Former bureaucrat VK Pandian’s entry into the BJD has triggered all kinds of speculation. What is certain, however, is that the move marks his formal entry into politics where he is certain to play a highly successful innings. The regional party is set to gain as much from him as he would from BJD which remains the most successful regional outfit in the history of the state.
The enrolment of former IAS officer and 5T chairman VK Pandian as a member of Biju Janata Dal (BJD) marks his formal entry into politics and is also likely to put an end to the succession debate within Odisha’s longest surviving and most successful regional party.
Chief minister Naveen Patnaik, who has been the president of the party since its inception, avoided the succession question every time he was asked about it. His stock reply was that people will choose their leader. However, his love for and tremendous faith in Pandian has never been a secret. Now with Pandian’s entry into the BJD it is more or less clear that this blue-eyed boy of Patnaik will succeed him.
According to most political observers Pandian joining the regional party is the best thing to have happened to Odisha politics in recent years. Irrespective of whether or not he holds any organisational post in the party he is expected to contribute immensely to its growth and even guide the party’s campaign in the next general elections.
Before his enrolment into the party people only used to guess about the role he was playing in strengthening the party which has emerged as the most successful regional party in the history of Odisha. Never before has a regional party in the state enjoyed such a strong cadre base nor functioned in such an organised manner. Pandian, who was till recently secretary to the chief minister, was easily the man behind BJD’s success. In tandem with chief minister Naveen Patnaik, the infallible poll mascot of BJD, he had turned the party into an election winning machine.
But all this while, he was keenly aware of the fact that he was treading the fine line between being a high-profile bureaucrat who was the eyes and ears of the chief minister and someone influencing the decisions that guided the fate of BJD. He never really stepped out of the line and embarrassed his boss. When things started getting difficult for him and Patnaik’s political opponents began questioning his Neta-style visits to districts, he took the conscious decision to give up his job as a highly successful and powerful bureaucrat so that he could don the political garbs formally. That transition is complete with his joining the BJD. And it has been a smooth transition.
What is most important is that all along he has enjoyed the blessings of his boss who trusts him almost blindly. This is proof of not only his efficiency but also his loyalty. He joined the BJD at Naveen Nivas in the presence of the chief minister and other senior party leaders.
Welcoming him to the party, Patnaik said that Pandian had been working hard for the people of Odisha for a long time and had earned their trust and respect. He hoped that his former secretary would continue to work in the same way in the future.
Pandian, who had quit the IAS last month and appointed chairman of 5T Initiatives and Nabin Odisha with a Cabinet minister’s rank, pledged to work selflessly for the people of the state with sincerity and dedication with the blessings of Lord Jagannath and under the guidance of the chief minister.
Though the party is yet to announce what role he would be assigned in the BJD speculation is rife that the post of working president might be created to accommodate him. Pandian was felicitated at a meeting at Sankha Bhawan after joining the party where the general secretary (organisation) of the BJD Pranab Prakash Das, senior leaders, MPs, MLAs and office-bearers of all frontal organisations of BJD were present. Senior BJD leaders expressed hope that the party would immensely benefit from Pandian’s administrative and political experience.
Pandian took voluntary retirement from government service on October 23 this year. He was later appointed as the chairman of the state’s flagship 5T (transformational initiative) and Nabin (new) Odisha scheme in the rank of a cabinet minister who would work directly under the chief minister.
The 2000-batch IAS officer began his bureaucratic career in 2002 as the sub-collector of Dharamgarh in Kalahandi district and was then posted as the collector of Mayurbhanj district in 2005. Later, he was appointed as the collector of Ganjam in 2007. During his tenure in Ganjam, he came close to the chief minister who also hails from the district.
He was appointed secretary to Patnaik in 2011 and has ever since clung to the chief minister like his shadow. Widely perceived as the man wielding actual power behind the chief minister, the Tamil Nadu-born former IAS officer enjoys immense influence both in the government and the party. It is common knowledge that he guided BJD’s electoral campaigns in 2019 elections and also had a hand in the selection of party candidates. While Patnaik made it clear that Pandian was his blue-eyed boy, the latter took full control of government and BJD affairs.
A livewire, he played a significant role in strengthening the party with a huge cadre base. Organized functioning being his forte he ensured that BJD and its leaders remained in constant touch with the people and acted as the bridge between the government and the people.
Though mass contact programmes organised round the year in various constituencies people were made aware of the government’s welfare programmes. The party leadership also sought feedback from people on their MLAs and other popular representatives. The allotment of party tickets depended entirely on the performance of BJD leaders including the incumbent MLAs in different constituencies.
This ensured that the party was almost always in the election mode and better prepared than any of its rivals to go to the people. Even the performance of the ministers was assessed. This new style of functioning of the government and the party impressed the people who also appreciated Patnaik government’s drive to enhance transparency and efficiency in the functioning of various departments.
Pandian had a hand in everything. In 2019 the chief minister had given him the additional responsibility of the ‘5T secretary’ to implement some transformational initiatives in government departments. While 5T with its emphasis on transparency, teamwork and transformation is the new governance motto of the Patnaik regime, initiatives like Mo Sarkar, which connects people with the government, have been launched under its overarching vigil. Pandian oversaw its implementation and came up with results that impressed not only his boss and the BJD leadership but also people across the state.
Thus, before quitting the IAS to pave the way for his entry into the BJD Pandian had armed himself with vast experience of dealing with government officials as well as ordinary people in various parts of the state. He will find this experience quite handy as he begins a new innings under the banner of the state’s longest surviving regional party. And it is also certain that he will ensure that the party becomes stronger and even more successful in future.