Did you, like me, get the impression while watching the incident in Satyabadi on TV yesterday that the target of the ‘ink attack’ was enjoying every moment of its aftermath? Did you, like me, wonder why he was smiling (‘beaming’ would be more like it) and shaking hands with the people in the crowd and accepting their greetings instead of looking grim, shaken and distraught, as expected? Or why he was making no effort to wash his face smeared with ink or change his ink-splattered shirt immediately after the incident?
Well, here is my two-penny worth answer to the questions posed above. Mr. VK Pandian was smiling because he was convinced after the incident that his transition as a politician is now well and truly complete. Though he has been playing a covertly political role for years now, it is only in the recent past that he has shed all bureaucratic pretensions and inhibitions and come out into the open. The ink attack, as much as a woman caringly wiping the ink off his face with her pallu after the incident, was just the public endorsement he has been seeking with his whirlwind, high-profile visits to all parts of the state over the last few months to play an unabashedly political role ahead of the next elections. And that was why the ink thrown by Bhaskar Sahu cockled his heart and caused the smile instead of disturbing him!
What followed after the incident lends further credence to this analysis by yours truly that might appear rather fanciful at first sight. The police that had slapped Sec 307 (attempt to murder) charges on a bunch of Youth Congress activists who had dared to throw eggs on the Chief Minister’s cavalcade a few years ago – none of which hit the CM’s vehicle, by the way – set the accused, Bhaskar Sahu, free, apparently on the instructions of Mr. Pandian, instead of booking him under stringent sections of the IPC and Cr PC. In asking the police to let go of the accused, the private secretary to Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik was merely emulating his boss, who had asked the police to drop all charges against a woman who had hurled eggs at him at a public meeting in 2018, in a similar act of ‘magnanimity’. Clearly, there are times when it is expedient not to allow the law ‘to take its own course’ when there are political brownie points to be earned. What better way to prove that the power behind the throne has a heart of pure gold like the rightful owner of the throne? As image making exercises go, even the best PR agency in the world could not have done better!
The million-dollar question at this point is: having won his spurs, as it were, will Mr. Pandian now position himself as the political successor to Naveen Patnaik? Or keep playing second fiddle while ensuring that the boss wins a sixth successive term as Chief Minister? There are tale-tell signs that he is preparing for a bigger political role than just being the Chief Minister’s private secretary – or even the all-powerful 5T secretary. Nothing proves that he is bracing for an overtly political role better than his extensive tour of the state during which he has been treated not as the ‘King’s Minister’ but as the ‘King’ himself – not just by the BJD party organization but also by the local administration. When questions were raised about his right to listen to people’s grievances, review projects and sanction funds, he managed to wangle an audio message out of the Chief Minister making it abundantly clear to the people that he was indeed visiting places and meeting them on his instructions. The biggest pointer to his political importance came during Amit Shah’s recent visit to the state when the Home minister – and the No. 2 in the Modi government – had a personal tete-e-tat with Mr. Pandian much to the chagrin of the state BJP leadership, which had filed a petition against the PS to CM for allegedly violating the All India Services Conduct Rules before the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT).
Though most people are of the view that the BJD supremo is all set to hand over the baton to his trusted lieutenant, this columnist finds it hard to believe that Mr. Pandian would ever occupy the hot seat while his boss watches from the sidelines. There are two basic grounds for the skepticism. First, Mr. Pandian is too smart an operator not to understand that he derives all his power from his boss. Second, party leaders, who are genuflecting before him now because they know he has the blessings of the Boss, will be out with their knives the moment Naveen is not around. In any case, why would he risk fighting a no-holds-barred with party leaders when the present arrangement, where he enjoys all the power without being accountable for its exercise, suits him just fine?
As for the Boss himself, he has not given any indication in the 23 years that he has been CM that he is the sort of person who would quietly walk into the sunset after handing over the baton to someone. If anything, he has given every indication that he wants to go to the grave while he is in office. If he does feel that his health would not allow him to endure the rigours of being Chief Minister for another five years, he would anoint a successor – in all likelihood from the family – while playing mentor. Or die intestate, leaving it for the party and the people to elect a new leader, as he has often stressed. Either way, Mr. Pandian is unlikely to get a shot at being Chief Minister.
But even if he is not aiming for the Boss’s chair, Mr. Pandian should resign from service and continue doing what he is doing – to uphold the sanctity and maintain the dignity and integrity of the civil services to which he belongs.
(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)