Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Bhubaneswar, Apr 30:
Former Odisha minister and PCC president Niranjan Patnaik has heaped praise on late Janaki Ballav Patnaik, who died recently, in his blog exploring various facets of the multifarious personality.
In his blog post titled “Remembering JB”, the senior Congress leader has described the former Chief Minister JB Pattnaik as Odisha’s most successful politician till date, a description that is likely to give rise to inevitable comparisons and some heart burns.
“JB was the ultimate party patriarch. He knew thousands of workers and leaders up to the panchayat level. His encyclopedic memory and understanding of grassroots situations meant that leaders could talk to him and immediately find a resonance. Always humble, polite and receptive, he stayed connected to the workers through thick and thin, built a formidable party organization and could never be replaced and can never be replaced,” Patnaik gushed.
The outpouring of grief after the death of the former CM was a result of the way JB could connect to the people, particularly, Congress workers who feel nostalgic and indebted for the strength he gave to the Congress party. “All the last three elections that Congress party has won in Odisha were fought under JB’s leadership. The leaders who followed him could not repeat JB’s electoral success or make the party as strong and credible.”This is what makes Congress workers particularly sad and nostalgic,” Niranjan said.
JB had to build a party, beginning with 1977. Between 1977 and 1980, JB travelled to all the blocks in the state in a jeep, inducted new leaders since many of the Congress leaders had drifted away; some when Biju floated Utkal Congress and some like Nandini Satpathy after the Emergency. He had to confront very strong anti-Congressism, which was a historical legacy in Odisha and had grown manifold during the Emergency.
“Anti-Congressism is not unknown to Odisha. Before creation of the modern state of Odisha on 1 April 1936, many in Odisha had felt that the Indian National Congress was too much under the control of Bengal leaders.”Odisha’s pride and neglect by Central government have given rise to strong regional aspirations that makes political success while being a part of a national party difficult. After Kerala, Odisha had become the second state in India to elect a non-Congress government in 1967,” he said.
Referring to the perennial power struggle and dissidence within the Congress party, Niranjan alludes to the fact that being a national party, the High Command in Delhi had the final say unlike a regional party, where the leader can always have his way. Such was the intensity of this power struggle that “till JB, no chief minister, including Harekrushna Mahatab and Biju Pattnaik, had completed a full five-year term. If one leader was made the chief minister, the rest ganged up; there was perennial power struggle within the Congress party and political stability looked elusive. So, the fact that JB completed a full term in his first term (1980-1985) surprised pundits.”
“JB had to deal with dissidents within the party and a strong and vocal opposition outside the party. This is why his political success was truly remarkable. He had to weather many storms to stay afloat.”
“JB became successful because he was a democrat and deeply intellectual. He tolerated opposition within the party and outside. He had great administrative skills and great skills in floor management. Speaking in impeccable Odia, JB would defend the government astutely against bitter attack from a formidable opposition.”
“JB’s political legacy must be assessed in the context of his times. Here was a leader who withstood opposition within and without and persisted with an agenda of governance and development. He knew that the opposition was formidable, the circumstances adversarial and yet he maintained composure and kept persisting.”