Naveen’s Odisha

By- Surjit Kumar Dhal

A question arises now, after Naveen Patnaik, who? ‘Invincible’ CM reignites key question as he makes 100-year BJD rule pitch In effort to electrify his party’s cadre ahead of the 2024 general elections, Biju Janata Dal (BJD) president and five-term Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik said earlier that the BJD has the potential to serve the people of Odisha for the next 100 years.

Naveen, 76, thus sent out a clear signal that there is not going to be any let-up in the BJD’s march ahead even as the party has already completed 22 years at the helm continuously under his leadership. Odia icon and ex-CM Biju Patnaik’s son, Naveen formed the BJD along with a group of his father’s followers with the objective to carry forward Biju’s legacy. Naveen’s career in politics and his party’s growth went hand-in-hand.

The Doon School-educated Naveen, who stayed most of his life abroad and once listed Mick Jagger and ex-US first lady Jacqueline Kennedy among his friends, not only led the BJD to become one of the country’s most successful regional parties ever, but has also remained “invincible” so far. The longest-serving Odisha CM has also taken on many detractors within the party over the years. In 2024, when Odisha goes to the polls along with the Lok Sabha elections, Naveen will seek a sixth straight term for his party’s rule.

The question is, “After Naveen, who?”, has returned to make the rounds in the state’s political circles after the BJD supremo’s 100-year pitch. “The party neither depends on one or two persons nor will it depend in future as BJD has become a social movement which carries forwards ‘asha, vishwas and swabhiman (aspiration, faith and self-esteem)’ of the people of Odisha,” the CM told the party’s silver-jubilee event, calling upon “mothers” to come forward and take the responsibility even as he appealed to the people from different walks of life to join the party. Naveen dispensation’s focus on women is meant to win their confidence, said a BJD leader, pointing out that women form a key support base for the party.

Naveen Patnaik’s carefully crafted image, his government’s welfare schemes, especially for women, and BJD’s robust organisation have been fuelling his triumphs. He has never allowed any party leader to be his second-in-command for a long period. With the 100-year pitch, the Odisha CM attempted to frame the BJD as a movement, rather than a party, that carries the state’s aspirations. Unlike other regional parties, where successors are generally chosen from within the family, Naveen, who has remained a bachelor, has not let anyone from the Biju family to join the BJD.

Although the CM has relied on bureaucrats and ex-officials while calling the shots on crucial issues himself, he has never allowed any party leader to be his second-in-command for a long period. He has kept rotating different leaders in key positions, which many believe is a well-thought-out strategy to ensure “checks and balance within the party hierarchy”. After the 2019 elections, the BJD has seen a relative increase in elevation of young leaders, which is being attributed to Naveen’s current focus on creating a new leadership.

Senior BJD leader Prasanna Acharya, one of the party’s founding members, said Naveen’ statement indicated that the party has such a strong bonding with the roots of Odisha that it can last for the next 100 years. “Leadership is decided on the basis of the situation and circumstances of a particular time. Even Biju Babu had never promoted anyone from his family during his life time. But following his death, Naveen Babu entered politics and took reins of a new party, which has now become one of the most successful regional parties and is on the path of creating history,” Acharya told newsmen.

His carefully-crafted non-controversial image, his government’s “cradle-to-grave” welfare schemes and the BJD’s robust organisation through the length and breadth of Odisha have fuelled Naveen’s political and electoral triumphs over the past two decades.

Naveen has also managed to create his loyal vote bank through some of the government schemes and initiatives, the most successful of which is the Mission Shakti programme under which around 70 lakh rural women have been organised. Under this scheme, launched in 2001, the state government ensures interest-free loans up to Rs 5 lakh to women self-help groups (SHGs) to enable their members to take up various livelihood activities. This scheme has played a vital role in increasing the income of rural women. Its political significance could be gauged from the point that the BJD government has created a separate Mission Shakti department headed by a secretary-level IAS officer. In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, Naveen had fielded an SHG leader Pramila Bisoyi from the Aska seat, who won the election.

All the departments have been given specific targets to engage the women SHGs in their various activities as part of the government’s decision to provide them its contracts worth Rs 5,000 crore in five years. Now the SHGs are taking the lead in paddy procurement, supplying uniforms to school students, meals to hospitals and even handling solid waste management in urban pockets.

Almost every week, Naveen meets the women SHGs in groups from different districts at his residence to discuss their activities and related issues. With the CM having kicked off his visit to districts with an eye on the 2024 polls, the disbursement of government loans to the SHGs seems to be on top of his agenda.

“Women empowerment for us is not just a slogan as the CM has specifically called it a non-negotiable code. No family, society, state or country can prosper without empowering the women. With this spirit, the government under the leadership of Naveen Patnaik is working to ensure the progress of rural women,” said BJD general secretary Bijay Nayak.

A soft-spoken leader with a clean image, Naveen keeps a low profile and is not known for engaging in any frontal showdown with his political opponents, as he is said to lack any ambition in national politics. Recently, he has however been on a publicity overdrive nationally over the upcoming men’s hockey World Cup in Bhubaneswar and Rourkela.

With Odisha hosting the hockey World Cup for the second successive time — a rare accomplishment of any government at the national or regional levels — Naveen has deputed his ministers to invite all the CMs to the state during the January 13-29 event. The state is also the main sponsor of the Indian Hockey teams till 2033.

As part of its preparations for organising the World Cup, the Odisha government has spent around Rs 1,000 crore in building infrastructure to transform both the host cities, which include India’s largest hockey stadium at Rourkela and slew of other projects. As a curtain-raiser, a show has been planned at the Barabati Stadium in Cuttack on January 11, which will see performance by the Bollywood stars and musicians. “We have planned to showcase Odisha’s potential to the world during the World Cup. Others should see and get inspired from Odisha,” said an official.

Naveen’s most trusted bureaucrat, VK Pandian, secretary to the CM, recently hosted an Instagram interactive session to engage with people to discuss the World Cup preparations. “CM always wants that peoples’ participation should be the hallmark of any event which we host. There are winners, losers; there will be stars and players. But, finally everything is done for people. So, people are the core of everything that we do. This is the mantra of the CM,” said Pandian.

Besides hockey, the BJD government has also been investing heavily on developing start-of-the-art infrastructure for other sports with the CM maintaining that “Investment in sports is investment in youths and investment in youth is investment in future.”

The Naveen dispensation has also been pro-actively pushing for renovation of temples even as elections in Odisha are usually not fought on polarising issues like caste or religion. Popular shrines across the state are getting special funds in this regard even as a special Rs 3,200 crore scheme has been launched to rejuvenate Puri, where the famous Jagannath temple is located.

BJD insiders said the “over-emphasis on temples” during Naveen’s current stint is apparently aimed at checking the growth of the BJP, which has made inroads in many pockets across the state.

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