Rest of India has marveled at Shri Naveen Patnaik’s political resilience defying anti incumbency for two decades and creating an enviable place in the hearts of people in spite of his political adversaries trying to manufacture public opinion against him. It is rare to find in Indian politics and public life a leader who is so much adored by people for such a long spell.
As a student of politics and political regimes in India one is educated to find a combination of factors which sustains the image of Shri Naveen Patnaik as a protagonist and champion of what professor Joseph Nye Jr of Harvard University calls “soft power”. While we know about hard power which is based on force, coercion, imposition, compulsion and domination, soft power is based on persuasion and attraction.
In twenty first century India the whole notion of power is getting relooked at and increasingly the preponderance of its coercive aspects is being interrogated by invoking its softer dimensions. Some one who persuades and attracts people based on attributes of personality and character is a source of soft power. In this sense Naveen Patnaik can be assessed in terms of a protagonist of soft power. He has never used harsh words against his opponents some of whom crossed all limits to attack him in a highly disparaging manner. Such attribute of Naveen Patnaik not to join issues with those who use derogatory and indecent language against him has endeared him to people beyond measure.
His approach to politics was brilliantly articulated by him when he said that when people and their welfare remain central to it then it goes beyond political realm and takes one on a spiritual journey. Such understanding and assessment of politics in terms of spiritual dimensions is refreshing and reminds one of a statement of Mahatma Gandhi who said in a prayer meeting in Delhi at the time of independence that democracy meant the welfare of people.
Scores of welfare measures he has taken including provision of one rupee a kilo rice to poor and underprivileged to ensure food security to them is reflective of his pro people centered politics. The way in which Shri Naveen Patnaik has been involving women in larger arena of public life across the State during the last two decades constitutes a defining feature of his public engagement and reasoning. It also makes one recall the line from Human Development Report of 1995 that “if development is not engendered it would be endangered”.
His declaration that one third of 21 seats for Lok Sabha seats of the State would be given to women candidates of BJD and his implementation of that decision made him the first chief minister in the history of Republic of India to have provided leadership in trying to bring a critical mass of women to apex body of our legislature. It set a national narrative and it was evident from the pronouncement of Mamata Banerjee that in Bengal her party Trinamool Congress would allocate 40 percent of seats for women. Later it was followed by Shri Rahul Gandhi’s announcement that 33 per cent seats in Government jobs would be reserved for women.
What Naveen did in allocating one third of seats to BJD women candidates in Odisha flowed from a policy of harnessing women’s power at grass roots level through his Mission Shakti which has created self help groups of women numbering around 7 million which is absolutely huge in terms of number and magnitude. In fact one of the members of the self help group Shrimati Pramila Bisoyi is now fielded as a candidate from Aska parliamentary constituency. She hails from a humble background with dignity and poise of a lady whose life is marked by struggle, strife and resolve to fight all odds in face of insurmountable hardships and challenges. The trials and tribulations she faced in her life have given her depth of exposure and consciousness unmatched by even the so called educated persons who boast of their numerous accomplishments. Her candidature for a Lok Sabha seat is indicative of centrality of common people in politics.
It was a great experience joining the campaign trail of Pramila Bisoyi in Aska parliamentary constituency during 15th and 16th April. I got the precious opportunities of speaking in Sahapur village and Beguniapada in her presence and people were kind to me for what I spoke. I said that when our Constitution was being drafted Mahatma Gandhi wanted an ordinary woman to be the first President of India. He said that it would not be necessary for such a lady to have the ability to communicate in English or any other language and it would be enough if she would be good in her own mother tongue. He then added that the advisors of such a simple and humble lady occupying the post of President of India should be Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Home Minister Sardar Ballavbhai Patel. If according to Gandhi a humble lady should have been the first President of India without knowing English or Hindi then why should not Pramila Bisoyi, a similarly situated personality, be a Member of Parliament in twenty first century India? She is eminently worthy of occupying the seat of a legislator in the Parliament of India. Her ability to speak in Odia would enable her to communicate in Parliament in that language which finds a place in the Constitution of India and which has been declared a classical language of our country. We all Odias are proud of the classical status conferred on our language. We should feel mighty proud that Shrimati Pramila Bisoyi would use our classical language in the Lok Sabha where there are facilities for simultaneous interpretation.
What I noticed in the campaign trail in Aska constituency is incredible presence of thousands of women in each meeting. In Khalikote meeting of women organized on 15th April there were twenty five thousand ladies all from self help groups. Next day in Beguniapada there were twelve thousand women and it was followed by a meeting in Buguda where three thousand women attended. Such massive and huge attendance of ordinary women was witnessed not because Chief Minister was there or any other Minister or influential MP graced the events. Presence of large number of women was all the more striking in the absence of a major leader except the district President of BJD Shri Pradip Panigrahi who masterfully communicated with the rural ladies by using phrases and idioms which are part of their folklore. Such sea of women in meetings was historic and unprecedented. It made me realise the real power of the Govt of Odisha and Chief Minister Shri Naveen Patnaik. The source of such power is women particularly the underprivileged women. It is the soft power of Naveen Patnaik. Such soft power is central to politics of reasoning which unfortunately is lost sight of and muscular approach is adopted by those who have developed the fine art of polarisation and division based on religion, fake news and hyper nationalism.
The soft power of Naveen Patnaik is enduring and none, howsoever muscular one may be, can dismantle it. It is the enduring basis of nationalism which has a balanced gender dimension and which is creative, constructive and inclusive. Such huge reservoir of power remains untapped in large parts of India and Naveen Patnaik's example can be a role model to harness women's power which Mahatma Gandhi described in 1947 as a hidden ancestral asset the discovery of which would cause joy among those who find and use it. He then very appropriately added that "Similarly women’s marvellous power is lying dormant. If the women of Asia wake up, they will dazzle the world."
Today women of Aska constituency and Odisha have woken up because of Naveen Patnaik. It is good not only for Odisha but whole of India which would dazzle and we will realize the worth of shining India wholly and in a substantial measure.
Mahatma Gandhi had said that if women of Asia would unite they would kick the atom bomb like a mere ball. The massive mobilization of women in Odisha is nothing but a discovery of hidden treasure and true manifestation of non-violence which Shri Naveen Patnaik suggested to incorporate in the Preamble of our Constitution when the country is celebrating one hundred fiftieth birth anniversary of the father of our nation. Through massive mobilization of women a silent revolution has been ushered in to harness soft power for making politics more constructive, positive, creative and persuasive. The leadership of Shri Patnaik in using women’s power is in tune with the adage “Democracy minus women is no democracy”.
In joining the campaign trail in Aska I found that the voters of Aska constituency would create history by electing a humble lady like Pramila Bisoyi. It would mean that Aska constituency would open a new leaf in the book of nation building and national reconstruction by electing lady, a woman of earth earthy, who has sprung from dusty village streets. It would be an important step to neutralize the overwhelmingly masculine dimension of politics and public life by restoring its much neglected feminine attributes.
- The author served as Officer on Special Duty and Press Secretary to President of India late Shri K R Narayanan and had a tenure as Director in Prime Minister’s Office and Joint Secretary in Rajya Sabha Secretariat