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The elevation of Pranab Prakash Das as Organisational Secretary of the BJD stands out amidst Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s latest smart moves for his state and party

Siddhartha Tripathy

Well over two thousand years ago, Greek philosopher Heraclitus had observed, “The only thing that is constant is change.”

Over the past two decades, Odisha Chief Minister and Biju Janata Dal boss Naveen Patnaik seems to have defined as well as defied that proverbial truism.

Most political commentators agree that Naveen has remained a constant as the top leader of his party and the state not only because of his connect with the people of the state but also due to the necessary and timely changes he has ushered in throughout his rule – whether it be breaking up his party’s alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party in 2009, or sacking nearly 50 ministers during his past four terms on grounds of corruption or other contentious and controversial issues.

On the fifth day of this month – when the five-time Chief Minister completed 20 years in office even as the state government celebrated Panchayati Raj Day to commemorate the 104th birth anniversary of his legendary father and former Chief Minister Biju Patnaik – there was evidence aplenty to support that widely held notion.

“I am indebted to the people,” the Chief Minister said on the day, assuring that his government would continue its efforts to make Odisha stronger and more prosperous with their support.

On his part, Naveen declared that his government shall provide 20 lakh concrete houses (pucca houses) to the poor in the coming four years even as he launched the Pucca Ghar Jogyata Adhikar Card (Eligibility Guarantee Card for Concrete House).

Noting that the state government had already provided 25 lakh concrete houses to the people, he recalled that it was the dream of his father to have a proper roof over the head for every resident of the state.

However, this was not the biggest announcement from the Chief Minister that day.

The biggest one by far was the appointment of Jajpur MLA and former minister Pranab Prakash Das to the newly formed post of Organisational Secretary of the BJD. Pranab’s appointment was all the more significant because it also marked a change in the power structure of the 23-year-old party, which always had vice presidents and general secretaries but never had an organisational secretary akin to the BJP.

“He has worked very hard in the 2014 and 2019 elections besides the by-elections in the state during the period. He will oversee the overall work of the organisation,” Naveen announced before the media at the party headquarters in the state capital of Bhubaneswar, marking the first political appointment after his re-election last month as BJD president for the eighth consecutive time.

Forty-seven-year-old Pranab had already been made General-Secretary (Organisation) in November last year, which was clearly in recognition of his pivotal role in the past two general and assembly elections, along with the more recent Bijepur and Patkura bypolls. By that time, he was also widely viewed as the most influential politician in the BJD after Naveen, so much so that some political analysts had speculated about him becoming the acting president of the ruling party.

While that did not happen, now with his latest appointment the three-time MLA has officially become Naveen’s second-in-command within the party on organisational affairs.

Son of late Janata Dal leader Ashok Das, who was a close aide of Biju Patnaik but never joined the BJD, Pranab joined the ruling party in 2009 and climbed its rungs at a fast pace to become one of Naveen’s most trusted lieutenants within a matter of few years.

In 2014, after winning the assembly polls for the second time, he was made the Energy Minister – a post that he served until a mid-term reshuffle in 2017, when he and a few other popular BJD leaders resigned from Naveen’s Cabinet to focus more on the party’s affairs. Since then, Pranab dedicated himself to the BJD’s organisational matters and did not return as minister even after winning from his seat for the third time during the assembly polls last year.

Popularly known as Bobby within the BJD, Pranab had played a key role in keeping rebels and internecine fights in check during last year’s elections. And now, as the virtual No. 2 of the party, he will have a decisive say on the appointment of the party’s office-bearers and leaders of affiliated institutions.

His Twitter response to his latest appointment this month reflected that continued commitment. Stating that he was “grateful” to Naveen for entrusting him with such a big responsibility, Pranab reaffirmed his commitment “towards strengthening the party at the grassroots and working for uplifting our state and its people”.

Apart from Pranab’s appointment, the Chief Minister has taken plenty of other important steps that will continue to hold his party in good stead.

At the end of last month, his government approved three investment proposals, worth a total of Rs 6,923.26 crore, which have the potential to generate 4,638 jobs.

Under Naveen’s chairmanship, the 22nd High-Level Clearance Authority (HLCA) meeting approved the proposals of Thriveni Earthmovers Private Ltd (for establishment of a 30 MTPA beneficiation plant in two phases at Deojhar in Keonjhar district), Thriveni Earthmovers Private Ltd (for expansion of the pellet plant capacity of the 24 MTPA pellet plant in three phases at Bhitargarh city in Paradip) and Orissa Metaliks Private Limited (for setting up a 1.2 MTPA integrated steel plant with 225MW CPP at Nayagarh in Keonjhar district.

A week later, the Chief Minister launched 26 more industrial projects. Worth Rs 5,567 crore, these projects are expected to create more than 9,000 jobs in Odisha.

“Our state has seen unprecedented industrialization during the past 20 years. During this time, it has attracted as many as 130 large industries with a combined capital investment of more than Rs 3.3 lakh crore and employment opportunity for over 2.25 lakh persons,” said the Chief Minister.

Among these projects, the most notable ones involve Aditya Birla Renewable, which is setting up a solar power plant at Harabhanga, Boudh; Jindal Stainless Ltd’s expansion unit of cold Rolling Mill on metal and metal downstream, at Kalinganagar, Jajpur; and AKM Agro’s 30,000 TPA Vegetable Oil Manufacturing unit on food processing at Industrial Estate, Khurda.

On March 2, five more departments – water resources, cooperation, fisheries and animal resources, social security and empowerment of persons with disability, and textiles handloom – came under the ambit of the Naveen Patnaik administration’s ‘Mo Sarkar’ scheme.

Meant to provide service with dignity to people visiting government offices, the scheme makes it obligatory for those visiting such offices to have their mobile number registered, so that the government will be able to better monitor their interests.

During the launch of the inclusion of these departments, the Chief Minister once again urged government officers to respect the will of the people.

“People are the life force of a democratic system. Government is a reflection of the will of people which is constituted to meet their aspirations. It is, therefore, imperative that public servants uphold the dignity of the people whom they are supposed to serve and respect their will,” Naveen stated.

With this, a total of 22 departments have been brought under the ‘Mo Sarkar’ initiative.

Two days later, the state government added five more departments to the ‘Mo Sarkar’ initiative, taking the number of departments under the programme to 27.

The new departments are the School and Mass Education, Rural Development, Energy, Higher Education, and Science and Technology.

Speaking on the occasion, the Chief Minister reiterated his instructions to public servants.

“Our constitution starts with ‘We the People’. The people of this great nation have given us this Constitution, and given us the responsibility to run the government on behalf of them. We are ‘not them’, we are ‘on behalf of them’,” he said.

More recently, on March 8, Naveen declared that his government will set up a ‘Mission Shakti’ department aimed exclusively at the development of women.

“I would like to announce that Odisha will be the first state to have an exclusive department for the self-help groups. This will be … dedicated to all the women of Odisha,” the Chief Minister said while addressing an event on the occasion of International Women’s Day in Bhubaneswar.

Expressing happiness over his state leading the country in empowerment of women, the Chief Minister said: “70 lakh women are getting benefits under Mission Shakti and Mamata Scheme and 50 per cent reservation in Panchayati Raj has ushered in a new era for the socio-economic development of women. Women’s success in fields ranging from sports to entrepreneurship is extremely encouraging.”

Amidst the global coronavirus scare, Naveen has also left no stone unturned to ensure that the disease does not spread in Odisha.

Earlier this month, he directed the officials of all departments to take necessary steps to that effect. The Chief Secretary and district collectors were instructed to review the situation on a daily basis at the state and district level, respectively, even as a decision was taken to set up committees under their chairmanship that would be empowered to take all necessary measures.

Restrictions on foreign travels by ministers and state government officials were also imposed.

A statement from the Chief Minister’s Office instructed the Health Department to make emergency procurement of adequate numbers of N95 masks and Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) for health care personnel. It also mandated that buffer stocks of important drugs and surgical equipment be maintained to meet the requirement for nine months.

The Health Department was asked to ensure that all hospitals, including those in the private sector, set up isolation facilities and follow clinical protocols diligently.

The CMO statement directed that Revenue and Disaster Management Department and Home Department make sure that officials and staff assist health officials in contact tracing and enforcing home isolation as and when the need arises.

While Panchayati Raj and Drinking Water Department were instructed to conduct special Gram Panchayat and Panchayat Samiti meetings to raise awareness on COVID-19, panchayats were urged to keep village surroundings clean and manage waste disposal properly.

The Housing and Urban Development Department was tasked with the responsibility of ensuring that all ULBs maintain cleanliness with proper waste disposal, and hoardings and banners with related IEC content must be displayed at all prominent places and in places of congregation.

While Commerce and Transport Department was asked to strictly implement the sanitization of seats, handles and bars of all public transport vehicles on a daily basis, the School and Mass Education Department was told to issue advisory that floors, tables, desks, door handles and bars at the educational institutions must be disinfected every day.

The only major issue that opposition parties could find to attack the Naveen Patnaik administration was the one on the parking of Jagannath Temple’s Rs 592 crore deposit in the now beleaguered Yes Bank, which has now been placed by the Reserve Bank of India under the Central government’s moratorium due to serious deterioration in its financial position.

Senior Congress leader Suresh Routray called for clarification from the state government for its decision to keep the temple funds in a private bank instead of a nationalised bank.

“We will not tolerate such misutilisation of the property of Lord Jagannath. We will stage a state-wide agitation if the state government fails to take any step for the recovery of the temple funds at the earliest,” said the Congress leader.

Noting that keeping such a huge sum of money in a private bank was a mistake, senior servitor Binayak Das Mohapatra called for action against the person directly responsible for the situation.

“Those who deposited Jagannath Temple funds in Yes Bank without knowledge of the temple managing committee must have received huge kickbacks. It is unfortunate especially at a time when several private banks are getting bankrupt,” said Jagannath Sena convenor Priyadarsan Patnaik.

However, Odisha Law Minister Pratap Jena addressed those concerns by pointing out that the money was with the bank as fixed deposits and not in a savings account. “It had been decided in the Temple managing committee that the money will be transferred to a nationalised bank once the deposits mature later this month,” he said.

Besides, with the RBI also assuring the security of all deposits in Yes Bank, the matter has virtually become a non-issue.

Meanwhile, Naveen has remained busy as usual bringing in all changes necessary to continue improving on the good work he is doing for Odisha – thus ensuring that he remains a constant as its people’s ever-popular leader.

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