By Sushil Kutty
Odisha Chief Minister and Biju Janata Dal President Naveen Patnaik is unlike other regional party founders and heads. He has no prime ministerial ambitions and is remarkably aloof, not seen as a threat to the ruling party at the Centre. And, if the BJP and Modi government see the Chief Minister and his party as rivals, it does not reflect in the duty rosters of central investigative agencies.
Also Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik could have said “rule”, but instead he chose “serve”, when talking of the BJD at the party’s silver jubilee. The Chief Minister said his party BJD will “serve” the people of Odisha for the next 100 years, over and above the 20 years the BJD has been in power in Odisha.
People talk of BJP‘s 27-year rule in Gujarat, but very few mention that the BJD has been in power in Odisha since 2000 with Naveen Patnaik as Chief Minister for five straight terms. And considering that politicians outlast most other humans on planet earth, he could even be CM for another 20-25 years. Also, Naveen Patnaik has taken the precaution not to groom a ‘No.2’, which proves he’s a visionary twice over.
Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik is not like Nitish Kumar, K Chandrashekhar Rao and Mamata Banerjee, all of them heads of party and state governments. Even MK Stalin and Uddhav Thackeray harbour latent prime ministerial ambitious, but not Naveen Patnaik.
The Odisha CM is satisfied with the one bird in hand. His interests are limited to Odisha, and even if he’s talking of 100 years of BJD-rule, it is more than apparent that the pep-talk is for the 2024 assembly and general elections.
Come to talk of it, a 100-year BJD rule is in the realm of possibility unless a comet strikes planet earth. Patnaik is now 76, and has been Chief Minister for 22 years. And with no ‘No.2’, and no ‘stress’ to battle, chances are he might live up to a 100. And the BJD might emulate him in longevity. The party’s silver jubilee was celebrated in Puri in the last week of 2022.
The BJD is the baby of Naveen Patnaik s/o Biju Patnaik. The party was launched to carry forward Biju Patnaik’s legacy, but instead the Biju Janata Dal is now being talked of as Naveen Patnaik’s legacy for the people of Odisha, which is remarkable, if only for the fact that Naveen Patnaik had lived a significant portion of his first 50 years in life overseas and had no political experience to speak of.
Today, if Naveen Patnaik is the “undefeated”, the Biju Janata Dal is the “invincible”. Year 2024 will see both put to test once more. And though some are talking of “After Naveen, who?” that is redundant as of now even if the Chief Minister has in recent years given preference and opportunities to young fresh talent.
The promised next 100 years in power obviously needs a crop of promising leaders. However, it does seem incongruous when some BJD leaders harp on “the party does not depend on one or two people” when it has been depending on the “one Naveen Patnaik” for 25 years.
Fortunately, the party has a slogan to rival Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas’ in Naveen Patnaik’s ‘asha, vishwas and swabhiman’. But where Chief Minister Patnaik scores over Prime Minister Narendra Modi is in the harnessing of women power. The BJD’s focus on ‘stree-shakti’ is unparalleled and women are the ones who are keeping the BJD in power, and would for the next 100 years.
The Chief Minister’s vote winning “cradle-to-grave” welfare schemes are mostly aimed to “serve” women. The “Mission Shakti” scheme, which targets 70 lakh village women, enables women self-help groups to access interest-free loans up to Rs 5 lakh. The state government has a separate department for this scheme headed by an IAS officer.
The women’s self-help groups are into various activities including paddy procurement and helping students with school uniforms; arranging meals for hospitals and solid waste management. The hands-on CM makes it a point to regularly meet the leaders of these women’s SHGs, which is why there’s the confidence that the BJD will “serve” Odisha for the next 100 years.
A point to note is that Naveen Patnaik is a confirmed bachelor and, therefore, perhaps trusted by women, the majority of whom are from rural areas. And while being a “single”, Patnaik has not allowed any relative to infiltrate governance, just like Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who happens to be in the remarkable position of a “married bachelor”.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has also not married and remains a “bachelorette”, but she has a relative in the party with great power. Naveen Patnaik relies on bureaucrats and ex-bureaucrats. This probably will be one more reason why the BJD will out-live Naveen Patnaik and ensure to “serve” Odisha for the next 100 years, as promised by current party head Naveen Patnaik.
The “checks and balance within the party hierarchy”; the grooming of young leaders, the party’s bonding with the grassroots will all serve to establish the party in the minds of the people for the next 100 years. What helps the BJD is that it is perhaps the most successful regional party of India to date. And that without the promise of a dynasty to carry it forward. (IPA Service)