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Naveen Patnaik under Pandian’s control? BJP again questions Odisha’s ‘proxy CM rule’ as viral video shows BJD’s weakening leadership

CM Patnaik has been rejecting speculations about his declining health stating that he is in “very good health”, despite his increasing absence and several videos of his trembling hands coming into the public domain. In the meanwhile, the opposition has been sharping their attack on the issue of Odia Asmita and the alleged 'power grab' by Pandian. 

On Tuesday (28th May), a short video clip of Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik addressing an election rally went viral on social media. In the viral video, his alleged proxy, former IAS officer and now BJD leader VK Pandian, is seen grabbing his trembling hands to hide them from the public.

According to media reports, 77-year-old Naveen Patnaik’s hands have been trembling for at least five years, and it has been an open secret in the state. However, Pandian’s gesture to conceal his trembling hands prompted the BJP to attack the ruling party. Pandian, as usual, was holding the mike and effectively watching the CM speak with careful observation, much like a concerned parent watching the rehearsed performance of their child.

According to the BJP, the video is a symbolic representation of how Pandian has grabbed control of Odisha and is running the state government as Patnaik’s proxy.   

In the run-up to the elections, the BJP has made Naveen Patnaik’s alleged physical weakness and his dependency on Pandian a political issue. Party leaders have been going vocal about it, drawing the attention of voters as to how the “Tamil proxy CM is controlling the old CM of Odisha.”

Sharing the video, BJP asserted that the Chief Minister is under the control of Tamil-born bureaucrat turned BJD leader, Pandian.    

Taking to X, BJP leader and Assam CM, Himanta Biswa Sarma who has been campaigning for the party in the state, said that VK Pandian is even controlling the hand movements of Odisha CM.  

He wrote, “This is a deeply distressing video. Shri VK Pandian ji is even controlling the hand movements of Shri Naveen Babu. I shudder to imagine the level of control a retired ex bureaucrat from Tamil Nadu is currently exercising over the future of Odisha! BJP is determined is give back the reins of Odisha to the people of the State.”

Sarma has been attacking the BJD government, asserting that Pandian is dictating to the CM what to say in his election rallies. 

Likewise, BJP leader and Social media head, Amit Malviya tweeted, “It is however unfortunate how he is being pushed to keep up a facade. Odisha realises it. A graceful farewell to the veteran politician and BJD, in these elections, would be a befitting tribute.”

BJP trains guns at BJD, charges it of running a “Proxy government”

The principal opposition party, BJP has been launching a scathing attack on the ruling BJD over the issue of Odia pride highlighting that a Tamil-born bureaurcrat turned politician has assumed power without accountability. 

Earlier this month, on 18th May, Union minister and BJP candidate for Sambalpur Lok Sabha seat, Dharmendra Pradhan, criticised CM Patnaik and accused him of operating a proxy government, similar to the British era, which is unacceptable in a democratic setup.

In his election rallies, Union Home Minister Amit Shah has been reiterating that “Tamil babu is running the Naveen Babu government from backdoor” adding that BJP wants to restore Odia pride and would make an Odia leader the Chief Minister of the state.

Addressing a rally in Odisha’s Jajpur, Shah lambasted Pandian (refering him to as Tamil babu) for stopping Odia people from celebrating ‘Ram Mahotsav’. Slamming the ‘political heir’ of Odisha CM, Shah asserted, “Can a person from Tamil Nadu be the Chief Minister of Odisha? Narendra Modi will give you an Odia-speaking young CM who is a resident of Odisha.”

Furthermore, several state BJP leaders had also alleged that Pandian has held CM “hostage“.  

On 28th May, Madhya Pradesh Minister and BJP leader Vishwas Sarang took a jibe at the CM of the state and said, “Naveen Patnaik is working as the shadow CM of the state, with VK Pandian being the actual leader. He didn’t even think about Odisha, its people and the Odia language. The people of Odisha will not accept someone from Tamil Nadu as their Chief Minister.”

It is pertinent to note that BJD, which has been in power in the state since 2000, has been facing mounting criticism over the allegation that Pandian has been acting as the “de-facto” Chief Minister of the state. According to the BJP, Pandian is running a proxy government, which is in violation of the democratic setup, as the Chief Minister, like all legislators, is accountable to the assembly (Parliament in case of MPs), whereas his proxy remains unaccountable. 

Apart from allegations of grabbing power from the backdoor, BJP had also filed a complaint against Pandian’s wife Sujata Rout Karthikeyan earlier this month.  

In its complaint, BJP accused her of “abusing her position of authority and public office” and “acting as a BJD agent”. Later, on 2nd May, the Election Commission of India (ECI) transfered her to a non-public dealing department. Prior to the action, she was the Mission Shakti department commissioner-secretary.  

ECI sources noted that the action was carried out in response to a complaint that the officer had abused her position of authority and public office. BJP had accused her of exploiting her position to sway voters in favour of the BJD by exploiting the Systematic Voters’ Education and Electoral Participation (SVEEP) program. She was “actively” acting as an agent of the state’s ruling BJD, according to a plea filed with the Election Commission by the BJP.

VK Pandian – Political heir and de-facto/proxy CM?

BJP’s poll plank on restoring Odia pride stems from the fact that VK Pandian is positioning himself as the political heir of Naveen Patnaik. While Pandian is not contesting the elections, he is the chairman of ‘5T’ and the Nabin Odisha programs, apart from being the close associate of Odisha CM Patnaik. 5T is an Odisha government initiative by CM Patnaik to bring in 5Ts (transparency, transformation, teamwork, technology, and time management) across govt bodies.

Last year in October, VK Pandian took voluntary retirement from the civil services and was immediately given a cabinet minister equivalent in the Odisha government. He has been the de facto ‘right-hand’ man of CM Naveen Patnaik for over a decade. He was an Odisha cadre IAS officer from the 2000 batch who hails originally from Tamil Nadu. 

In 2011, Pandian was appointed as the Private Secretary of CM Naveen Patnaik. Though he was said to be very close to the CM and was widely seen as his ‘right hand’ man, Pandian rose to prominence in Odisha’s political and executive scenario after 2019, when he was appointed as the ‘5T secretary’. 

Pandian’s increasing influence and power projection in Odisha politics was raising many eyebrows as Opposition leaders questioned how a serving IAS officer could be projected as the CM’s envoy and ‘replacement’, flying around in helicopters and being welcomed with garlands and flowers by the public and party leaders wherever he goes. Many opposition leaders had challenged Pandian to quit his job and join active politics.

Pandian, who became the “face” of the Naveen Patnaik government, openly declared in public meetings that he was there to meet people on behalf of CM Patnaik. CM Patnaik, who is 77, is not very physically active and does not step out of the CM residence very often. With his continuous absence, questions and speculations have been lingering around his health prompting the BJP to assert that the Chief Minister is not seeking a fresh mandate for his government but rather for his Tamil-born successor Pandian. 

CM Patnaik has been rejecting speculations about his declining health stating that he is in “very good health”, despite his increasing absence and several videos of his trembling hands coming into the public domain. In the meanwhile, the opposition has been sharping their attack on the issue of Odia Asmita and the alleged ‘power grab’ by Pandian. 

In multiple statements and videos, Patnaik (and Pandian) have rejected the ‘rumours’ of the former’s ill health and have insisted that the Odisha CM is alright, both physically and mentally. Even today, after the viral video saw reactions by Assam CM Sarma, Naveen Patnaik posted on social media expressing concerns about the damages in Assam due to cyclone Remal. He assured Assam of Odisha’s all possible support and assistance in the wake of the natural calamity.

Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik on X

Nonetheless, politicians worldwide have been excelling in the trait of deflecting concerns about their perceived or visible ailments while being in active politics – barring the stellar example of Japan’s PM Shinzo Abe, who resigned over health concerns – with health issues often catching up with them once they face legal troubles.

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Paurush Gupta
Paurush Gupta
Proud Bhartiya, Hindu, Karma believer. Accidental Journalist who loves to read and write. Keen observer of National Politics and Geopolitics. Cinephile.

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