Critics of Odisha Chief Minister and Biju Janata Dal president Naveen Patnaik have often accused him of stifling democracy within the party and concentrating too much power in his hands. The truth, however, is just the opposite. A democrat at heart, Patnaik has not only given space to his party colleagues to grow but also encouraged and promoted the ones with merit. He has never hesitated in seeking suggestions from colleagues.
The latest example of Patnaik’s willingness to listen to all shades of opinions was his recent appeal to party colleagues to suggest ways to further strengthen the BJD ahead of its 24th foundation day on December 26. He made this request while chairing the BJD state council meeting via video conferencing on December 21. He also took the opportunity to renew his party’s commitment to serve the state and its people.
Patnaik’s colleagues will vouch for his democratic disposition. He has not only been extremely accessible but also amenable to good suggestions. At the same time, he has also been offering them advice from time to time. Soon after the results of the last elections were announced, the five-time Chief Minister instructed the newly elected MLAs of the party to shun ostentation and try their best to understand the problems of common people.
His focus has been on strengthening the BJD, which is already the most successful regional party in the history of the state. Even though his party has for long earned its reputation as an election winning machine, the Chief Minister never seems to get complacent or take things for granted. For him a party should constantly keep in touch with the people in order to remain vibrant and strong. He has always wanted the BJD to not only reflect but also fulfil the aspirations of the people of Odisha. That, he believes, is what a party with commitment to democratic values should do.
Being the leader of a regional party, Patnaik is keenly aware of his responsibility towards those he leads. Like his legendary father, Biju Patnaik, he has always invoked Odia pride to remind his people what they are capable of. He has himself set an example before them by ridding the state of poverty and pushing it into the front ranks of Indian states as far as investments in industries is concerned. He has also given Odias a lot to boast about by turning Bhubaneswar into the sports capital of India.
There was a time when Odisha made news only for droughts, starvation deaths and stories of child sale. Its other identity was that of the land of Lord Jagannath with Hindu devotees from other parts of the country making it synonymous with Puri. Patnaik has changed all that. Odisha is today known both at the national and international levels for its excellent governance, outstanding disaster management record, tremendous industrial development and big-ticket sporting events. Earlier, Odia pride used to be a vague concept – but Patnaik has given it an undeniably tangible identity.
And he did it all as a true-blue democrat.