‘Underestimated’ Naveen Shows the Way With leads in 20 Lok Sabha & 112 assembly seats, BJD’s chief Patnaik has proved himself rock solid once again
“The greatest mistake people make is to underestimate Naveen Patnaik,” says a closeconfidanteof Odisha’schief minister,whoisreturningtopowerforafourth term, stronger than ever. Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal was leading in 20 of the state’s 21 Lok Sabha constituencies and 112 of 147 assembly seats. “I am obliged to the people of Odisha for their mandate, and particularly gratefullytothemanymotherswhohadvoted for the BJD,” a pleased Patnaik, interrupted by celebratory fireworks, told the media outside his house. “The victory is not a victory of the BJD, but of the four crore Odiya people who were working for the swabhiman (selfrespect) of Odisha.” The mandate has surprised critics and opponents who had expected a wave in favour of BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, anti-incumbency and dissent within the party to erode Patnaik’s share of votes. The win should, once and for all, set to rest the perception that the 67-year-old, despite three terms in power, is a reluctant chief minister or political novice. “NaveenPatnaikisasolid,honest leader with no controversies, no scandal, offering safe assured leadership,” said Swapan Dasgupta, political analyst and a friend of Patnaik. “What else do voters want?” According to close associates of the chief minister, this is a personal vindication of his political leadership. When the provincial party had broken with the BJP and won a comfortable victory for itself last time, credit had gone to Patnaik’s then aide, and now foe, Pyarimohan Mahapatra. The BJD strategy was to rely on the gover nment’s generous subsidy programmes, and the chief minister’s own image of an honest politician. Soumya Ranjan Patnaik, who quit the Congress to form a brand new entity, Ama Odisha, blamed the opposition for failure to take advantage of corruption allegations against the government. “If the BJD makes a clear sweep, it’s a disgrace for the BJP and Congress,” he said. BJP, which had claimed it would clinch seven Lok Sabha seats, was leading in one by evening. “There was a Modi wave, but since Odisha went to polls last month, we could not make the most of it. The fact that this was also a simultaneous election (to assembly), resulted in a confusion of ballots,” said hotelier-politician Dilip Ray of the BJP. State Congress party chief Jayadev Jena said, “We respect the mandate of the people. And, as chief as Odisha PCC, I take the responsibility for our performance.” Patnaik’s reputation as an honest politician has shielded the party from a recent controversies of chit fund graft and widespread illegalities in the mining sector raised by the opposition.