On 16th October 2021
as Chief Minister of Odisha Naveen Patnaik became a seventy five year old man there was hardly any celebration of his birth day. The quiet dignity associated with his personality was reflected in his appeal to one and all not to celebrate his birth anniversary and instead remain engaged in humanitarian services for donating blood and addressing the sufferings of people. It was evocative of Mahatma Gandhi’s appeal in 1942 on the occasion of his birth anniversary : “There is no point in having birthday celebrations of any person without any definite end in view, otherwise they must be confined to just the innocent rejoicings of relatives and friends”.
75th anniversary of Naveen Patnaik’s birth day is more than part of the chronology of his life and work. It is an extraordinary moment representing his onward journey in public life of India and Odisha. It is a moment signifying his quality governance which has commanded respect, admiration and support of people across India. A few months back illustrious media personality, writer and commentator Harish Khare observed that a book should be written on Naveen Patnaik to explain his uninterrupted electoral success and excellence in providing quality governance for more than two decades even though he entered public life at the age of 50 without any experience in navigating the rough and tumble of politics.
On 75th birth anniversary of Naveen one is poignantly reminded that he assumed the office of Chief Minister of Odisha in the aftermath of the catastrophic consequences of super cyclone which also caused collapse of governance in the State. The natural disaster combined with disarray of administrative machinery of the political regime of that time in dealing with the crisis was a huge challenge for him. As he grappled with that monumental crisis and the more persistent problems of poverty, underdevelopment and acute issue of food insecurity, people in all walks of life were skeptical that his unfamiliarity with Odisha and its multiple challenges would put him in a highly disadvantageous position to handle the very arduous process of governance. Remaining Grounded with Sensitivities of a Writer
When he was first elected as an MP from Aska parliamentary constituency in 1997 after the sad demise of his father, Biju Patnaik, he was asked by Karan Thapar as to how he would face the challenges of politics given that he had no prior political experiences. He gave a profound reply. He said that he had an identity as a writer and asserted gently that writers have sensitivities to remain grounded to realities of life. Then he explained that because of that sensitivity he plunged into campaign in Aska parliamentary constituency like a duck taking into water. Spiritual Quest Through Politics
On his 75th birth anniversary Naveen’s affinity with politics is more than the calculus of electoral politics. In his own words when people are at the Centre of politics it becomes a spiritual journey. These words remind us of the the lofty vision and articulation of Gopal Krishna Gokhle who had imagined spiritualising politics and accordingly asked Gandhi to dedicate himself in pursuance of that highly challenging goal which is an illuminating reference point which no worthwhile leader engaged in public life can afford to lose sight of. Women At The Core
Last year Naveen Patnaik on the foundation day of his party, BJD, made a historic declaration that women of Odisha constituted its mainstay. It is hard to find a leader of at State or at national level making such a statement. His politics and governance drawing strength and support from women and in turn employing the public policies for their empowerment has become a bench mark redefining the very parameters of public discourse in India. Naveen appealed to the Union Government for inclusion of non-violence in the Preamble of the Constitution on the occasion of 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. It was Gandhi who had widened the meaning and scope of non-violence and understood it from the perspective of gender equality and empowerment of women. In fielding women candidates in thirty three percent of parliamentary constituencies of Odisha during 2019 general elections Naveen set a trend for the whole country for ensuring greater representation of women in legislatures. Handling Natural Disasters and COVID Pandemic
It is well documented that Naveen’s leadership has catapulted Odisha to global stage for a governance process saving precious lives during natural disasters which have become recurrent, severe and extreme because of global warming and climate change. In fact his step for enshrining non-violence in the preamble of the Constitution underlines the point highlighted by experts that as a normative principle non-violence along with other normative principles such as sustainability, justice and respect would help humanity to survive the century and face climate chaos. In this sense Naveen’s advocacy of non-violence is of planetary significance to deal with a crisis which has been generated by life style based on incessant multiplication of wants and desires. In the context of the fight against COVID pandemic the famous medical The Lancet acclaimed Odisha Government for repurposing its disaster management regime to deal with the the crisis threatening health, human and economic securities across the globe. Even the Supreme Court of India in its order permitting conduct of Ratha Yatra last year based on COVID protocol clearly stated that that permission was granted because of better management of crisis caused by Corona virus. His special attention to vulnerable tribes during the pandemic and his decision to allocate Rs. 5000 to each family of the vulnerable tribes constitutes a high point of his compassionate approach in dealing with the most susceptible people. Even he allocated a few lakhs of rupees for feeding stray animals in streets during the pandemic. Entitlements Assuming Centrality to Governance
We all know that food security ensured through public policy of Naveen Patnaik by providing rice practically at no cost to people and other public policies for farmers for augmenting their income are reflective of the resolve of Naveen Government’s to make entitlements of people central to governance. Advocating Cause of Hockey and Sports
Of late Odisha under the leadership of Naveen Patnaik got sudden importance and nation wide attention for the cause of reviving hockey, our national game. When both the Indian women and men’s hockey teams entered semi finals in Tokyo Olympics the whole country rejoiced and attributed the resurgence of hockey to Odisha Chief Minister’s decision to sponsor both the hockey teams right from 2018 onwards, enlist the support of national and international institutions to create enabling opportunities for taking forward the cause of hockey completely ignored because of excessive craze for cricket which, of late, has acquired unprecedented commercial dimensions. Inclusive Approach to All Languages of State
His governance centering around saving life during natural disasters, empowering women and ensuring their greater representation in politics and legislatures, giving equal importance to Koshali and tribal languages along with Odia language and above all for championing the cause of hockey and sports constitutes a much needed refreshing and constrictive trends in politics and public life for shaping the destiny of India in tune with the constitutional principles. Celebration of Naveen’s birth day in a quiet manner means celebrations of such governance model which is inclusive, life affirming and secular. Wish you a happy birth day Naveen Patnaik and many more years of health, happiness and productive life for the cause of Odisha and India.#The author served as Officer on Special Duty and Press Secretary to President of India late Shri K R Narayanan and had a tenure in Prime Minister’s Office and Joint Secretary in Rajya Sabha Secretariat. Views expressed in the article are in his personal capacity.