Odisha: The rise and rise of Pandian, marked by unburnished praise
Unending crowds are thronging former bureaucrat VK Pandian ever since he quit IAS and is now seen as the political successor to chief minister Naveen Patnaik. File photo

Odisha: The rise and rise of Pandian, marked by unburnished praise

Leaders of the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) – both elected and non-elected – are engaged in a frantic race to hail Pandian for assuming a new public role

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With only hours left for the World Cup cricket final, the poster (see picture below) tweeted by the IT cell of the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) in Odisha was tailor-made for grabbing attention.

It hailed VK – Virat Kohli and VK Pandian -- declaring both to be unstoppable.

But cricket or no cricket, praising Pandian – the influential private secretary of Odisha patriarch Naveen Patnaik -- has very much been the norm in Odisha since the bureaucrat quit the IAS last month and took what many believe to be a headlong plunge into politics.

Leaders of the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) – both elected and non-elected – are engaged in a frantic race to hail Pandian for assuming a new public role as chairman of two government initiatives with a cabinet minister rank.

The shared opinion seems to be that the 2000 IAS batch former bureaucrat, who hails from Tamil Nadu, would turn the fortunes of the state like no one else.

The competition to praise Pandian is not confined just to members of the BJD. Even government officials – state bureaucrats and police officials – are making a beeline for Naveen Niwas – Patnaik’s sprawling residence at the edge of the Bhubaneswar airport, from where Pandian operates now – to compliment and congratulate him.

Delegations throng Pandian

Visiting Pandian in large delegations, they are merrily posing for photographs with the former official who was extended the status of a cabinet minister following his resignation as a civil servant.

By rough estimates, some 100-odd associations – from the Odisha Ekalabya Residential Model School Staff Association to the Odisha Baptist Church Association and the Odisha Drug Control Officers Association – have called upon Pandian.

Not to be left behind are journalists, many of whom trooped in together recently to line up for a group photo with a visibly pleased Pandian, a former collector of Mayurbhanj and Ganjam. Media support for Pandian, considered the most powerful in Odisha, next only to Patnaik, has been largely unstinted.

India First, a periodical published from Bhubaneswar, best illustrated the sycophantic frenzy Pandian’s expected entry into politics has generated.

Featuring Pandian prominently on the cover, the magazine’s latest issue proclaimed: Right Place, Right Time. The blurb left nothing to imagination: ‘The elevation of the former bureaucrat VK Pandian into a public servant… is in the interests of Odisha.’

Patnaik successor?

Politicians in particular – ministers, MPs and MLAs – are leaving nothing unsaid in what could be interpreted as the surest sign that Pandian clearly occupies the pole position in being the successor to Patnaik as and when he exits the political stage.

That Pandian could succeed Patnaik – who was elected the chief minister for the fifth time in 2019 -- has been a matter of protracted speculations in the corridors of power in Odisha for long. Controlling all access to the normally reticent chief minister, Pandian’s clout – both over the government and the party – has reportedly been unmatched.

But all that was hush-hush in the past. Now that he has quit the civil service and taken on a larger public profile, the speculations have acquired a degree of certainty, with people increasingly seeing him as definitely the successor.

By all accounts, Pandian does not seem to mind basking in the spotlight. Neither he nor the party protested when a delegation of the All Odisha Non-Gazetted Veterinary Technical Officers’ Association came calling, carrying a poster congratulating both Patnaik and Pandian. Interestingly, the poster carried a photo of Pandian. The picture of Patnaik – the boss - was conspicuously missing.

In between, those seeking to make an impression on Pandian are going the extra mile to earn his goodwill. The Nikhil Odisha Paika Mahasangh – a local organization representing the state’s former warrior race – has announced conferring on Pandian the ‘Utkal Ratna’ (Odisha Gem) award.

Praise galore

Pronouncements pouring in from ruling party leaders praising Pandian are no less gems. Sample these: “I am sure he (Pandian) will take development as we have seen so far to a new level, a level unseen before and truly place Odisha on the trajectory of becoming the best state of India by 2036…” wrote BJD MP Dr Amar Patnaik on Facebook.

“It is always an inspiring experience to meet and discuss with VK Pandian… he has the added responsibility of building the New Odisha, Nabin Odisha, with his grit, determination, commitment and deep love for the people of Odisha,” wrote another MP, Sasmit Patra.

Others, too, have chipped in, including Pranab Prakash Das, the organization secretary of the BJD. He described Pandian as Naveen Patnaik's ‘true disciple’.

Huge praise being the flavour of the season, some seasoned politicians such Debi Prasad Mishra got a bit carried away. “Pandian is our chief minister,” the former minister and influential minister blurted out at a rally recently.

Realising that he had overstepped and shot off his mouth that could invite the displeasure of the chief minister, he later insisted he was misquoted.

Pandian’s persona

But amid all the din, there is no denying that Pandian’s prominence is at its peak. There are 16 cabinet ministers in Naveen Patnaik’s government but none comes any closer to the adulation the former private secretary is currently being showered with.

Pandian has not officially joined the BJD yet. There is talk that he will. In anticipation that he will and will ultimately take over the reins of the party and the government, Pandian’s persona has assumed larger-than-life proportions. No wonder the queue to meet him is long and the praises coming his way never-ending.

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