The latest India Today “Mood of the Nation Survey” had something in it to shake up the normally unruffled Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik. The unchallenged regional satrap who has held sway in the state for over 19 years has been ranked sixth among chief ministers in the country. The news is a dampener for Naveen who has so often lorded over all chief ministers in the past to bag the ace title.
The survey has placed West Bengal’s Mamata Banerjee at the acme- she bagging the honour for the third time on a trot. Nitish Kumar comes second, polling 10 per cent of the votes while Delhi’s Arvind Kejriwal has jostled his way to the top three much to the dismay of his adversaries. Yogi Adityanath and the go-getter chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu too lead Naveen, garnering 9 per cent and seven per cent of the votes by the respondents.
Ironically, Naveen Patnaik was bestowed the “Outlook Speakout Award” in 2017 where he piped formidable contenders- Nitish Kumar, Manik Sarkar, Mamata Banerjee, Devendra Fadnavis and Sidharamaiah.
So, does this ranking pierce a hole in Naveen’s impregnable wall of victory? Not so, as the survey still vindicates his hegemony in Odisha. In the state, Naveen is unrivalled and the survey makes no bones of it. That should suffice to preclude the Opposition tongues wagging on his diminishing appeal. Over the past two decades after conquering Odisha, the Naveen led Biju Janata Dal (BJD) has been content with his hegemon status in the state. This phenomenon hasn’t altered though the BJD has been mustering a bigger mandate in poll after poll. Also, the regional outfit has 20 of the 21 Lok Sabha seats from Odisha. Unlike its peer heavyweights in regional politics like Trinamul Congress or the AIADMK, the BJD has never nursed aspirations to play kingmaker at the national political theatre. The party’s aspirations have been firmly rooted in the interest of Odisha’s populace. By vowing to be a party of Odisha, by Odisha and for Odisha, Naveen’s BJD has strategically consolidated its position, decimating the Opposition.
Naveen is known to be a political recluse but a wily politician deep down. He is no masterful orator or the quintessential people’s leader like his father Biju Patnaik. His lack of Odia speaking skills is another handicap to establish a connect with the masses. Despite all the foibles, Naveen still remains the most charismatic leader. His electoral success has dazed politicians of all hues. And, his magical winning streak at the hustings would have even stupefied the senior Patnaik had he been alive today.
True, Naveen has mastered the poll arithmetic but he has also regaled the poor and dispossessed with his myriad welfare schemes. The timing of the schemes is anything but incongruous. And, the men under his surveillance have ensured that the benefits of the schemes have percolated to the intended beneficiaries. Naveen has been censured by his opponents for his fiscal profligacy- his abrupt announcement of populist schemes without provisioning in the Budget but the barbs haven’t stopped him from doling out the goodies. Naveen’s audacious move to demur the popular ‘Ayushman Bharat’, a health insurance scheme by the Centre and proffer his government’s own version- Biju Swasthya Kalyan Yojana had the political spectrum in consternation. Naveen had the last laugh when his health cover scheme launched on August 15, was one of the top three trending hash tags on Twitter. Accolades also came pouring in when Naveen successfully threw ajar the Gurupriya bridge for the public- a critical project his predecessors had ludicrously failed to commission.
Naveen’s politics has a thick tinge of populism. But, the socialite turned politician has also herded his flock together. Sensing the poaching designs of a resurgent BJP, Naveen’s cabinet recently approved the constitution of a Legislative Council. Grapevine has it that the house will rehabilitate many BJD leaders and thus, mute any voice of intra-party dissent. Building on his charisma, Naveen has roped in disenchanted leaders from the Opposition camps. The ballot box, they say could be fickle but Naveen and his party has not been bowled over by its caprice yet.