Political Times

In Naveen’s Odisha, bureaucrats get more teeth ahead of polls

Best interview Based English Magazine Bhubaneswar Odisha

In Odisha, democracy functions upside down. Bureaucracy rules the roost while politically elected representatives play second fiddle. The fact that babus dominate governance and decision making is feverishly discussed. And, the view got strengthened with chief minister Naveen Patnaik announcing the names of 32 officers to oversee the implementation of the state government’s key people-centric schemes.

Earlier, Patnaik had repudiated the Narendra Modi government’s suggestion to deploy central observers for overseeing the execution of key flagship schemes. But, he has stunned all with this strategic and well timed announcement. The chosen officers would play the role of observers and monitor the pace of implementation of different programmes. Opposition has decried the move, calling it politically motivated. Senior Congress leader and Opposition Chief Whip Tara Prasad Bahinipati said the chosen officers would enact the role of BJD agents. He rued that this practice was not acceptable in a democratic set up.

The ruling BJD is on cloud nine after tasting a resounding win at the recently concluded Bijepur by elections. But, the party does not believe in keeping loose ends in preparing for the crucial general elections impending in 2019. It has been playing the development card and closely watching the pace of progress of different schemes announced by the chief minister. It is known without intuition that Naveen trusts his team of officers more than his own MLAs. This explains his selection of officers to fulfil his agenda laced wish list.

Why politicians are subversive to bureaucrats in Odisha? Are the ministers content to play yes man to the bullying, powerful officers? Or is it only compulsion or fear of their high command? Such questions have time and again raised their ugly heads. Most of the ministers have cowered down but never dared to ventilate their grievances in public no matter however stifled they feel within. Those with the proverbial foot in mouth disease (read Damodar Rout) have faced the axe for speaking their mind. Others have merrily stitched their lips to save their positions.

The fate that one of the BJD MPs faced recently for overtly questioning a mandarin’s extra constitutional powers has made the BJD politicians even cagier. Without naming the bureaucrat, Baijayant Panda, now a suspended MP, mouthed displeasure over a powerful ‘Third Floor’ officer going beyond his service code and calling the shots and meddling in BJD’s political affairs. It did not take much time for the BJD chief to retaliate. The Jay Panda episode has to be seen as a manual in the BJD’s modus operandi. Interests of the party’s MPs and MLAs have been subservient to those of the babus.

Perhaps, chief minister Naveen Patnaik sanctions this style of governance though he has dodged media questions on the issue. His Council is made up by many docile ministers who would rather devote time to their respective constituencies than overpower their secretaries. That apart, for the 2019 polls, Naveen is wary of a resurgent BJP in Odisha. He is determined to do whatever it takes to make the Opposition bite the dust again. If it means delegating extra powers to bureaucrats, he will allow it without a wink. Naveen’s BJD has looked invincible since 2000 and he won’t let the winning momentum peter out.

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