Op-Ed: ‘Fitness video’ has left Naveen’s spin doctors looking rather foolish

“Who does he think he is fooling? We are watching him on TV on a daily basis. We had seen him with our own eyes when he was here last – to inaugurate the beautified Kusuma pond. He could barely walk without help. Who will believe this video?”

No, this is not the reaction of a BJP or Congress worker/supporter/sympathizer to the fitness video of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik ‘unofficially’ released by the BJD, as you may be already imagining. This actually is how a BJD worker in Jajpur reacted to the video that is going viral on WhatsApp and other social media platforms over the last three days.

This man has never heard of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and what it can be used for. His response is based entirely on what he can see with his bare eyes. And it is what he has seen that has made him skeptical of the video. Lakhs of people must have thought along similar lines as they watched the Chief Minister being helped on to the stage by two aides at an election rally in Raighar on Saturday, barely a day after the video started doing the rounds on social media. The paunch, so conspicuous by its absence in the video, was back with a bang!

That such a video, real or fake, was released for public consumption in the first place suggests that Naveen’s minders were seriously worried about the speculation over his health and the impact it could have on the electoral outcome. This was a rare peep allowed into the private life of a man who has zealously guarded his privacy for two decades. Naveen himself gave the game away with his statement, looking straight into the camera, “Getting ready to fight for the people of Odisha”, at the end of the video.

The video was obviously meant to address concerns over his physical condition. But going by the reaction of the average man on the street, it appears to have had the exact opposite effect. Discussion on his health, limited to private conversations so far, has now burst into the public arena. It goes without saying that his physical movements in public will now be watched more closely than ever before; every little sign of discomfiture picked up, discussed and dissected threadbare and all assurances that The Boss is in the pink of health taken with a bagful of salt.

When the issue of the Chief Minister’s supposedly falling health first came into the public domain, courtesy a report in a little known English news portal quoting anonymous ‘sources’ in  March, 2017, Naveen had dismissed it with an emphatic “I am absolutely fit and fine” statement. And the people had taken him at his word. But the fitness video appears to have unwittingly reopened the can of worms and spawned a lot of loose talk in public. All kinds of fancy theories and unsubstantiated stories have started doing the rounds.

Those behind the idea of the video had obviously not bargained for the kind of response it is getting. But it remains a mystery why they felt such a video was necessary at all. After all, no opposition party was making the Chief Minister’s health an issue in the election. Nor was any mention of it in the media. But after the video went viral, the issue has suddenly got traction both in the media and among political parties. Veterans Suresh Routray of the Congress and Damodar Rout of the BJP, both of them older than Naveen, have already dared him to a sprint to prove his fitness. In short, it has opened a virtual Pandora’s Box.

Naveen’s spin doctors have suddenly started looking rather foolish!

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are 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)