Former bureaucrat Wajahat Habibullah, while serving as director of the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration in Mussoorie, called up his school friend, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, saying that he was sending to him a freshly-minted IAS officer, who also writes movies script, an interest they all shared. Tamil Nadu born V K Pandian was initially the Punjab cadre. But when he got married to his batch-mate Sujata, who was from Odisha, Habibullah suggested an inter-cadre transfer, and Pandian, got his first posting in 2002.
In his 21 years of service in Odisha under one of India’s longest-serving chief ministers, Pandian, 49, has proven his mettle as an effective administrator. In the last 12 years, he has worked directly with Patnaik, monitored the development work in Odisha, and earned chief minister’s complete trust.
As Patnaik prepares to make a bid for his sixth term in the 2024 assembly poll, which would make him India’s longest—serving chief minister by next August, Pandian, too, is making a career move by opting voluntary retirement from the IAS. His application was cleared in a day by the Centre, waiving mandatory notice period—a rarity – as Patnaik is learnt to have intervened at the highest levels on his behalf. Pandian will now have a more active role in the administration, overseeing the 5T (Transformational Initiative) and Navin Odisha, a concept aimed at transforming the state.
Pandian is likely to join the Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal soon. The move has taken everyone by surprise, causing a political storm in the state known for its sober politics. Will Padian be the political heir to 77-year-old Patnaik? This seems to have become the talking point across the state.
The shift began in March when Pandian undertook a tour across the state to engage directly with the people. The reception he got was unprecedented. People showered flowers on him, women wanted to talk to him, while the youth wanted selfies. Once during a meeting in Puri, a person threw ink on him and the women assembled there tied rakhis on him for “protection’’. The red threats could be seen on his hands in subsequent meetings, too. In 26 days, Pandian covered 147 constituencies, addressing 200 meetings and engaging with 25 lakhs people of which nearly 70% were women. When he went to Kendarapara, he was greeted with chants of Jamaibabu (son-in-law) as his wife from the district.
Pandian went as an emissary of chief minister, a babu who could “break silos” that existed in various departments and act as a single window solution for the people’s problems. But as more and more people gathered to listen to him, he emerged as a leader. Patnaik and Pandian came under sharp attack from the opposition as they blamed Pandian for carrying out what was clearly “political work”. (IPA Service)