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Biju Patnaik and Naveen Patnaik: The marked differences

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On 5th March the 103rd birth anniversary of Bijayananda Patnaik, popularly known as Biju Patnaik and Biju Babu to us Odias was celebrated with pomp across Odisha. It was on expected lines as Naveen Patnaik his son rules the state and the ruling party is named after Biju Babu (Biju Janata Dal). Tall claims were made by BJD leaders on how Naveen Patnaik is carrying forward Biju Babu’s ideology. But is he really carrying forward Biju Babu’s legacy?

To understand that we need to delve into history. Biju Babu ruled Odisha for a very brief period but is known as builder of modern Odisha. All most all the institutions and Industries build by Odisha government till date find its genesis either to the tenure of Biju Babu or Shri Harekrushna Mahatab. Even after a long and controversial political career Biju Babu had friends across party lines and he ruled over the hearts of Odias and continues to do so even after his death. The level of reverence Biju Babu enjoys can be known from the fact that heroic tales of his deeds in Baku (Azerbaijan) to Indonesia, his role in world war two, his role in Indian Independence struggle and first Kashmir War have been retold thousand times in villages and cities of Odisha and have become part of folk tales of Odisha.  

Its been more than 21 years since Biju Babu passed away and Odisha politics has changed a lot. Moving to contemporary Odisha, the party named after Biju Babu and headed by his son who is party president and CM continues to rule Odisha for 18 long years unbated. The party and its president enjoy the legacy of Biju Babu but have they inherited the vision and principles of Biju Babu? The question isn’t hard to answer for anyone who keep tracks with Odisha Politics.

A lot has been written about Biju Babu and his son Naveen Patnaik but rarely have both been compared. Let’s start from the style of Politicking,

Biju Babu was called India’s buccaneer by J.L Nehru. Even though Biju Babu was employed with RIAF during world war two while fighting Axis Power on one hand on the other hand was busy helping Indian National Congress and airlifting several congress leaders to prevent them from getting caught. His involvement in Indonesian Freedom struggle had earned him a great fame. When Biju babu joined politics, he was a successful pilot and wealthy businessmen, he had established Kalinga airlines and owned several other industries.

Naveen Patnaik joined politics in his late 50’s, he was a famous socialite and the only mentionable thing he did was to run a boutique and write three books. His entry to politics was by chance and rather due to political vacuum created due to fall of congress and death senior Patnaik. Due to intra-party rivalry no consensus could be reached on who was going to lead the then Janata Party in Odisha. Naveen Patnaik had to be roped in to stop the party from disintegrating.

Differences in personality

Biju Babu was known for speaking his mind, he traveled frequently throughout Odisha and was easily accessible. From going and meeting tribals and workers to listening to the grievances of state government employees he took problems head-on. Biju Babu was a strong proponent of local governance and during his tenure in order to stop illegal liquor trading he appointed a tribal woman as his adviser giving her powers of a superintendent of police. Whereas Naveen Patnaik has a very different approach. He prefers to lead a secluded life and when in public meeting, prefers to read his written speech. His interaction with press has been minimal and rarely comments on any issue. Whereas many comments of Biju Babu used to raise great controversy inside the assembly as well as outside, the problem doesn’t even arise in Naveen Patnaik’s way of functioning.

The tales of flamboyance of Biju Babu was well known in Odisha the case with Naveen Babu is just the opposite although he is the richest minister in the cabinet, he leads a very simple life style. Biju Babu had a habit of publicly targeting his opponent whereas Naveen rarely indulges in such rhetoric. Even when Naveen Patnaik has handled his enemies it is mostly through deceit rather than taking them head on, his decisions have surprised his friends and enemies likewise. From suspending Bijay Mohapatra and Nalini Mohanty to Baijyanta Panda and Damodar Rout, Naveen Patnaik has always kept the events low key. Whereas Biju Babu was known for creating leaders starting from Nandini Satpathy to Bijoy Mohaptra, Nalini Mohanty, Srikant Jena and Damodar Rout. In Naveen Patnaik’s regime, the second rung leadership within BJD is conspicuously absent.

Relation with bureaucracy

I find stark differences in the way bureaucracy has functioned during Biju Babu’s regime and the current regime headed by Naveen Patnaik. Biju was dead against red tapism and bureaucratic hurdles. When Biju came to know about the tales of corruption of bureaucrats’ and woes of common man, he proclaimed that citizens should beat up all corrupt public servants but send a telegraph to him before that. This resulted in beating of government servants at several places.

When Biju Babu came to power his instruction to officials was “be loyal to me not to the government but to the destinies of this state, to the propensity of the people.” One humorous story goes around that when a traffic policeman caught a truck driver for over speeding while he was going with construction material for Paradip Port the truck driver replied to policeman that speed suggested by traffic policemen would delay the work of port by several years and Biju Babu wanted everyone to work at top gear. These incidents are enough to understand the tumultuous relation Biju Babu shared with Bureaucracy.

Naveen Patnaik dealing with bureaucracy has been completely different. Naveen Patnaik’s over dependence on bureaucracy has always been in public domain. From Naveen Patnaik’s arrival in political scenario of Odisha till June 2012, he more or else was dependent on Pyari Mohan Mohapatra who was principal secretary to Biju Babu once upon a time for all decisions ranging from politics to administration, he was often considered to be the proxy leader of BJD. It was the attempted coup by Pyari Mohan Mohaptra in June 2012 when Naveen Patnaik was on his trip to London that changed the situation and Pyari Mohan vanished from Odisha politics.

Although he had launched a political outfit it didn’t find much support from people as he was never a grassroot leader. After Pyari Mohan’s departure his place has been allegedly taken by VK Pandian who is Private secretary to Naveen Patnaik. He is widely believed to be behind ousting of popular BJD MP Baijyanta Panda and he is said to have held considerable clout in the ticket distribution process during 2014 election. Recently senior leader Dr Damodar Rout who has been a close aide of Biju babu was ousted from party because he complained of Pandian’s interference in BJD in several public domains.

Although Naveen Patnaik’s continues to use Biju Babu’s legacy, that can be observed from the name of the ruling party and large number of schemes and projects named after Biju Babu but the style of functioning of father and son are poles apart. Although comparing Biju Babu with anyone would be undermining his legacy considering his large presence in national politics and even international politics but this article is just and endeavor to bring into light the fact that Naveen’s way of functioning is a departure from Biju Babu’s way of functioning and not a continuity of it as many of the current generation seem to think.


1. Legendary Biju: The Man and Mission by K.P Mohanty

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