Op-Ed: Patnaik May Have Many Advisors But He Trusts Himself Most

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: Eversince chief minister, Naveen Patnaik stepped into the political arena there has been speculation about the people guiding him. In the initial days bureaucrat-turned-politician, Pyari Mohan Mohapatra was believed to have been his informal advisor. Mohapatra, who had worked closely with Naveen’s father, Biju Patnaik, was known to the family and hence was trusted to offer reliable advice.

Patnaik’s moves like denying veteran, Bijay Mohapatra, then political affairs committee chairperson of Biju Janata Dal (BJD), party ticket from Patkura in 2000 at the eleventh hour, leaving him no time to file his nomination even as an independent, have been attributed to the brain of Mohapatra who was a seasoned bureaucrat.

Though one cannot be sure about it there is reason to believe that Mohapatra also guided Patnaik when the latter contested his maiden election from Aska, the Lok Sabha seat that had fallen vacant following his father’s death in 1997. The future chief minister of Odisha gave a good account of himself in that bye-election and came out with flying colours. More than anything else Aska victory proved that Patnaik was a fighter and would not give up easily irrespective of how tough the challenge was.

But Mohapatra had his own political ambitions and developed a following of his own in the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) which he practically ran on behalf of the chief minister. He was the party’s hands on boss and conducted its day today affairs. Consumed by his own ambitions he went a bit too far and was accused of planning a coup against Patnaik while he was away on a foreign tour.

Mohapatra’s downfall was as quick as his rise and despite attempts to remain politically afloat by launching a party of his own he failed to make a comeback. With his demise his party, too, vanished.

Mohapatra episode was a lesson for Patnaik who thereafter became extremely careful about the people he trusted and sought advice from. It is at this juncture that he began putting his trust in bureaucrats who could not be suspected to have political ambitions of his own.

The bureaucrats that the chief minister relied upon were young and efficient and also had an understanding of state affairs. If they had ambitions their ambitions never interfered with the political affairs of BJD. It is reasonable to assume that Patnaik benefitted by putting his trust in this close circle of bureaucrats who carried out orders efficiently and displayed gumption by not being too interfering as far as party affairs were concerned.

It is a matter of debate if the chief minister has also been seeking the advice of these bureaucrats in political matters like deciding his party’s campaign issues during elections and selection of candidates. But even if he does he must be in full control of things because he knows it only too well that he is the infallible mascot of BJD and the party cannot do without him. With that kind of confidence in himself Patnaik is free to pick the brains of either bureaucrats or his party colleagues for ultimately it is he who decides which advice to act upon.

(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.)