Bhubaneswar: An author, a connoisseur of art, a canny politician whose calm visage masks the ruthlessness he is capable of while dealing with rivals and mutinous partymen--traits hard to find in one man.
That's Naveen Patnaik, once a reluctant inheritor of the legacy of his legendary father and former Odisha chief minister Biju Patnaik.
Patnaik Jr took over the mantle of his father as a novice upon his death in 1997. A little over two decades down the line, the once reluctant politician is all set to resume the reins of power for the 5th consecutive term, having led the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) to yet another emphatic victory.
Already the longest-serving chief minister of Odisha, having assumed office in the year 2000, Patnaik has weathered many a controversy—from chit fund scams to mining scandals—but remained the foremost leader of the regional outfit he heads.
Patnaik's image of a "clean and honest" politician is widely regarded as the reason why he was able to to withstand a spirited challenge thrown by the BJP, analysts say of perhaps the lone regional satrap who cannot even properly speak the language of his native state.
He had his baptism in politics when he became a Lok Sabha member from Aska seat represented by his father in a by-election in 1997.
A year later the Janata Dal split and Patnaik floated the regional outfit named after his famous father. He forged an alliance with the BJP and became a minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee cabinet in 1998.
He was re-elected from Aska in 1998 and 1999 as parliamentary elections were held in quick succession amid political instability.
In 2000, when the BJD-BJP alliance won the state assembly elections, Patnaik was made chief minister. The combine retained power after 2004.
However, the ties between the two parties soured in the aftermath of Kandhamal riots that broke out following the killing of VHP leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati in 2008.
Patnaik broke the alliance with the saffron party on the eve of the 2009 general and assembly elections.
The move was a political masterstroke as it strengthened his secular credentials.
Contesting the simultaneous polls, the BJD won 14 of the state's 21 Lok Sabha seats and 103 of the 147 assembly constituencies.
Since 2009, Patnaik weathered many a storm, including an alleged "coup" attempt by leaders of his own party in 2012 when he was on a visit abroad. He only emerged stronger.
The BJD posted a record victory in 2014, untouched by the Modi wave. His party grabbed a lion's share of 117 of the 147 assembly seats and 20 of the 21 Lok Sabha seats.
Hidden behind Patnaik's enigmatic smile is a ruthless practitioner of modern-day politics. He crushed dissidence with an iron hand as he threw out and cut to size stalwarts like Bijoy Mahapatra, Pyari Mohan Mohapatra, close aide Baijayant Panda and Damodar Rout, a known Biju loyalist.
Despite his accented Odiya and somewhat deficient oratorical skills, Patnaik has a special place in voters' hearts.
His populist measures like Re 1 a kg rice and Rs 5 per meal schemes were instant hit and set his popularity chart soaring.
Ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha and state assembly polls, Patnaik not only pitched for 33 per cent reservation for women but also walked the talk by implementing the formula while nominating BJD candidates for the lok Sabha contest.He also unveiled the Krushak Assistance for Livelihood and Income Augmentation (KALIA) scheme, which will benefit about 92 per cent of state's farmers. The scheme will provide financial, livelihood, cultivation support along with insurance support to small, marginal and the landless farmers.
Though a votary of maintaining equal distance from both the BJP and the Congress for around a decade, Patnaik gave enough indication in the midst of the elections that his party was ready to support any alliance which will protect the interest of Odisha.
A writer, who has authored a couple of books and also dabbled in arts, Patnaik has scripted a fresh chapter in Odisha's history with his party's stellar performance.