By Sandeep Sahu
No other father and son could be more unlike each other in demeanour.
While Biju was loud, temperamental and even impetuous at times, Naveen is soft-spoken, measured and courteous at all times.
Patnaik senior could laugh heartily and rage uncontrollably with equal ease, but Patnaik junior rarely bursts into laughter or goes into a fit of rage – not publicly, at any rate. One has not seen him laugh heartily either (though a lady BJD MLA tried hard to convince this author the other day that Naveen laughs and jokes around a lot ‘with those he is comfortable with’).
Biju and Naveen differ from each other like the proverbial chalk and cheese not just in their personality traits, but also in their politics.
Biju was a dreamer; his son is a hard-nosed realist. Perhaps that is the reason the grand old man had to wait 29 long years after his highly eventful 19-month long stint in the early 1960s to become Chief Minister again while Naveen has been in power from the day he parachuted into politics.
In what perhaps was a clear sign of the shape of things to come, Naveen jumped headlong into an alliance with the BJP, a party that his father refused to have any truck with all his life, at a time when the embers from the senior Patnaik’s pyre were yet to extinguish fully.
After living in perfect harmony with the BJP for well over a decade, however, Naveen suddenly discovered on the eve of the 2009 elections that it was a communal party after all – a discovery that eluded him even at the height of the Kandhamal riots. He then went on to promptly drop the alliance partner like a hot potato and proclaim to the world at large that ‘every bone’ in his body was ‘secular’. The saffron party huffed and puffed, complaining about Naveen’s ‘betrayal’. But having seen how he had dealt with those who were instrumental in anointing him king, the party should have known better.
Biju Patnaik had strong likes and dislikes and was willing to suffer for them. Acting totally against conventional wisdom, he refused to have a tie-up with the two Left parties (describing them as ‘signboard’ parties to rub it in) in the 1995 Assembly elections and paid a heavy electoral price for it. Naveen, in contrast, is adept at submerging his likes and dislikes at the altar of political expediency.
Biju’s stature as a politician was never dependent on whether he was in power or not. He commanded more respect nationally when he was just an Opposition MLA than Naveen has ever done as a Chief Minister. Naveen’s stature as a politician is still an unknown commodity since he has never been out of power so far.
Biju was trusting to the point of being gullible at times. Naveen, on the other hand, hardly trusts anyone – except for a few hand-picked bureaucrats – and constantly looks over his shoulder to see if anybody is sharpening a dagger on his back.(It is another matter though that he had no inkling whatsoever about what is coming when someone did wield the dagger in May last year).
Biju was perhaps trusting – and forgiving – in the extreme because he never had any doubts about his leadership qualities. Naveen is suspicious because he knows many of his trusted lieutenants would ditch him the moment he fails to bring in the votes.
While his father forgave even his enemies (one just has to recall la’ffaire abujha pua), Naveen has not forgiven even his friends. Bijay Mohapatra, Nalinikanta Mohanty, Kamala Das, Ramakrushna Patnaik et al never thought of replacing Naveen even in their wildest dreams nor did they do anything that was even remotely anti- Naveen. And yet, all of them had to endure the full force of his mighty axe that paralysed them for the rest of their political careers. It was a case of what is called the ‘motiveless malignancy’ syndrome at work.
Where Biju tolerated even those who worked directly against his interests, Naveen wielded the axe even against those who had no axe to grind with him.
Naveen may continue to rule for several years more in the name of his late father. But legacy, unlike political office, is not hereditary.He may well emerge as a ‘kingmaker’ after the next election. But he can never be a rightful claimant of what is known as the Biju legacy.