In Odisha, it's Patnaik all the way

Smart and suave CM reduces ‘Modi wave’ to a ripple here, readies for fourth term

ajay

Ajay Singh | April 1, 2014




The moment you get down at Bhubaneswar airport, the change in the weather hits you. It is warm and humid -- a sharp contrast to Delhi where a withering winter still retains a nip in the air. But what is curiously evident is the change in the political atmosphere.

Large cutouts of BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi have only ornamental value while Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik steals the show. In fact, Patnaik is an enigma for most people in Odisha. And that is his great political asset.

Patnaik is not conversant with Odia, the language spoken in the state. Yet it is not a disability but an advantage. “It is good that he does not know Odia. Those speaking fluent Odia had ruined the state,” says the driver who takes me from airport to hotel. Perhaps the driver has been echoing the sentiment of common people who felt cheated by conventional politicians.

Patnaik is unconventional in the strict sense of the term. Being the son of legendary Biju Patnaik, his lineage and his maternal links with Punjab have combined to surround him in an aura of exclusive elitism. His bachelorhood bestows him the image of an ‘incorruptible’ leader. Despite a slew of corruption cases against his ministers, his image is Teflon-coated and remains insulated from all charges.

By all indications, Odisha remains perfectly insulated from the so-called Modi wave. And the credit exclusively goes to Patnaik whose development track record has won over people. In the past ten years, Bhubaneswar has transformed into one of the best cities in the country. Unlike the past when the state appeared ill-prepared and helpless to tackle natural calamities, the outstanding performance of the state government during and after the Phailin cyclone last year has registered on people's consciousness. Similarly Odisha is no longer known for famine deaths, as it earlier used to be.

What is curiously conspicuous is a pro-incumbency wave that has been sweeping the state for the past 15 years. Patnaik will have a fourth term if he wins the state assembly elections which have been coinciding with the Lok Sabha elections since 1999. Along with his image of an able administrator, Patnaik also comes across as a consummate politician. The manner in which he jettisoned the BJP just before the 2009 elections and decimated his rivals in the Congress and those within his own party is a testimony to his evolution as a skilled practitioner of statecraft. In such a scenario, Modi's influence in the state that sends 21 Lok Sabha members is quite insignificant.

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