A fifty-something tall man with a lean frame walked up to the stage just after a senior leader of the Janta Dal who had worked closely with this man’s deceased father, the crowd of thousands at the rally for uniting anti-congress forces who were earlier throwing slippers and shoes toward the stage, joyously cheered for the man who had shed T-shirt and jeans for ‘safed’ kurta pajama. The Doon School educated son of Biju Baba was more fluent in English than Oriya or Hindi. Naveen Patnaik was an outsider to Odisha’s rich culture and its bumbling politics.
A traveler and an avid reader at heart, he went to Kirorimal college of Delhi University to study Arts and then abroad to pursue his higher studies, authored books on arts, history, culture, and medicinal plants. He opened a boutique called Psychedelhi in Oberoi where his high profile clientele included some big names, like the Beatles. He was a friend of Mick Jagger, Maharani Gayatri Devi, Robert Degennaro, a classmate of Rajiv and Sanjay Gandhi, and got his books edited by John F Kennedy’s wife. But everything changed when his father died of pneumonia in 1997 and Naveen Patnaik the unlikely successor, had to finally return from the US.
On winning his father’s seat, Naveen Patnaik famously said in an interview that I have inherited my father’s responsibilities, and not his privileges. He was made the CM of the BJP-BJD alliance in 2000. He renamed Janata Dal to come up with his own regional party named after his father. Naveen Patnaik has been the Chief Minister since 2000 and is running a fifth term now. Just before the 2009 election, BJD broke the alliance after the Kandhamal communal riots against Christians and protected its secular image, eventually emerging to be the leader of one of the few parties which were able to buck off the Modi wave of 2014 and again in 2019. With BJP concentrating its efforts over western Odisha which was a neglected region, Naveen Babu once again won hearts by the simple slogan of “ If you are happy with me, vote for BJD.”
Biju Janta Dal has maintained equal distance from Congress and BJP with the vision of supporting the ruling party in whatever way possible and at the same time drawing attention to the issues of the long-neglected state of Odisha.
He has many accolades to his name and is widely appreciated for the colossal task of limiting deaths to 43 in 2013’s disastrous cyclone of Phailin by evacuating 9 lakh locals in the short span of 36 hours.
Known as Mr. Clean, he has carved an image of a transparent leader who works for uplifting the poor. The Naveen factor is not limited to populist social welfare schemes of distributing rice, bicycles, and mobiles but also to economic factors like Odisha’s growth rate has doubled in the past 20 years with annual average growth rate being 8.10% since 2012-13.
He has transformed Odisha with his initiatives like Odisha- Mo Parivar which focuses on environment protection, health care services (mainly blood donation camps), and helping Odias in distress even when they are stuck in foreign lands.
His other good governance initiative named Mo sarkar was launched on the occasion of Gandhi Jayanti, aimed at providing services with dignity to all those locals who visited government offices. The contact number of some of the visitors would be collected randomly and top ministers including the Chief Minister, Director General of Police (in case of police stations), and Departmental Minister, Secretary, and Director (in case of hospitals) would call on those numbers to take feedback. Based on this feedback, officers would be given out of turn promotion. This not only brought in transparency but also worked as a tacit marketing technique for BJD. The one with a steady hand on politics and bureaucracy makes both of them work in a coordinated manner. With killer political instinct, he once dismissed 38 government officials after they were convicted of corruption.
His unawareness about his own state which was like a vacation home for him has been compensated by his simple lifestyle. He has left behind his fancy friends, no longer holds a passport and joined social media as late as 2015, because he did not keep a mobile phone until then. His artistic skills are still intact and he plans to turn Bhuvaneshwar into the ‘Peach City’, peach being his favorite color.
The shy and enigmatic Mr. Patnaik had a stunning transformation from a patrician to a politician. He is in his 70s, still fit and famous, and has no ambition of being the PM. The one who was projected just as Biju Baba’s Mascot, flipped things around winning the hearts of millions by saying killer lines like, “Thakurmunda mere babuji ko bahut pyara tha” replacing it with Kendrapara, Satyabadi as he moved to speak at different places and audience going ecstatic each time. He was not one among them, he was different, he is not the kind of politician who would overpromise and underdeliver and therefore, remains undefeated to date.