Naveen, the prodigy

Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik

Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik turned 72 today. Born exactly 11 months before independence, he took the reins of Odisha at a critical juncture. The 1999 super cyclone had just devastated the state beyond recovery.

The government at that time – Giridhar Gamang was Chief Minister – was incompetent of handling the post-super cyclone wreckage. The mass dissatisfaction coupled with political instability and economic destruction had created   an incredibly vulnerable situation.

It was at this moment that Naveen and his Biju Janata Dal turned out to be the savior. In the assembly elections that followed the tragedy, the voters placed   absolute faith on him – faith in the times of challenges, as they say. They elected him enthusiastically and Naveen was sworn in as the Chief Minister for the first time.

With Naveen assuming charges of the state, the era of political instability was gone and the development era was set in motion.

Naveen Patnaik was of course a novice in politics. Yet, one who never tasted political waters stood up to the challenge – of putting the distraught state back on track. He knew the need of the hour. He could recognize the barriers in governance and growth.

Seventeen years down the lane, Naveen today is the undisputed leader of Odisha and a national-level leader with a fine stature.

The birth of Biju Janata Dal and Naveen’s all-pervasiveness of being a leader is amazing, if not bizarre. There is a mystique to his popularity and the charisma.Naveen has broken records, is widely popular and the perfect successor of Biju Patnaik.That the Biju legacy continues to glow is proof enough to say that the  inheritance was significant and far-reaching.

The undying legacy of Biju may have left other ‘first families’ brimming with anger, if not mortification. But that’s how politics in Odisha has stirred through over the past two decades.

Naveen’s father, late Biju Patnaik was a centre-basher out and out. He once threatened to secede if the interests of his state were not safeguarded.

Amusingly, two decades after his death the same antagonism persists. It may not be out of place to say that today Odisha plays  the  biggest role of an adversary of the centre , barring of Course, Bengal’s Mamata Banerjee.

To go back, the first task of the Naveen government in 2000 was to take the poor and the unprivileged out of morass. Several poor-oriented programmes were initiated .Equally; infrastructure development was given top priority. Construction of roads,bridges and other similar projects were taken up.

With funds flowing from the centre relentlessly, various schemes and programmes were launched –most of them with a Biju-tag.Indeed, so many are the programmes today and so extensive are their spread that from cradle to the graveyard you have some programme for some cause.

Somewhere or the other, the Naveen government had this strong conviction that the ignominy of a laggard state has to go and it is not hard to put Odisha on the fast track of development. New growth initiatives and administrative reforms were taken up simultaneously.

Naveen for once   ensured that all developmental benefits should trickle down to the people at the grass roots level. All this and more paid him big dividends and Naveen has been winning elections every five years with monotonous regularity.

Convinced that Naven has been winning elections; but the 2014 general election was different and significant, for he bucked the national trend and emerged as the sole winner. It is from here that Naveen got the sobriquet of a ‘giant killer’.

So, what makes Naveen the singular and the exceptional one among most such regional satraps? Or, what makes him one of the best administrators in India? Not difficult to find an answer.

The Biju legacy,TINA(There Is No Alternative)factor, a supportive and elite  administration, his  ‘purportedly’ clean image, his  upper-class, refined and well-bred leaning and so on.

Without a shred of doubt, the ‘best administrator’ award by the Outlook magazine recently has left his admirers and adversaries on identical footing. But it is an unquestionable feat and, as the common perception goes, the leader is here to stay as long as he wishes to.

From his 3 Ts philosophy (Team-spirit, Transparency and Technology) to always displaying great amount of confidence, steering Odisha out of  India’s ‘poorest’ state tag, effective handling of disasters, winning hearts through pro-people policies, making Odisha investment-friendly, devising  women-oriented policies, and zero tolerance against corruption all have  positioned  him on a lofty pedestal.

As William Arthur Wood popularly said, Leadership is based on inspiration, not domination; on cooperation, not intimidation.”

Seems, Naveen Patnaik had this dictum etched in his mind when he took to politics from the high life of books, socializing and the nobility.

Bhaskar Parichha

Bhaskar Parichha is a Bhubaneswar-based senior journalist and author. He writes on almost every conceivable topic but is more obsessive about   writings on society and culture.