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Naveen loses sheen due to bad company

Naveen loses sheen due to bad company

Author: Navin Upadhyay
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: April 18, 2009
URL: http://www.dailypioneer.com/170407/Naveen-loses-sheen-due-to-bad-company.html

In Orissa, Naveen Patnaik has carved out an image for himself that is bigger than his party - the Biju Janata Dal. Honest, committed and caring, if somewhat aloof and inaccessible.

Huge billboards of a 'philosophical' Naveenbabu gazing heavenward, flank the national highway from Puri to Dhenkanal. Local newspapers and TV channels are flooded with advertisements highlighting the performance of the State Government.

The party coffers seem to be overflowing with cash and despite lack of organisation, which Naveen Patnaik never cared to build, the BJD campaign is well coordinated - it has given temporary engagement to thousands of unemployed youth who remained jobless during the last ten years.

That turns the focus on one man who casts a bigger shadow than even Naveen Patnaik in State politics. He is Pyari Mohan Mohapatra, Rajya Sabha MP and the 'Chanakya of Orissa politics', fundraiser and troubleshooter of the BJD. Driving through Puri, Bhubaneswar, Cuttack and Dhenkanal, one gets the clear impression that Pyari Mohan is seen as the man who calls the shots both in the Government and the party.

For most common people, Naveenbabu is a well-meaning person, whose ignorance of Oriya and reluctance to be the man of the masses makes him entirely dependent on Pyaribabu. Pyaribabu's word is like gospel truth which Naveen Patnaik can never refuse to act upon, this is the common refrain among the people, not all of whom are comfortable with the helplessness of a leader who they respect and adore.

Even hardcore BJD supporters feel disillusioned the way many of the party founders have been treated. The denial of ticket to Puri MP and BJD founder Braja Kishore Tripathy is a talking point in Orissa. Similarly, people suspect there was a conspiracy behind cancellation of nomination of four-time Atthagar MLA Ranendra Pratap Swain. Ask anyone, and they inevitably point to Pyaribabu, who is responsible for dumping Tripathy and others from the party.

For several years, Naveen Patnaik could go on convincing people that he had to get rid of his senior colleagues like Dilip Ray, Bijoy Mohapatra, Nalini Mohanty, Ram Krishna Patnaik and others, because they did not live up to his high ethical standard and probity. It is a different matter that everyone in Orissa knew that they where forced to leave the party or be expelled because Pyaribabu did not see eye to eye with them. Pyari killed two birds with one stone. He got rid of all-powerful leaders from the party and projected Naveen Patnaik a crusader against corruption. The gambit of `purge' paid dividends.

But, perhaps for the first time, people, albeit in muted voice, have begun to question the logic of throwing out all senior leaders as if only Pyaribabu and his handpicked men were honest and clean.

"Naveen Patnaik dropped Kalindi Behra and Maheshwar Mahatir from his Council of Ministers because of their involvement in corruption and sex scandal. Everyone knows that now they have found favour with Pyaribabu, and so they are back as party candidates in the Assembly poll," says Afsar Khan, a motor mechanic at Chowdwar, on way to Dhenkanal.

One is not in a position to confirm or deny the veracity of the claim made by the motor mechanic, but the fact remains that first time questions are being raised on how Pyari Mohan Mohapatra has made Naveen entirely dependent on him.

"If this scandalous duo could be made party candidates, we see no reason why an honest man like Braja Kishore Tripathy should be refused a ticket," Khan adds. "We all know Pyaribabu humiliated Tripathi."

There is also talk about exploitation of Orissa by industrialists. "Naveen is an honest man. So we don't blame him. But we also know who is getting richer by making big concessions to industrial houses and giving them huge plots of land at throwaway prices," says Om Hota, a middle-aged electrician at Kalingchak.

We drive further at Bali and hear similar sentiments. "Naveen Patnaik is a good man, who is captive in the hands of a bunch of self-serving crooks," says Bishnu Charan Behra at Bali.

At some places, the reaction is extreme. People feel that Pyari Mohan convinced Naveen Patnaik to break alliance with the BJP, because if the BJD could tieup with the Congress at the Centre, he could become a Minister. Others even go to the extent of alleging that some day he could form his own party and upstage Naveen Patnaik. "You have several such instances in the history, Naveen Patnaik should learn from the past," says Shivam Sahu, a teacher at Khuntnui, 20 km from Dhenkanal.

Pyari Mohan was Principal Secretary to Biju Patnaik between 1990 and 1995 and after Bijubabu's death, Naveen Patnaik came under his political tutelage. Pyari Babu shared a close relationship with Patnaik family and Naveen Patnaik reportedly still calls him 'uncle' in private.

A 1963-batch IAS officer, Pyari Mohan was no more than a backroom boy during the Biju Patnaik era. But then Bijubabu was a man of the masses, who underwent years of trial and tribulation in climbing the political ladder. Like Naveen Patnaik he did not need an IAS officer to be his eyes and ears.

Naveen Patnaik commands a lot of respect and goodwill, but his image of being a puppet is beginning to make the first dent in his charisma.

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