Pradeep Kumar Panda

When it comes to ambition and performance, there’s no stopping Odisha’s Naveen Patnaik, adjudged the ‘Best Popular Chief Minister’ in the country in the latest INDIA TODAY poll by securing 81% vote in popularity category way ahead of 13 states counterparts.

Naveen did what many political observers thought was unthinkable year after year. After 20 years in power and being voted no. 1 is beyond expression of words. It is the blessing of 4.5 crores Odia whose heartbeat for the man. Year after year, his popularity is on the rise.

In an era dominated by politicians of humble origins, he is something of an anomaly. Having spent most of his life outside Odisha, mingling with the high and mighty, how did he come to be accepted and loved as one of Odisha’s own?

biju patnaik

Welfare motive is there in his genes being former Odisha chief minister Biju Patnaik’s son. A legendary figure in Odisha, Biju Patnaik was an Air Force pilot and freedom fighter-turned-industrialist-turned-politician. In his four-decade-long career as a politician, he played a stellar role in developing a backward state like Odisha. He was elected chief minister twice. His death at 81 because of pneumonia left a vacuum in Odisha’s heart and the state’s politics as well. His colleagues in the Janata Dal knew the sentiment surrounding his name and sought out his younger son to fill the vacuum.

He was not a natural at politics. Tall and suave, he was a regular in the party circuit in Delhi. Having studied first at the Doon School in Dehradun, and later at the St Stephen’s College in Delhi, he once ran a boutique called ‘Psychedelhi’ on the premises of The Oberoi in Delhi, the clientele of which included the Beatles themselves. Clad in jeans and T-shirt, he was far removed from the masses he had to win over. The only thing going for him was his second name.

naveen patnaik attire

To help his chances, he shed his jeans and T-shirt and adorned a simple white kurta and pajama. His relative anonymity served him well. The only thing the people knew about him was that he was Biju Patnaik’s son. At a time when most politicians were shrouded in scandals, Naveen, clad in white, looked appealing. The rest is history.

He was first elected to Lok Sabha from Aska, which fell vacant following his father’s death in 1997, and was minister for mines in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee ministry. A year later, he split the Janata Dal and launched the Biju Janata Dal party. He became chief minister in 2000 after his party won the elections along with the BJP. Nineteen years on, he is on the way to win yet another term on his own, battling the BJP and the Congress.


Naveen is known for his simplicity and austerity. This aura of austerity and self-sufficiency along with his minimal requirements has endeared him to his people. Possessing a reputation of being cold and calculative, he is famous for being decisive, for being unafraid of getting rid of people whose reputations have been tarnished by corruption or when their usefulness had come to an end. He once stripped a dozen powerful IAS officers of their powers when he felt that they were no longer required.


Above all, it is the development he brought to Odisha that endeared him to the people. A recent scheme called KALIA (which provides financial aid to all types of farmers in the state and Union Government launched PM Kisan Nidhi scheme getting influenced by KALIA scheme) is a case in point. The government under Naveen Patnaik has made the farmers a priority, with plenty of schemes over the years designed to benefit them.

He focused on the women of Odisha, too, with his self-help group schemes for 70 lakh women, which gave them financial independence, thus providing the family with a supplementary source of income. He is also credited with bringing large-scale industrialization to the state, which was, before 1997, mostly agricultural.


Also, Odisha, because of its geography, is prone to cyclones, floods, and even tsunamis. The super cyclone of 1999 killed around 10,000 people. Soon after coming to power, the government set up the Odisha State Disaster Management Authority. Its effectiveness has been evident over the years, with the UN felicitating Naveen Patnaik in 2013 for the state government’s handling of the cyclone Phailin. When cyclone Fani devastated the state in the first week of May this year, more than a million people were evacuated in 24 hours and relocated to cyclone shelters, thus minimizing casualties.

bhubaneswar housing

He made Bhubaneswar, the sports capital of the country and arranged many coveted international tournaments that were well appreciated by international and national fraternity.

He has communicated with his people very well in the past 20 years through a series of welfare measures for all categories of people and all-round development work. This, along with his clean image, has yet again ensured his imminent return to power for a fifth consecutive term as the chief minister. He has already made a lasting impact and will live in the heart of Odias forever.

(The writer is a New-Delhi based economist)



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