The Odisha Story: What Led To The Downfall Of India's 2nd Longest Serving Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik

The Odisha Story: What Led To The Downfall Of India's 2nd Longest Serving Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik

V K Pandian was given more importance in BJD than any other party leader. His prominace with Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik was such that even minister were seen clearing traffic for Pandian's vehicle to pass.

Vinay MishraUpdated: Friday, June 14, 2024, 12:57 PM IST
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Former Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik | PTI

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) decisively defeated the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) in both the recently concluded Odisha Assembly Election and the General Election in the state. Before the results were announced on June 4, it was unexpected for the BJD to be dethroned from power in Odisha. It was widely believed that the BJP would return to power, albeit with a reduced number of seats compared to previous elections.

The biggest shock was the defeat of BJD chief Naveen Patnaik in the Kantabanji assembly seat, where he lost to BJP's Laxman Bag by over 16,000 votes.

Naveen was only a few days away from becoming the longest-serving Indian chief minister. Former Sikkim CM Pawan Kumar Chamling remains the longest-serving chief minister in the country with 24 years and 199 days in office, while Naveen Patnaik holds the second spot with a tenure of 24 years and 99 days.

For the BJP, Patnaik is not the first chief minister to be ousted from power after serving nearly two decades or more.

In 2018, the BJP successfully formed the government in Tripura, ending former CM Manik Saha's two-decade reign.

However, Patnaik will remain an MLA as he was elected from the Hinjili seat. Despite his popularity largely remaining unaffected in the state, he won his traditional seat with a thick margin of 4,636 votes.

In the 2024 Odisha Assembly Election, the BJP secured 40.07% of the vote share, winning 78 seats. The BJD, which received slightly more votes than the BJP with a 40.22% share, won only 51 assembly seats.

In 2019, the BJP's vote share was 32.49%, and the party won 23 seats. The BJD secured 44.41% of the votes and won 112 seats.

Source- ECI

Notably, in the 2009, 2014, and 2019 Odisha assembly elections, the BJD consistently won more than 100 seats.

Why BJD won 5 straight elections?

BJD leader Naveen Patnaik is seen as more of a 'statesman' than a politician by the people of Odisha. He is praised for not attacking opposition parties or leaders in the aggressive manner common among other politicians. He has never used bitter words against them.

Notwithstanding Naveen's popularity in the state, the schemes launched by his government, especially those aimed at empowering women, have kept anti-incumbency sentiment at bay.

Several of Naveen Patnaik's government's popular schemes include the Biju Swasthya Kalyan Yojana, which provides healthcare to 4 crore people; Mission Shakti, benefiting 70 lakh women; the Kalia Yojana, which supports over 64 lakh farmers; and the Madhubabu Pension Yojana for the elderly. Those who benefitted from the scheme remained loyal to Naveen and BJP.

Naveen Patnaik focused on Odia pride (Odia Asmita) politics for years. Consequently, the BJP, with its Hindutva ideology, struggled to make a significant impact in the face of this strong Odia identity.

What led BJD's Downfall in Odisha

VK Pandian

VK Pandian |

Naveen Patnaik's over-dependency on VK Pandian

VK Pandian is a retired IAS officer and a close aide of former Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik. Pandian has worked with Patnaik for more than two decades. Over the past decade, the Tamil Nadu-born Pandian has gained a reputation among the people as the one making all the important decisions in Naveen's government.

Political observers say that during the election, Naveen Patnaik and Pandian were at the forefront of the BJP's campaigning. Although the BJD's star campaigner list had 40 names, only these two leaders were seen actively seeking votes for the party, while other leaders did not make comparable efforts.

It is said that even Naveen Patnaik's speeches were shorter than Pandian's, and Pandian gave more interviews to the media than Naveen.

After the elections, BJP leaders remarked that the more Pandian campaigned for the BJD, the more it benefitted the BJP.

Pandian was given more importance in BJD than any other party leader. His prominace with Odisha CM was such that even minister were seen clearing traffic for Pandian's vehicle to pass. He preferred helicopter rides for short journeys as long as 30-40 kilometers. As chairman of 5T, he held public grievance redressed meetings, while elected representatives were ignored. All these didn't go down well with the people of Odisha.

The BJP capitalised on anti-Pandian sentiment. During the campaign, BJP created an atmosphere among voters portraying Pandian, an outsider, as the heir of Naveen Babu. This strategy benefited the saffron party to such an extent that it formed its first-ever government in the state.

The Ratna Bhandar issue

Another significant issue that worked against the BJD was the controversy surrounding the missing key to the Ratna Bhandar, the treasure chamber inside the Jagannath Puri temple.

Shree Jagannatha Temple

Shree Jagannatha Temple | X- Shree Jagannatha Temple, Puri

This raised concerns among the people of Odisha about the government's ability to safeguard one of the state's most sacred possessions, prompting questions about its commitment to protecting the interests of the people. The missing key has been a prominent issue in the state for the past six years. During his election campaign in Odisha, Narendra Modi also seized on this issue, launching a two-pronged attack aimed at the state government and Pandian. He remarked, "People are saying the key to the Ratna Bhandar has gone to Tamil Nadu. Who sent it to Tamil Nadu?"

The BJP made this issue the campaign plank, with Modi accusing Pandian of mishandling riches from the Jagannath temple and sending them to Tamil Nadu. In a BJP advertisement, a Pandian lookalike was depicted struggling to eat pakhala, Odisha's traditional dish of fermented rice, in the Odia manner, eventually resorting to using a Tamilian banana leaf.

This campaign proved highly effective, leading Naveen Patnaik to hold a press conference toward the end of the campaign to announce that Pandian would not be his successor. The press conference came too late, and the BJD could not mitigate its impact in time.

With the BJP in power and the BJD now the principal opposition party in the state, and with Pandian retiring from active politics, it will be intriguing to see how the BJD assumes the role of an opposition party after having been in power for around 24 years.

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