Today's Paper

From greenhorn to history-scripting politician

Naveen Patnaik

Naveen Patnaik  

‘Mr. Clean’ scores hat-trick in Orissa Assembly elections on development plank

Bhubaneswar: Once dismissed by his critics as a political novice, Orissa Chief Minister and Biju Janata Dal supremo leader Naveen Patnaik has scripted history by registering a hat-trick in the Assembly elections, riding on his image as ‘Mr. Clean’ and performance on the development front.

Mr. Naveen Patnaik, who entered politics in 1997 after his father, the charismatic Biju Patnaik passed away, led the BJD to victory in the Assembly elections in 2000 and 2004 in alliance with the BJP.

This time, after an acrimonious parting of ways in the backdrop of the Kandhamal riots, he has proved that the BJD is a formidable political force, winning hands down both the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections. Often targeted by the Opposition for his limited knowledge of Oriya, the 62-year-old writer-turned politician not only effectively sidelined senior leaders within the party but also marginalised the Opposition Congress.

J.B. Patnaik was the only Congress leader who had been Chief Minister of the State thrice, but not consecutively.

Mr. Naveen Patnaik, whose political acumen has surprised friends and foes alike, has defied anti-incumbency theories with his clean image standing the test of time.

When Biju Patnaik died, heavyweights in the Janata Dal, Ashok Das, Nalinikanta Mohanty and Bijoy Mohapatra, roped in Mr. Naveen Patnaik to contest the byelection for the Aska Lok Sabha seat. He won and was made president of the BJD, a regional outfit floated after a split in the Janata Dal in December 1997.

Very few anticipated then that the suave and soft-spoken leader would have such an influence on the electorate.

The BJD was launched with the intention of tying up with the BJP, then on the upswing, to counter the Congress in the elections. This arrangement worked well as the BJD-BJP combine swept the Lok Sabha polls in 1998, 1999 and 2004 and the Assembly elections in 2000.

The alliance lasted for 11 years and Mr. Naveen Patnaik, a partner in the NDA, was widely expected to go to the Lok Sabha and Assembly polls this time hand in hand with the BJP.

But he startled the BJP leadership on March 7, declaring that the alliance had ended and that the BJD would go it alone.

Though differences over seat sharing were initially said to be the reason behind the split, Mr. Naveen Patnaik later said he was greatly dismayed at the 2008 Kandhamal riots during which Christians were targeted.

The killing of VHP leader Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati on August 23 triggered the riots, which the BJD leadership saw as a blot on its decade-long rule.

Hailed by minorities

Mr. Patnaik’s government came under sharp attack from various quarters inside and outside the country, even as the Centre slapped a series of advisories leading to speculation on imposition of President’s Rule.

But his gamble in parting ways with the long-time ally paid off and he was hailed by the minorities. His decision to have seat adjustment with the Nationalist Congress Party and the Left further bolstered his secular image.

Educated at the Doon School and Delhi University, Mr. Patnaik constantly endeavoured to ensure industrialisation of Orissa, with his government signing a series of MoUs with companies for establishment of steel, aluminium and power projects worth over Rs. 6 lakh crore.

The companies included the South Korean steel major Posco and Arcelor Mittal, which planned to set up 12-million tonne steel plants at Paradeep and Keonjhar. Several other companies already set up their plants of various capacities in the State.

Authored books

Though seen as a tough politician, there is a soft side to the leader, who is associated with art, culture and ecology. He is one of the founder-members of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH). He is a bachelor.

Mr. Patnaik has authored three books: ‘A Second Paradise: Indian Country Life’, ‘A Desert Kingdom: The People of Bikaner’ and ‘Garden of Life: An Introduction to the Healing Plants of India.” — PTI

Recommended for you