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Stop siphoning off money meant for poor people of Odisha


Monday June 09, 2014

Odisha, Mining Scam, Development, Naveen Patnaik, BJD  

"Naveen Patnaik is the first Chief Minister in Indian history who has not addressed a press meet in 12 years and has refused to learn Odia, the language of Odisha. He has deliberately not learnt Odia because he would then be at par with all other politicians. He wants to be different, hatke."


Niranjan Patnaik


I am happy that the great Odisha mining loot is finally receiving some media and public attention with the state Government admitting to revenue loss of 70 thousand Crore rupees and counting. Hopefully public pressure will force the Odisha Government to order a multi-agency investigation involving the CBI, the Income Tax and the Enforcement Directorate and all the politicians, mining lessees, mining mafia and Government employees involved in the scam will be prosecuted and their assets frozen. A matter of equally serious concern is the siphoning off development funds meant for the poor by the ruling BJD through a network of Contractors and Control Dealers right under the nose of the Chief Minister. The same acts of omission and commission that facilitated the loot of Odisha’s mineral resources can also be found in the loot of development money; administrative incompetence writ large and poor enforcement.


BJD has built a formidable network of contractors, control dealers and transporters. Through this network, the ruling party is able to siphon off funds from development programs, mainly Central funds, to meet the day-to-day expenses of running the BJD. With a few phone calls BJD leaders can activate this network to transport people to meeting venues, erect impressive arches with cut-outs of Naveen Patnaik, organize food for thousands of people and meet other expenses for organizing party activities. Government employees are aware of the arrangement but they prove their loyalty by looking the other way when the siphoning takes place. Visit any meeting venue of BJD and find out how the event was funded/ managed and you will soon realize how development funds can be scientifically siphoned off. The Captain of BJD ‘B’, with his acumen in administration, built this formidable network as part of his dual strategy of a cadre based party and a committed bureaucracy. It is in the complementarities of Government Employees, Contractors and BJD leaders that a significant part of money meant for the poor ends up funding party programs. Incidentally, most of these contractors and control dealers are now BJD cadres and some have advanced further. Wherever the Government Scheme does not provide for engaging a contractor, the party and the officials work out informal arrangements. Go wherever you want in Odisha, you will find a BJD connection to the siphoning off money meant for the poor and no enforcement mechanism to stop the loot.

No show will be possible without a showman and no showman can exist without an image. The entire time of the Chief Minister is spent in image-building. He plans his statements, speeches, political strategies diligently and monitors the media to provide spins. But, that is all that he is interested in. The siphoning off can continue so long as his leaders can assemble a crowd and the image can be sustained. As and when taking action against a politician or bureaucrat enhances his image, Naveen Patnaik will not wink an eye-lid. He has created a make-belief world of incredible credulity despite thorough administrative incompetence. Development issues are secondary to his entire political thought process and therefore, the bureaucracy operates without any political direction, supervision or leadership. The Ministers are actually sorry figures, who resent in private for playing second fiddle to the bureaucracy, but waste no opportunity in demonstrating their loyalty for the leader. The Sycophancy was taken to the lowest level possible recently when Revenue Minister of the State Government proudly proclaimed in a public rally in the presence of the Chief Minister that he is proud to be called a 'chakara' (domestic servant) of Naveen Patnaik. Mr Patnaik has done nothing, so far, to express his displeasure for this extra-ordinary display of loyalty by a Cabinet Minister. The incident clearly shows that BJD leaders view Naveen Patnaik as a Megalomaniac leader and there is a competition in sycophancy among BJD leaders. I am waiting for temples to come up next.

It is well known among informed sections in Odisha that Naveen Patnaik is not interested in administration or governance. My impression is he loves the drama around politics with he in the centre stage. He loves to fool people. Administration and governance are petty issues better left to a coterie of bureaucrats. He enjoys moving from place to place to receive public adulation. Party leaders know that Mr. Naveen Patnaik is more of a showman and less of an administrator and it helps them to use his showmanship to their benefit even if no public purpose is served. That is why I had quoted Ninan in an earlier post as saying that some of India’s regional leaders are “populist demagogues” and “the behavior of these elected satraps is comical and clownish for the most part.” In the meantime the siphoning off development funds can continue.

After 12 years in power Mr. Naveen Patnaik still takes no interest in the implementation of the developmental programmes. He has no patience to get into details and is happy to watch smart PowerPoint presentations by his English-speaking bureaucrats, who have made him believe that everything is hunky-dory and poverty in Odisha will soon be history. He, at times, picks up some statistics and phrases from these bureaucrats and there ends his interest in administration. For meetings the bureaucrats can always be relied upon to prepare a written speech and the Chief Minister can read the script blithely without taking the trouble of remembering anything non-political. He has not addressed a single press conference either in Delhi or in Odisha in case people get to know that the king is without robes. A few hackneyed phrases can pass as media statements or better still he can read out a written statement. ‘I am looking into the matter’, ‘the Government is doing everything possible’, ‘law will take its own course’ etc have been his passport to public life.

Naveen Patnaik is the first Chief Minister in Indian history who has not addressed a press meet in 12 years and has refused to learn the language of the state. He has deliberately not learnt Odia because he would then be at par with all other politicians. He wants to be different, hatke. That is how he can remain as a celebrity; if Amitabh Bachan speaks in Odia, people will be delighted. Similar is the case with Naveen Patnaik. He can delight the crowd by speaking a few words or sentences in Odia. The caricature adds to the drama. His is a case study in modern media manipulation and public perception management; how a thoroughly incompetent person can build the image of a successful administrator! He can give any communication guru a run for his money.

[Author is a former minister of Odisha and, at present, is the Pradesh Congress Committee President, Odisha]


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