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LIKE FATHER, UNLIKE SON

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( PART ONE )

By Sandeep Sahu

Naveen Patnaik certainly knows the Brand Equity of Biju Patnaik. He may not have been instrumental in naming his party after his legendary late father. But taking a leaf out of the Gandhi family book, he has made sure that two out of every three schemes launched by his government are named after the man who had earned the sobriquet ‘Son of Kalinga’. Naveen was unquestioningly accepted as the natural inheritor of the ‘Biju legacy’. But in the decade and half that he has headed the party, he has systematically dismantled every single tenet of that legacy.

Naveen invokes the name of his father at the drop of a hat. But in his conduct, both as a person and as a politician, he is everything that his father was not. His father truly loved his state (which he was fond of calling Kalinga, perhaps in an effort to recall the glory days of the land) and its people. Naveen, in contrast, is an alien of sorts – an Alice in Wonderland, if you please – traversing the length and breadth of the land as an amused and curious visitor without ever being able to fathom the quintessential Odia ethos. Many Odias do not realise that his refusal to speak the language (this author is convinced that it is refusal and not inability) is a conscious decision designed to serve two purposes: first, perpetuating his USP as the only Chief Minister in the country (and maybe even the world) who does not speak the language of the land and yet keeps winning election after election and second, keeping the great unwashed masses of his state in their god-forsaken place so that they don’t come anywhere near the impregnable fortress he has built around himself .

Naveen lives in the same house that his father used to live in when he was Chief Minister in the early 1990s. And yet, the contrast that the Naveen Nivas of today presents with the Naveen Nivas of yore could not be starker. Biju’s Naveen Nivas was a virtual open house and just about anybody – from an unemployed youth in the area to a chaiwala – could reach him, talk to him, even vent out his anger.

While on the subject, I cannot help recall an incident when I was a ‘desk’ journalist in 1990. On my first visit to the place early one morning, I was pleasantly surprised to see Biju Patnaik, seated in his usual chair on the balcony, wave to the lone guard (as far as I can remember, he was not even a uniformed guard) to let me in. The great man heard what I had to say and even offered me the snacks that he was having for breakfast.

Contrast that with Naveen’s Naveen Nivas. It is an awe-inspiring fortress even the proverbial parinda cannot hope to get anywhere near to, what with dozens of armed policemen guarding not just the gate, but 500 meters on either side of the bend on which the building is located.

28-10-2004=Biju Patnaik at Kalinga Vidyalaya Kapilaswar

I am tempted to narrate another encounter with Biju Patnaik  – this time in 1992, by which time I had made the transition from the desk to reporting  – to bring out the contrast between the father and the son.

My editor wanted me to do an interview with the Chief Minister. I was still feeling my way around as a reporter and didn’t quite know how to get to him. On the suggestion of a senior, I called his land phone number (the mobile phone was still some years away) in his residence and was absolutely stunned to find that it was the big man himself on the other side. He asked me about my publication and then readily gave me the coveted interview.

Try doing that now and you will be extremely lucky if you manage to talk to the private secretary. Forget a young reporter finding his feet, even seasoned journalists who have walked and talked with the high and the mighty in the past have had to eat humble pie every time they have tried to interview the occupant of the best known address in the state.

On May 6, 1993, the state secretariat became a free-for-all with the chief secretary being dragged around the corridors by class IV employees and missiles flying all over the place. On hearing about the commotion outside, Biju Patnaik pushed aside his then principal secretary Pyari Mohan Mohapatra and rushed out to the balcony to see things for himself – only to get hit by a flying missile and start bleeding profusely.

Now compare this with Naveen’s response after a few members of a farmers’ body managed to breach the security at Naveen Nivas and raise slogans in front of the gate recently. The security in and around the CM’s residence was tightened to the point where it became a nightmare for those who have the misfortune of taking the road in front on a daily basis (like this writer).

[To be concluded.]