By Sandeep Sahu*
He was the quintessential backroom boy, handling everything from the appointments of Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik to looking after his boss’ personal affairs and issuing statements on behalf of the party.
Saroj Sahu, the Chief Minister’s personal aide cum BJD political secretary, was the closest confidante of the chief minister in all matters, including his party affairs.
While frequent – and even occasional – visitors to Naveen Nivas, the Chief Minister’s residence, knew for long that not a leaf moved in the sprawling premises without his permission or knowledge, the people at large came to know about his enviable proximity with Naveen and his clout among political leaders and bureaucrats alike only after he was interrogated by the CBI for nearly two hours on Saturday.
Sahu’s interrogation has sent a panic wave among the BJD top brass, who apprehend that the CBI’s next stop could be the master himself. Having read the writing on the wall, a terrified chief minister is said to have denied permission to the man, who was lord of all he surveyed in the hallowed precincts of Naveen Nivas just hours before, to enter the premises after his return from the CBI office in the afternoon yesterday.
The Chief Minister’s decision to drop him like a hot potato is entirely in line with the way he has dealt with other party leaders dragged into the investigation by the CBI like Ramachandra Hansda and Subarna Nayak.
Till yesterday afternoon, the chief minister had reposed so much faith in Sahu that he used to refer any party matter to him. The BJD supremo had even entrusted him to look after party funds.
Such was his clout that even the senior bureaucrats used to request him to fix an appointment with the chief minister.
It is hard to believe that the man who came to enjoy such enormous clout in the heart of the power circle was a mere typist running his fingers on a Remington at a shop in Bapuji Nagar to earn a livelihood just a few years ago. It was the ultimate rags-to-riches story.
Sources in the party said Sahu, a native of Khandapada area of Nayagarh district. was appointed as a typist with a paltry salary at the BJD head office, which operated out of Naveen Nivas at the time (as it does even now, some will argue), after the party was formed in 1998.
It was in the year 2000 that Sahu came closer to Naveen after he became the chief minister. Soon, he was relieved of his typing responsibilities and was entrusted with looking after the day-to-day affairs of the chief minister.
Later, he was allotted a special chamber at Naveen Niwas where he managed party affairs on behalf of the chief minister.
The influence of Sahu in the party rose manifold after the expulsion of the party’s de facto No 2 Pyari Mohan Mohapatra in 2012.
A senior BJD leader, requesting anonymity, told Sambad that the chief minister, after the expulsion of Mohapatra from the party, had told him “Pyari Jaane se kuchh phark nehi padega. Saroj ko teen mobile phone dene se woh bhi Pyari ka kaam kardega” (“Pyari’s departure will make no difference. Saroj can take care of the work that Pyari did if he is given three mobile phones”).
With his fast growing clout, Sahu had expectedly become an eyesore for some senior BJD leaders. Though these leaders had no guts to take him on, they had taken strong exception to the chief minister reposing so much faith and trust in him in handling the party affairs even though he hardly knew anything about politics.
This lowly typist reportedly purchased a two-storey building near the Airport area of the capital city at a cost of about Rs 55 lakh recently. Besides, he has two other houses in the city, sources said.
* The author is the Executive Editor of odishasuntimes.com