A close encounter with Naveen Patnaik’s unlimited political wisdom
A reluctant politician, he has transformed dynasty into participative democracy while mauling the Opposition both within and outside. Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik is a well-groomed aristocrat who guards his privacy well; interviews are a rarity, and he hardly ever meets his party colleagues. He’s a man of letters and a luxurious lifestyle, but abhors the company of his own kind in India Inc. Patnaik is a loner, spending his days in office and evenings in his sprawling residence near Bhubaneswar airport, peacefully working and resting through the regular roar of jet engines.
Patnaik came to the first-ever Odisha LitFest and had to be almost pushed into an impromptu question-and-answer session of a kind he hadn’t bargained for. Author of three books, he answered questions on his life, politics, economics and Odisha with an enigmatic smile. Even the UPA’s sharpest mindreaders find it difficult to outguess Patnaik, a man who doesn’t reveal ambition. Some excerpts from a conversation with Patnaik at the two-day Odisha LitFest organised in Bhubaneswar by The New Indian Express:
Are you now ideologically closer to the Congress or to anti-Congress forces?
Let me clarify: our party is equidistant from the BJP and Congress.
Which way will you and Jayalalithaa go ? Are you with reforms meant to divert attention, as you say, from the real crisis, or do you think there are reforms that can be supported later?
I can speak for myself and our party. Our concerns are not only for our state but also for the country. The whole aim of our government is pro-people and anti-poverty schemes. And indeed we have made great strides in empowerment to women, both socially and economically.
If the bills are brought to Parliament, will your party support the one on insurance and the others that require parliamentary approval?
I think all this needs a great deal of examination before one can give an appropriate reply.
Do you support Mamata when she says that the Congress should take a vote of confidence on these measures?
I can’t give you a bold reply on that. This kind of decision lies with having taken the opinions of others within the party.
Like Narendra Modi, Patnaik takes pride in looking after his Odias. He is perhaps one of the few chief ministers who has hardly visited either Mumbai or New York in search of invisible investment. He doesn’t even host international investors. The Poscos, Vedantas and Lakshmi Mittals come to the Land of Kalingas to mine gold on their own terms. He gave them local support but did not lobby for them at the Centre. Almost all his big projects have been sabotaged or embroiled in controversy in the power play of New Delhi, yet Patnaik has won three Assembly elections on the trot.
If you had to headline a book on the current India story, what would it be?
The title of any work which I have not done certainly needs a lot of consideration. I think this causes pain to a great deal of writers.
This means your story of India has no title...
I think it will be very difficult for anyone to write the story of India.
Like Modi says he is concentrating on Gujarat, you seem to be concentrating on Odisha. Is that the reason you are not talking of India?
Our first aspiration, being a regional party and party of the state, is Odisha.
Modi, Mamata, Jayalalithaa: all are being spoken of as potential prime ministers. Why not you?
I can speak only for myself. I harbour no such ambition. I am happier to be able to serve Odisha, whether in office or out of it.
I knew your father when he was making and unmaking prime ministers. He was a kingmaker. Do you want to remain the king of Odisha?
I do not think you have kings in democracy. I would be more than happy to be elected to office.
Naveen represents Patnaik Dynasty but he has no visible successor. He doesn’t allow his brother or others to be seen in the corridors of power. Close aides are talking about his nephew Arun as the one to take over in the long run. Unlike his father Biju Patnaik, Naveen does believe in any legacy or mission. His vision is to win elections and he has mastered that art without even speaking to his voters in their own language.
It is very difficult to get anything out of Naveen Patnaik. His cards are very close to his chest, and he will play them at the appropriate time. Do you have a message for the literati?
I must compliment The New Indian Express group for organising this event that has brought together so many of the literary people in the state. We in the government are open to suggestions and improvements in the field of culture and literature and of course to highlight that in the state and outside as much as possible.
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