Absence of anti incumbency is the distinguishing aspect of Naveen Patnaik’s tenure as Chief Minister of Odisha consecutively for four terms. It is rare in Indian politics and public life to see a chief minister enjoying such popular mandate for nearly two decades and exuding confidence to get elected for a record fifth term with a huge majority. No wonder that Shri Patnaik while receiving the award of Ideal Chief Minister in India from the former President of our Republic Shrimati Pratibha Patil in Pune in January 2018 had prophetically said that when people are at the core of politics there would not be any anti incumbency. Profound and prophetic words indeed.Pro people policies created pro incumbency for Naveen Patnaik
As the 2019 elections for the State Assembly and Parliament got over on 29th April one gets an unmistakable impression that he is staunchly defying anti incumbency and is all set to be sworn in as Chief Minister in a ceremony to which he would humbly invite Prime Minister Modi who in his campaign speech in Kendrapara on 23rd April had said that people of the State would contemptuously bid farewell to Shri Patnaik and inflict humiliation on him. It was unbecoming of a Prime Minister to have made such graceless remarks which in fact offends people of the State so authentically represented by Shri Patnaik. His leadership receiving laurels in a stunning manner over a long spell of almost twenty years is free from scams, failures and grave shortcomings which normally merits serious interrogations and exposures shaking up the political regimes and delegitimizing their rules. Common people and women are the source of pro incumbency
It is often said that in politics perception is truth. In case of Naveen Patnaik the perception among people is that he has been a rare breed of a leader who speaks less and works more and whose performance is more expressive and eloquent than his written or spoken words or even unspoken articulations . This perception of people based on facts and lived in experience on a day today basis is wholly true and is evidenced in the wide spectrum activities undertaken by his Government during the eventful tenure of twenty years. In implementing welfare policies for ensuring food, human and health security to vast masses of ordinary people and ensuring massive mobilization of women through a well conceived policy of Mission Shakti which created more than half a million of self help groups and enlisted seven million women in them, the leadership of Shri Naveen Patnaik has created a bulwark of strength on an enduring basis. It is an idea, a movement and a revolutionary action of far reaching significance engineering social transformation and change and enhancing capability of people. What one sees in the practical implementation of these policies of Chief Minister Shri Patnaik is the exemplification of capability approach of professor Amartya Sen who enunciated that public policies in a democracy should be framed for enhancing capabilities of people and fulfillment of their legitimate entitlements. Shri Patnaik’s leadership in this respect is indeed note worthy. Apart from providing effective governance on a day to day basis he has set global standards in successfully managing disasters, both man made and natural. Such many splendoured activities undertaken on a recurring basis generated a momentum of pro incumbency beyond the comprehension of psephologists and analysts of Indian politics and democracy. Odisha, the Cinderella of Modern India getting transformed by effective governance
Let us understand the effective governance of Shri Naveen Patnaik in meeting the challenges posed by storms, cyclones and other natural calamities often causing havoc in Odisha and resulting in huge loss of life and property. During freedom struggle Mahatma Gandhi deeply reflected on recurrent natural disasters hitting the State and described Odisha as “the land of tears and sorrows”. That was in late 1920s.
The Justice H R Khanna Commission of Enquiry set up to go into charges against some leaders of Odisha had observed in its report that the State has been treated as the cinderella of modern India. It means that the State hardly received legitimate attention and care at the hands of the successive Union Governments. The way the present central Government headed by Prime Minister Modi is treating Odisha reinforces the point that it is still being treated as the proverbial Cinderella. Let us take the issue of special status for Odisha. The BJP in its 2014 manifesto declared that it would accord Odisha the status of a special State. The party formed Government at the Centre in 2014 under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi. In spite of enjoying a clear majority in the Lok Sabha after almost three decades and receiving massive mandate, it failed to implement its avowed declaration and promise that it would ensure special status for Odisha. The State of Odisha of twenty first century was condemned to be the Cinderella of modern India. More than Elections Effective Governance is important for running the machinery of State and dealing with natural disasters
Odisha “the land of tears and sorrows” and the Cinderella of modern India was yearning for a leader to shape its destiny and harness its potentiality. A leader with quiet dignity marked by grace and decency was the need of the hour. It was Shri Naveen Patnaik who provided that leadership which has transformed the State in a major way. Focusing attention more on performance than on proclamations he is spearheading the State and enhancing its stature and standing on a continuing basis. His selection as the Ideal Chief Minister Validated the bench mark of excellence he has set at the national and global level.
The tears and sorrows of people of the State endlessly flowing because of intensity and frequency of natural disasters made its people objects of pity and it was woefully evident in 1999 when super cyclone hit the State and there was complete collapse of political leadership and governance in dealing with and managing it. It was in the backdrop of that utter and dismal failure that people reposed faith on Shri Naveen Patnaik when they elected him and gave their mandate to provide leadership to the State and ensure effective governance.
Since 1999 the State of Odisha under his stewardship has received attention and admiration for giving an architecture of state craft marked by efficiency, effectiveness, transparency and result oriented action. In fact the minimum human casualties and loss of property in Odisha during natural disasters has set a new bench mark of excellence in employing government machinery for dealing with calamities. The United Nations has acknowledged that the role played by Odisha under the leadership of Shri Naveen Patnaik in successfully handling natural disasters deserves replication at the global level. It testifies to the high quality leadership of Shri Naveen Patnaik as Chief Minister of the State. It is sad that when Philing, Hud Hud and other natural disasters struck the State neither Prime Minister nor any of the top leaders from the Centre visited it.
The deep anguish expressed by the Chief Minister Shri Naveen Patnaik during 2019 election campaign that Prime Minister Modi and other leaders of national stature did not bother to visit Odisha when it confronted natural calamities and only paid frequent visits for campaigning in elections is a sad reflection on the kind politics of neglect pursued by them. People across the State are deeply aware of these facts. Their perception that the leadership of Modi and NDA Government willfully neglected the State and inflicted discrimination on it is deeply embedded in their psyche. Such discriminatory treatment of Odisha by the Modi Government is shaping their consciousness and understanding about the role played by Prime Minister in completely overlooking and dismissing the legitimate demands of the people.
It is worthwhile to again quote Shri Patnaik’s memorable words while receiving the award of ideal Chief Minister. He said, “...election is not important, but change and transformation is important. If you love your people, you don't fight for elections, you fight for change and transformation.“ Wise and profound words indeed.
The change and transformation of Odisha which his numerous programmes and policies have ensured remain at the root of pro incumbency resulting in massive mandate in favor of Shri Patnaik’s leadership. Therefore, after the completion of the third phase of elections in Odisha on 23rd April Shri Patnaik made a bold declaration that his party, BJD, has got majority to yet again form the Government in the State and whatever more seats he would get beyond majority mark after completion of the fourth phase of elections would be a huge bonus. Such supreme confidence expressed by Shri Patnaik that he has won elections in the third phase itself speaks volumes for his faith and love for people. It reaffirms his own aforementioned statement that “If you love your people, you don't fight for elections, you fight for change and transformation.’’ In fact the victory for Shri Patnaik and BJD in the hustings would constitute a victory for change and transformation for the whole nation confronting majoritarianism, calculated polarization of society and hyper nationalism at the behest of Prime Minister Modi and top leadership of BJP and its affiliates with a view to side lining and marginalizing basic issues of people. Contrasting Leadership of Naveen and Modi
The country is witnessing contrasting types of leadership - one represented by Shri Patnaik who with quiet dignity interprets election from the perspective of love for the people to herald the processes of change and development and take them forward and the other represented by Prime Minister Modi who delivers high decibel speeches devoid of substance and grey matter centring around basic issues of people. The second kind of leadership exemplified by Shri Modi stresses on promises without performances, ostensibly avowed commitment to the Constitution with actual and willful avoidance of constitutional morality and complete dilution of development agenda by employing venomous communal approach designed to divide and misrule. Shri Modi mentioning jobs only on seven occasions in election speeches while mentioning Pakistan more than hundred times, muscular nationalism more than fifty times and Chowkidar narrative umpteen number of times, is indicative of his non-existent agenda of transformation and change. This means people are not at the core of his politics. Therefore, for him election is not a matter concerning people but a method of winning it by dividing people based on religion and diverting attention from their issues.
When our first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was unfurling national flag in Lal Qila on 15th August 1947 to mark our independence from British rule Mahatma Gandhi was in Noakhali healing the wounds of people badly devastated by communal conflagration following the partition of India. Referring to the two examples of leadership - Nehru unfurling national flag in Lal Qila and Gandhi giving human touch to the suffering people who became victims of communal riots in Noakhali- the then nominated Member of Rajya Sabha Shri Prithiviraj Kapoor said on the floor of the House in 1952 that India needed leadership of the second type. Later Dr Abdul Kalam, the then President of India, reinforced the idea of leadership for India of twenty first century by invoking the example of Gandhi’s role in Noakhali in 1947.
It is fascinating to note that Shri Naveen Patnaik echoed the same message while receiving the award of ideal Chief Minister. He said, “If you work for the people, you will continue to live in the hearts of people like Mahatma Gandhi and Biju Babu. If you keep people at the forefront, it is not a political journey, it is a spiritual experience”. This wider meaning of politics in terms of people centred approach invested with spirituality and is much above crude power game is of paramount significance for twenty first century India. This 2019 election and the clear possibility of huge victory for Naveen Patnaik augurs well for turning a new leaf in the book of politics in India. It is an affirmation of pro incumbency based on love for people and for social change and transformation.
- 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.The views expressed by the writer are in his own capacity.