Sandeep Sahu

VK Pandian has taken a huge gamble. He has chucked up a flourishing career in the coveted IAS to play an overtly political role that is uncertain at best and fraught with grave dangers, at worst. That the man who played BJD supremo and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s Man Friday to perfection for years is now being talked about as a possible successor to his boss and mentor shows his prospective place in the latter’s scheme of things. As does the alacrity with which he was appointed Chairperson of ‘5T’ and ‘Nabin Odisha’, the two flagship, election-focused initiatives of the Naveen government - reporting directly to the Chief Minister, no less – within hours of his VRS being approved.          

On the face of it, there is little going for him as he prepares to put on the political robe. For one thing, his Tamil origin has emerged as an issue even before the succession plan has been set in motion. The concerted efforts by the cheerleaders within the party and outside to justify his claim to be the heir apparent on the ground that he is married to an Odia woman – and thus is a son-in-law of the state, if not a son of the soil - is unlikely to cut much ice. For another, he derives all his power, clout and influence from his proximity to the Chief Minister and hence will be highly vulnerable in a post-Naveen scenario. He is too smart not to know that the knives will be out for him the moment Naveen is not around to back him. But if he has still taken the gamble, it can mean only one thing; that he reckons he would have consolidated his position within the party sufficiently by then to take on the would-be challengers. He has taken voluntary retirement from IAS with nearly a decade left of his service not to become an also-ran in the ruling party, but because he wants to be numero uno.  

Pandian also cannot be oblivious of the fact that he may, at best, be accepted as the power behind the throne and not the throne itself by the people at large. That he is doomed the moment he tries to do anything like what the late Pyari Mohan Mohapatra, Naveen’s erstwhile Man Friday, did on May 29, 2012. That he would lord over both the party and the government only as long as he enjoys the complete trust of his boss. It is clear that he would the sole arbiter of party tickets come election time and would pick only those who swear complete loyalty to him. But even his loyalists would ditch him – as Pyari Babu discovered to his grief - when push comes to shove. He would thus be treading on thin ice all the time.

There is little doubt that he would contest the next Assembly election and the search for a ‘safe seat’ for him is already on.  As things stand now, any of the 147 seats in the state would be a safe seat for him should he decide to contest. It is also a foregone conclusion that he would become a minister – and the most powerful one, at that – if the BJD wins again. The sobriquet ‘Super Chief Minster’ would gain currency after nearly four decades. It is significant that there hasn’t been even a murmur of protest since he was appointed to the all-powerful post of ‘5T’ and ‘Nabin Odisha’ chief. All potential naysayers have apparently been silenced by the humiliating ouster of Soumya Ranjan Patnaik, who railed against the disproportionate power and privilege the then babu enjoyed and paid the price for it.

If Pandian has taken a gamble, Naveen Patnaik has taken an even bigger one, perhaps the biggest in his political career. In trying to foist a man from Tamil Nadu on a party allegedly formed to protect and uphold the interests of Odisha, he is clearly banking on his 4.5 crore strong ‘family’ to accept whoever he chooses as his successor. But contrary to popular wisdom, this columnist believes it could backfire on him big time. They may have accepted him whole-heartedly despite his refusal to speak Odia even after a quarter century. But the fact that he could not find a single Odia person to take over from him is unlikely to go down well with them. Political capital and goodwill, after all, are not transferable commodities.

Whenever he has been asked about his successor, Naveen’s stock answer has been; “The people of Odisha will decide it.” But now that he has himself chosen the successor, taking his extended ‘family’ for granted in the process, the only possible reason is he has complete faith in his Man Friday to deliver the next elections on a platter to him.

But the man who has made springing surprises into an art form could well be in for a few himself this time!

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)