Sandeep Sahu

Is it the end of the road for VK Pandian? Not many people are convinced it is, especially in the backdrop of his ‘guru’ Naveen Patnaik lending his full weight behind him even after the huge debacle in the just concluded elections. The cynics point to the wordings in his ‘farewell’ video released on Sunday – “I am withdrawing from active politics” – to surmise that he could stage a comeback when the dust settles and the knives out for him return to the sheath. In any case, history tells us that no one should commit the mistake of writing off a politician. One only has to remember the case of the Late JB Patnaik, down and out after the complete rout in the 1990 Assembly elections, who made a stunning comeback to power just five years later. Or Indira Gandhi earlier, who took half that time to return to power with a thumping majority after being consigned to the dustbin by the electorate in the post-Emergency elections in 1977.

But for now, it is fair to say that Pandian will have no further role in politics in the foreseeable future. His stint in politics, lasting all of 195 days, has to be the shortest-lived political career in recent memory. But the cynics would dispute even that and argue that he had been in politics for much longer than that – at least since 2014, if not earlier.

As Mr. Pandian bows out of politics, my mind goes back to a sunny August day in 2008 when I first met him. The occasion was a workshop on disaster risk reduction organized in Bhubaneswar by the BBC Media Action Group (MAG), the NGO arm of the BBC, which I was coordinating. He was among the five collectors invited to speak at the workshop. He spoke for just five minutes or so but immediately struck me as someone special, someone who knows what he is talking about. In the years since then, I have spoken to many people who have known him and almost all of them have said their first impression of him was of a person who was extremely efficient, hard-working and dynamic; someone for whom ‘out of box’ thinking came naturally.

Also Read | Security Barricades Dismantled at VK Pandian's Residence Post-Political Retirement

But how this highly praised officer came to be the most hated person in Odisha, someone who could single-handedly lose an election for the seemingly invincible Naveen Patnaik, is a long, fascinating story that merits a full-fledged book sometime in future. For now, it should be sufficient to say his ambition got the better of his good sense. I dare say had he resisted the taunts of the likes of Aparajita Sarangi and continued to work from behind the scenes – as he had done for years – Naveen and his party would have been elected to power for the sixth straight term and his ‘guru’ would have easily broken the record of Pawan Kumar Chamling as the longest serving Chief Minister of any state two and a half months from now. His fortune – as that of his Boss – started plummeting the day he decided to take the plunge into the cesspool called politics. The more he was seen – and heard – in public, the more damage he caused to the prospects of his party and its supremo. I have it from the horse’s mouth that his party candidates positively dreaded the prospect of Pandian campaigning for them and found all kinds of excuses and subterfuges to ensure he didn’t.

Meanwhile, smug in his ability to swing the elections in his boss’ favour, Pandian reveled in the company of fawning, hired crowds, clicking selfies with them, and believing that he had the full support of the people of Odisha behind him. On his part, his ‘guru’ had unshakeable faith in his disciple’s ability to win the election for him – so much so that he merrily went along with his aide’s decision to banish every other leader of the party to the sidelines. After all, he had delivered a thumping victory in 2019. But long cut off from the ground realities – largely through the machinations of his Man Friday, who zealously guarded him from the ‘good-for-nothing’ party leaders - the Boss failed to anticipate the consequences of fielding Pandian as his general on the ground while he cooled his heels in the airconditioned comfort of Naveen Nivas, coming out only occasionally to waive his left hand and ask the same facile questions over and over again; “BSKY Bhala Ki?” “Mission Shakti Bhala Ki?” “Naveen Patnaik Bhala Ki?” Not once did he ask; “VK Pandian Bhala Ki?” Had he done so, he would have perhaps got a taste of what lay in store.

Let me cite one incident to show just how powerful Pandian had become, both in the ruling party as well as the government. (And this one is from the horse’s mouth!). Sometime in 2017, the secretary of a department drew a blueprint for a mega infrastructure plan for his department worth a whopping Rs 3, 800 crores. But apprehensive that the Finance department would reject his proposal outright, he decided to approach Pandian instead. Having patiently listened to the plan in great detail, Pandian apparently told him; “Go ahead with your plan. Leave the funding to me.” And he was yet to become the 5T secretary at the time; he was merely the private secretary to the Chief Minister! Imagine a private secretary assuring an officer way above him in seniority such a massive sum without even bothering to consult with the Chief Minister! I hope you get the drift.

The essence of a democratic system is that you cannot delegate power that has already been delegated to you by the people. And Naveen Patnaik paid the price for ignoring this cardinal principle and putting all his eggs in a basket called Pandian. That the anger of the people at this wanton subversion of the democratic mandate felled both the ‘basket’ and the ‘basket owner’ was only a natural corollary.

The road ahead for Pandian is bumpy and full of potholes, what with the incoming BJP government likely to go after him for all his alleged shenanigans. His future will depend on how he negotiates those potholes.

(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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