visit since becoming chief minister, Mohapatra allegedly planned a coup (the allegation has never really been conclusively proved), forcing his boss to rush back home and regain control.

Mohapatra’s fall from grace was swift and sudden. There were no ready replacements. Not many people around Naveen Patnaik could fit the bill – vast bureaucratic experience and the political cunning of an ex-bureaucrat.

For a while, the job had to be divided between Kalpataru Das, the five-time MLA who emerged from nowhere to take virtual charge of the party, and Pandian, who had joined as Naveen’s private secretary after a stellar record while being the Collector of Ganjam, Naveen’s ‘home’ district.

The arrangement worked fine, winning the BJD a record fourth successive term in office in 2014 – that too with a thumping majority of 117 in a 147-member Assembly – and 20 out of the 21 Lok Sabha seats at a time when the rest of the country was being swept by a Modi wave.

This division of labour came to an abrupt halt with the untimely demise of Kalpataru Das in July 2015. By then, Pandian had been in his job long enough to know Naveen’s way of running the party and his government. With quiet efficiency, he slipped seamlessly into the role that the now late Pyari Mohan Mohapatra once played.

The reticent Pandian was happy quietly calling the shots while staying scrupulously away from media glare.

By all accounts, Pandian enjoys the same (some say even more) clout than Mohapatra, who had earned the sobriquet ‘Chanakya’, once did. Like Mohapatra, he too has a very good understanding of political equations and ground realities in the state.

As the Jay Panda episode showed, Naveen’s trust and dependence on him on is total. But there is one fundamental difference between the former and current aide.

While Mohapatra had already retired when he started managing the affairs of the state and the party, Pandian is a serving officer. His non-Odia identity has made him an easy target for those bent on whipping up parochial sentiments, notwithstanding the fact that he is married to an Odia.

In suspending Jay Panda, the only person in the BJD who dared take on Pandian directly, Naveen has left none in doubt that he would treat it as a personal affront if someone dares to go against his trusted officer.

This should effectively silence all closet or potential Pandian baiters and foreclose any possibility of a Panda-like revolt against him in the foreseeable future.
| Edited by: Aditya Nair
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