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Monday June 09, 2014

ODISHA POLITICS, POWER TRIANGLE  

Odisha's power triangle and politics of bureaucracy

 

"The more rabid was Pyari’s rhetoric on Odisha bureaucracy, the stronger Bijay Patnaik grew within the Odisha secretariat and Naveen Niwas. The greatest asset that Bijay Patnaik had was his honesty and that single trait saved him the day. Bijay Patnaik finally overcame Pyari’s influence within the bureaucracy. His confidence soared to such an extent that he became the face of the Government, confidently chatting up with journalists and media persons. He became Naveen’s voice as far as the state governance was concerned. Pyari was becoming increasingly irrelevant and the bureaucracy keys were slipping from between his fingers. In fact Pyari’s concept had gobbled him up."

 
Dr Sasmit Patra  

 

 

 

An image witnessed during 2009 elections has stuck with me. BJD supremo Naveen Patnaik and his then “chanakya” Pyari Mohan Mohapatra were seated on the dais in the BJD party office welcoming some new members prior to the elections. Naveen turned towards Pyari, held his right hand with his left and spoke into his ear for not less than eight to ten minutes, the other simply nodding and soaking Naveen’s words. When Naveen finally turned away, a glimpse of relief was visible on his face. It was as if a child confiding in his parent and turning away, confident that the problem was now not his, but theirs. This had been the utility of Pyari Mohan. He was a sounding board, shock absorber, negativity absorbing buffer and above all a strategist for Naveen, whose ends justified his means. Naveen could not have asked for more.

 

After the thumping victory in 2009, an event took place which is one of the less talked but most relevant reasons for Pyari’s disenchantment with Naveen, paving the path for his coup attempt. It was the elevation of Bijay Patnaik as the Chief Secretary of Odisha Government.

Bijay Patnaik, a much respected bureaucrat had gained the implicit trust of Naveen while being his Principal Secretary. His predecessor as Chief Secretary, Tarun Kanti Mishra had been a bureaucrat who enjoyed the confidence of Pyari Mohan. But Bijay Patnaik was his own man, neither Pyari’s nor Naveen’s. His allegiance was sworn to the Chief Minister’s chair and in him Pyari had found a nemesis. Much against Pyari’s wishes, Naveen appointed Bijay Patnaik as the Chief Secretary. Earlier known as the “singha dwara” of Naveen Patnaik, the new Chief Secretary Bijay Patnaik started collecting the reins of bureaucracy in his hands. Bureaucrats like Aparajita Sarangi who fell out with Pyari were supported by Bijay.

Pyari realized that without the bureaucracy’s support his political machinations would not bear fruit. He needed the administrative machinery to fulfil his political moves. But slowly and steadily a band of bureaucrats who were Pyari baiters came closer to Bijay Patnaik. Pyari, a blue blooded one time bureaucrat found that playing proxy governance was becoming increasingly difficult. For the first time in nine years he was being challenged. In January, 2010 Pyari openly spoke against the bureaucracy and alleged that due to the negligence of some bureaucrats, the progress of development in the state had slowed down. The political classes were being snubbed by the bureaucrats and dissension was growing among the elected BJD MLAs, Block Chairmans and Sarpanchs.

Such public spats by Pyari did not budge Naveen. The more rabid was Pyari’s rhetoric on bureaucracy, the stronger Bijay Patnaik grew within the state secretariat and Naveen Niwas. The greatest asset that Bijay Patnaik had was his honesty and that single trait saved him the day. Bijay Patnaik finally overcame Pyari’s influence within the bureaucracy. His confidence soared to such an extent that he became the face of the Government, confidently chatting up with journalists and media persons. He became Naveen’s voice as far as the state governance was concerned. Pyari was becoming increasingly irrelevant and the bureaucracy keys were slipping from between his fingers. In fact Pyari’s concept had gobbled him up.

When Pyari became the de-facto advisor of Naveen, many senior BJD ministers used to remark that bureaucrats are now running politics, snidely remarking on the “bureaucrat” Pyari. The same mechanism of bureaucracy had come back to unsettle Pyari in the form of Bijay Patnaik. While MPs, MLAs, Zilla Parishad Presidents, Municipality Chairmans, Block Chairmans, Panchayat Sarpanchs and Ward Members are the public representatives, they do not have the administrative powers of drawing, disbursing and implementing the funds. While they approve the allocations under various heads, the sole responsibility of implementation lies with the executives which are higher end bureaucrats or at the lower end, the block development officers or village development officers.  Without the tacit support of the executive, the political classes cannot perform. This understanding led to Pyari’s rise in BJD and this realization by Bijay Patnaik and his own manoeuvres led to Pyari’s decline.

Indeed while bureaucracy should be apolitical, due to its close interface with the political classes, the lines blur. It’s the Odisha bureaucracy which has been the major strength of Naveen. He may or may not acknowledge it but whether during the days of Pyari or during the present days of Bijay, the bureaucracy has unquestioningly followed the Chief Minister, whether out of reverence or out of tacit political support. But these two gentlemen Pyari and Bijay during their respective periods of stay with Naveen have ensured selflessly that the bureaucracy backed Naveen with complete silence.

The bigger question is can Bijay Patnaik do a Pyari Mohapatra. Could Bijay step into the larger than life role that Pyari has left behind in the BJD? People close to Bijay Patnaik describe him as a man who is intrinsically an introvert, quiet, loyal and demure while Pyari Mohan was always known as a radical, an extrovert, rabble-rouser and power-centre loving bureaucrat. Both Pyari and Bijay have five alphabets apiece to their names. Both are from the IAS cadre, both know Naveen’s strengths and weakness, both have had the uncanny knack of surviving the bad times and both have emerged into a spotlight that they desired.

Would the politics of bureaucracy bring about a bigger role for Naveen in 2014 or would Naveen collapse under the void created by Pyari and accentuated by a bureaucracy which has tasted the blood of power. We will witness it in 2014 undoubtedly.  Till then the Naveen, Pyari, Bijay trio have a lot to offer towards the dynamics in Odisha politics.

[Dr.Sasmit Patra is based at Bhubaneswar, Odisha. He can be reached at sasmitpatra@gmail.com ]

 

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