Bhubaneswar: Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik seems to have emerged as the Teflon leader in Odisha. Apparently having a firm belief in the popular saying, “Design” is the silent ambassador of your brand”, Naveen ‘designed’ a niche brand for himself. After assuming the mantle of Odisha in 2000, the era when corruption was at its zenith in the State, he started his cameo political role in the State by harping on the twisted famous ad-line of a detergent brand – “BJD supremo ko daag ache nahin lagte” ( BJD chief will not tolerate corruption).
And Naveen began his reign in style. For the first time in political history, Odisha saw how in the blink of an eye, ministers were shown the door even at the slightest murmur of corruption. And thereafter, Naveen earned the sobriquet of ‘Mr. Clean’ of Odisha.
But the supreme irony for CM Naveen Patnaik is, despite throwing ministers under corruption shadows like paper rockets, his over 2-decade long rule have seen scams in galore. After donning the Mr Clean mantle, he lorded over the scandals that covered the whole gamut of the administration - from Salt to Dal and from Mining to Chit fund. And the latest in the scandal saga has been the Pathak-Panigrahi sleaze show.
Stung by his once close associate, Pradeep Panigrahi, getting mired in grave corruption charges, Naveen, like his earlier public postures, expelled the Gopalpur legislator from the party for what the BJD called ‘anti –people activity’. Eyebrows were raised when the State Vigilance gave the luscious details of Pathak – Panigrahi sleaze act.
Opposition took pot-shots at Mr Clean. “How can the Chief Minister claim himself Mr Clean when such large-scale plunder was happening right under his nose. The people of Odisha know very well. Has anyone seen the probe outcomes of Dal scam, chit fund scam et al?,” asked Odisha State Congress President Niranjan Patnaik.
State BJP leader Prithviraj Harichadan questioned, “How the Naveen Patnaik government couldn’t sniff the large--scale embezzlement of public money? Things moved only when the former BJD legislator fell out with the powers that be in the party. Otherwise every detail was in public glare.”
Realising the damage to his brand image, and to infuse life in somewhat sullen BJD cadres after a series of controversies like Nayagarh minor girl murder to PPE scam or the paddy procurement mess, the Mr Clean CM rolled out another anti- corruption vitality pill.
Naveen announced: henceforth – all - from Sarpanch to Mukhyamantri and from clerks to Chief Secretary – have to file their Annual Property Returns (APRs). The APRs will be submitted to State Lokayukta.
Announcing this in his address at the BJD’s state executive council, Naveen Said, “Corruption is the biggest enemy of development. Our government is focused on transparency. The state has already launched a fight against poverty, diseases, regional disparity, inequality and natural disasters. Fight against corruption will give a boost to our fight against all ills of society - inequality, poverty or injustice. Odisha will be the first state to initiate such a step to check corruption.”
All said and done. The sleaze acts and Naveen’s prescriptions notwithstanding, the fact is the tumbling out of such a long list of skeletons in his government’s cupboard clearly does show that corruption has blossomed right under his nose. And, notwithstanding CM Patnaik’s public posture of zero tolerance to corruption, just the opposite had happened.
Here again the Opposition seems not bemused with Naveen’s optics on corruption. “This is CM Naveen Patnaik’s another publicity stunt. BJD does not have the intent to fight corruption. The 20-year rule is riddled with many scams,” charged BJP leader Lekhashree Samantsinghar.
Unfazed by Opposition attack, BJD spokeperson Pratap Deb said, “Opposition has the habit of attacking Naveen Patnaik. In CM’s rule, law always has taken its own course. People of Odisha very well know how the earlier governments ruled the State. People have faith on Naveen Patnaik.”
Corruption Bomb Ticking In Naveen Rule?
A reality check bares it all. Since 2001, the State witnessed a litany of scandals. What was the outcome?
Rs 2 crore salt scam was the first to hit the Naveen Patnaik government in 2001. The then minister Kamala Das was sacked. In 2010, she was convicted.
Incidentally, a year after her conviction, Dal Scam rocked Naveen Patnaik government in 2011. And the corruption amount ballooned to a whopping Rs 700 crore. Then minister Pramila Mallick was asked to resign. A decade has gone, the conviction is yet to happen. The sacked minister, Pramilla Mallick, MLA from Binjharpur, holds many important positions in the BJD.
In 2012, Odisha unearthed another mega scam – the mining scam. And the amount involved has grown to Rs 59, 203 crore. The Shah Commission during a press meet in 2012 had very categorically stated that powerful politicians and bureaucrats were involved. No roll out of heads till date.
In 2014, the State was hit by the Chit Fund scam. The amount involved was Rs 578 crore. Many important BJD ministers and leaders’ names tumbled out. BJD MLA Pravat Tripathy and Pravat Biswal were arrested by CBI. Naveen Patnaik suspended Tripathy from BJD. But in 2017, the suspension was revoked. And Pravat Biswal’s son was given MLA ticket to fight the polls in 2019. The State is yet see any concrete action.
In 2020, the job scam surfaced. State Vigilance went into action mode. Naveen again suspended Gopalpur legislator Pradeep Panigrahi. And the saga continues.