We just passed the death Anniversary of JB Patnaik, a wily politician from the Congress party in Odisha who was a 3 term Chief Minister of the state. Even the legendary Biju Patnaik, the father of the current incumbent Naveen Patnaik and JB’s contemporary could do little to prevent him from occupying the most coveted position in the state, especially when Congress ruled the roost in the 1980s and 90s.
JB Patnaik was the Chief minister of Odisha for 14 long years. He was a politician who started his career in media, at a time when social media was strictly fantasy. His death Anniversary reminded me of his administration during my growing up days back home. At the time of his death media had come a long way, but politics still murky as ever.
His inept and corrupt regime paved way to another 4 term (and still counting) Chief Minister. An acknowledged scholar of Sanskrit and Odia, a writer of prominence, his tenure at the helm of affairs in Odisha institutionalized corruption and corrupted the institution. widespread nepotism seemed the sine qua non in a state which still languishes at the bottom of the ladder of social development.
A master political manipulator, having a penchant to cling to power by hook or crook, he was unceremoniously removed in 1999 and could never make a comeback. Controversies hounded him which included practice of black magic, innuendos of his alleged escapades of sexual perversions published in now defunct magazine “Illustrated Weekly” in the summer of 1985 – arguably did a great damage to his party but could never dent his ability to stick to power. In few words, he was the harbinger of the end of Congress in Odisha.
His death Anniversary reminded me of this incident from year 1983. In my life, I have encountered many instances of sycophancy. But nothing even comes close to this by the CONGRESSIYAs (folks from the Congress party), a party built in layers of sycophancy.
One fine afternoon, I was cycling back home from school. The traffic even in the peak afternoon hours was not too bad in the capital city of Odisha. The arteries of Bhubaneswar wasn’t clogged yet, needing no bypass.
The bicycle ride from D M School in Unit IX to my home near BJB College, even during peak traffic rarely took more than 20 minutes. Slicing through the city traffic on bike was nevertheless fun during those teenage years.
No sooner than I passed the PMG Square, I saw a big crowd gathered near the Parade field (now IG Park). Curious, I disembarked and peeped through the shoulders of other onlookers. Gigantic cut outs of a smiling Indira Gandhi waving her hand and a grumpy Hippo faced JB Patnaik, the CM of the time, were staring at me. A bunch of lily white clad NETAs (politicians) were on a podium with the funnel shaped mikes close by blaring cacophony.
Suddenly everybody turned their head in one direction. My inquisitive eyes followed them in sync. From a corner barged in a bunch of tonsured heads wearing DHOTI and KURTA (traditional Indian dress). Some were beating MRUDANGA (Drums) hung from their neck. Others were clanking GINI (a pair of ear shaped musical instrument made from brass plates, generally used during BHAJANs and KIRTANs).
To the tune of these instruments, in a clear, audible tone all those egg headed guys started chanting in unison :
JANAKI BOLO, INDIRA BOLA.
JAI INDIRA JAI JANAKI.
(Chant Janaki, Chant Indira.
Hail Indira, Hail Janaki).
The amused and bewildered crowd enjoyed every bit of it. For the organizers it was tantamount to killing two birds in one stone. Keep the sycophancy and decibel level high and flowing, while keeping the crowd engaged and enthralled. This spectacle got stuck forever to my mind, long enough to recapitulate it decades later, JB’s death Anniversary being a terse reminder.
(Sambeet Dash is an Odia technocrat living in Georgia ,US)
(Any views or opinions expressed in the article are personal and belong solely to the author and do not represent those of the publisher.)