Sandeep Sahu

As a young, aspiring journalist, I remember getting horrified at the unvarnished venom spewed out by Arun Shourie, a journalist I truly admired at the time, in an editorial written by him shortly after the brutal assassination of Indira Gandhi on October 31, 1984. “How I wish she was alive and humbled at the hustings! In dying under the circumstances she did, she became a martyr instead (or words to that effect)!” I lost all respect for Shourie as a journalist – and as a person – after this editorial. “How can a person harbour so much hate inside him for a person who is already dead,” I wondered.

As Naveen Patnaik bowed out of office today, I was reminded of this incident. Unlike Shourie, I had the satisfaction of seeing the Wonder Man of Odisha politics humbled at the hustings. Unlike Shourie again, I would only wish him good health and a long life -maybe even write his memoirs about his tryst with politics since he is a writer – as he lays down office. But as a hard-nosed journo, I would also say it was high time he went. Not because of his visibly failing health, but because his continuation as Chief Minister would have meant the perpetuation of a system where elected representatives, including ministers, have been reduced to a herd of goats (or lambs, if you please); the Assembly reduced to a plaything of the ruler; the media reduced to an extension of the ruling class with a mix of ‘carrot and stick’ and, above all, a handful of invisible, corrupt and self-centred officers (mostly non-Odia) decide the fate of the state (and line their pockets in the process).

I have never quite understood how the ‘4.5 crore Odias’ (who he calls his ‘family’) could never see through his utter disdain for Odias and everything Odia - the language, the culture, the tradition – and literally worshipped him as Lord Jagannath’s gift to the state for 24 long years. Until now, that is. And the moment his love for everything non-Odia, including people, and contempt for everything Odia, including the people, became an election issue, he was floored, even failing to win the second seat he contested from. The broad-minded ‘universalists’ did their best to dismiss all talk of Odia Asmita as petty parochialism, hailing the metamorphosis supposedly ushered in by his trusted aide VK Pandian - some of them even going to the extent of expressing a desire to see him as CM!

Others saw him as the great bulwark against the ‘communal’ BJP, forgetting the fact that he was, in fact, a creation of the very same BJP and had absolutely no problem sleeping with the enemy for 11 long years till he suddenly discovered that ‘every bone’ in his body was secular! To those of the secular brigade who would argue that the BJP of the Vajpayee of era was not the BJP of Modi and Shah, here is a small poser. Show me one instance in the 10-year long Modi raj where the great secular has uttered a word against the ‘communal’ politics of the BJP. Does anyone care to remember what he said on the brazenly communal pogrom in Manipur? They can’t because it was deafening silence from him – and all the honourable members he sent to Parliament. The truth is he is just a wily, ruthless politician who believes strongly in the Deng Xiaoping dictum; “It doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white (or saffron, for that matter) as long as it catches mice”. He has this incredible knack of alternately turning secular and going to bed with the saffronites without batting an eyelid depending on what is prudent and necessary for him to stay in power at the particular moment.

Now that the unthinkable has happened and Naveen has been beaten at the game he played so well – and for so long – his image makers have already started an exercise to save him from the barbs by putting all the blame on his trusted lieutenant Pandian. “Naveen Babu is an innocent, trusting gentleman, who was deceived by Pandian,” they shout in unison. Some even claim that he is the ‘Trojan Horse’ planted by the BJP top brass to ruin him – and his party – from within! And the incredible thing is they expect people to believe this utter trash about Naveen Babu, who has decimated all opposition, real or imagined, to him and his continued power with the guile and cunning of a fox. Remember Bijoy Mahapatra and what the ‘naïve, gullible gentleman’ did to him on the eve of the 2000 elections? And he hadn’t even become Chief Minister at the time. Or the way he shunted out Messrs Nalini Kanta Mohanty, Prashanta Nanda and Kamala Das for allegedly being ‘in the shadow of corruption’? Two of them are dead while the third – Prashanta Nanda – is now in his party. But the ‘gentleman’ still hasn’t told us what exactly were the allegations of corruption against them or what proof of such corruption he had – and why he never brought them to book, if he had got any proof of wrongdoing. His 24-year long stint is dotted with numerous such instances where he has gone for the kill on mere suspicion.  

True, he is now 77. But an old fox does not become an innocent hare who doesn’t know who is out to get him, does he? Who made Pandian the all-powerful person that he is (was, actually), if not Naveen? And who treated his ministers and party MLAs like dirt – and encouraged his aide to do the same – if not Naveen?

“History will be more kind to me,” former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had famously said shortly before laying down office. I am sure Naveen too would be hoping the same for himself. But I have a sneaking suspicion that his wish, like that of MMS, will never be fulfilled!!

(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.)

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