Seventeen years is a too long a time to change the fate of a state when ruled by single person, who possesses best of educational qualifications. Naveen Patnaik is ruling the state of Odisha since 2000. He grew and lived far away from the black reality that was Orissa and only returned to the state to inherit his father’s legacy. After a short stint in Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s cabinet, his party Biju Janta Dal won state assembly in 2000 and the rule of Naveen has started.
Odisha, despite being one of the major states is also the one that is less discussed. Prima facie there is nothing to indicate why the state is backward despite being rich in mineral deposits and having a long coast line. Despite the state remaining backward, Naveen Patnaik’s BJD transformed into an election winning machine, notwithstanding the recent Panchayat election results.
Unlike many, Naveen was not a born politician. A writer, he lived in London and when he returned to fill in his father’s shoes, he could not even speak Odiya fluently. Many say even today, he has remained so. It was his mother’s advice of seeking help from ‘Pyari Uncle’ and once he sought help, it was Pyari Mohan Mohapatra all over. The former bureaucrat, who knows how the political administrative machinery in India functions had taken upon himself to coronate Naveen Patnaik.
Pyari Mohan had transformed himself into Chanakya of Odisha supporting Naveen. They played the bad cop – good cop role play till 2012 when Pyari Mohan wanted to taste power himself. The aged manipulator however, could not sense that his pupil had already come of age and the bitter fight ended him fully bruised. But, by that time Pyari Mohan had moulded the way Odisha government functions.
As he was a person borne out of bureaucracy, he was systemic in establishing the corruption in all departments. Presented with the opportunity to grow in the aftermath of economic reforms and availability of natural resources, the state was on the path of industrialisation. With proper division of profits and manipulated approval processes, the state went on to have the most corrupt bureaucracy in India.
To legitimise their claims, many industrial norms have been tightened so that norms of Odisha state appear to be more stringent than norms of Central government. More stringent norms, more violations and more bribes! Only Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party may be more organised than how Pyari Mohan shaped Odisha’s bureaucracy.
If the state is so corrupt, how and why Naveen Patnaik was elected to the assembly continuously? For that, we should revisit the days before Naveen Patnaik came to power. Maybe the current generation of readers don’t know how many starvation deaths were reported in Odisha till nineties. It is a fact that even today starvation deaths happen in almost all the states for various reasons. But starvation deaths, especially in the notorious KBK region (region comprising undivided districts of Koraput-Balangir-Kalahandi) two decades ago were so high in numbers and frequency they challenge the idea of modern India.
Mohapatra used the much abused and criticised PDS effectively and the state government started providing rice and potatoes to the poor. This scheme has not only helped the people in KBK region, but in all regions. And the poor, as long as they remain poor are grateful to those who helped them. Only after becoming self-sustaining, other demands like education, health and other civilised parameters would crop up.
Here is where Pyari Mohan and Naveen Patnaik did not envisage how their plan would evolve with time. They created one large vote bank, whose mouths they fed for long, now the poor have started asking for education and health. Meanwhile the administration had turned so corrupt that even the chief minister is too powerless to reign it back.
Though Naveen could thwart the coup by his erstwhile mentor, he could never get into the administrative mould as he never had any real interest in either politics or power. True, he remained clean as spotless white despite being the head of one of the most corrupt states.
Even today, none in the state can call Naveen Patnaik corrupt. Like his father, the ferocious Biju Patnaik, who was a fighter pilot, Naveen never was interested in amassing wealth. But, despite being at the helm of affairs, he never tried to clean the system.
On the contrary, by being silent witness to Pyari Mohan’s machinations, he became a party to it.
Apart from the guidance of Pyari Mohan, the dearth of suitable opposition leader in the state helped Naveen to consolidate his position.
Congress, which was slowly dying ever since Narasimha Rao was voted out by the country was no credible alternative to ‘un-corrupt’ Naveen.
It was only the emergence of Narendra Modi on national platform that enthused the state cadre of BJP. Continuing with his philosophy of not allying with strong regional parties, Modi didn’t have any alliance with BJP though, BJD was considered sort of an ally.
Encouraged by the Panchayat election results, BJP is trying to move ahead. Expectations of average voter in Odisha are increasing and they want the state economy to improve and why not. Still rampant starvation deaths and Naxalism have forced Naveen Patnaik to improve policing.
The recent attempt in the state assembly by the agriculture minister to camouflage farmer’s suicide as a result of domestic quarrel shows the unease felt by the government.
Maybe his mistake would cost more than the truth, for he conveyed now an image of a government that tries to hide truth.
All in all, Naveen Patnaik is now under pressure to deliver, perhaps for the first time in the last seventeen years.
He still has two more years, after which the state goes to elections, scheduled with general elections. Whether it is BJD or BJP, it is high time citizens of Odisha need someone to improve the standard of living on an average and take the state further in the path of progress.