The Biju Janta Dal (BJD), which is seen as the dominant political power in Odisha, is in the midst of a crisis. The crisis, it is learnt, has been triggered by disenchanted party leaders owing to the overbearing nature of a bureaucrat, V Karthikeyan Pandian, a 2000-batch IAS officer hailing from Tamil Nadu. He has been Private Secretary to Chief Minister Patnaik since 2011. He had served as the Collector of Ganjam, the Patnaik’s home district before joining the secretariat as Private Secretary to the Chief Minister. The bureaucrat is nowadays touted as the ‘Super CM’ for his extraordinary authority. Referred to with fear as the ‘third floor’ (his office is on the third floor of the State Secretariat), Pandian is held in awe not only by the fellow bureaucrats but even by cabinet ministers. According to news reports, cabinet ministers line up outside his office to interact with him. Even party leaders try their best to make a good impression upon him and even top bureaucrats take instructions from the politically influential bureaucrat.
It is unfortunate how a bureaucrat is able to impose his will upon elected leaders. Given the state of affairs in Odisha, it is clear that Pandian enjoys great proximity with Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik. Even though several of the party leaders tried to put up a spirited fight against Pandian, they faced stern action in face of his rising political clout. Naveen Patnaik holds him in high regard as his closest confidante and does not hesitate for a moment to sacrifice his party men in order to protect Pandian. The rift came out in the open when Jay Panda, Member of Parliament from Kendrapara constituency was suspended from the BJD on the premise of anti-party activity. The fact remains that Jay Panda was dismissed only after he voiced his concerns against the growing authority of Pandian. He had led the charge against the powerful bureaucrat and had vociferously objected to Pandian taking charge of party matters and the state administration. Jay Panda has been a party stalwart and has been associated with BJD ever since its formation in 1977. The fact that Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik went ahead with the suspension of Jay Panda when he went up in arms against the overwhelming bureaucrat best exemplifies the state of affairs in Odisha. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, who is already seen by political observers as a reluctant party leader and administrator is over-dependent on Pandian. It seems that he has completely delegated party and administrative powers to the overbearing bureaucrat while he is himself busy wooing the voters with the aid of private charm and populist schemes.
The indications of an inevitable split in the BJD have not been triggered by the face-off between Jay Panda and Pandian but also by the loud hints dropped by other party leaders. They have been indirectly accusing Pandian of indulging in party activities and wielding authority upon the democratically elected leaders.
A lone woman detained for wanting to protest outside the home of Pandian, yet police doing nothing to control mob of violent protestors who have surrounded a company employees' colony in S.Odisha, with hundreds of families, women & children now trapped for 4 days!
(chk TL below) https://t.co/7smBnIMp81
— Baijayant Jay Panda (@PandaJay) April 26, 2018
True. I'm ready to face any political opposition, but violent non-local protestors confining women & children inside their housing complex (today is the 5th day!), with police & district administration refusing to intervene. It's sickening. & tragic that national media ignores… https://t.co/2hV7nOD9OI
— Baijayant Jay Panda (@PandaJay) April 27, 2018
The fact that anyone who dares to speak up against the overwhelming administrative authority and party influence exercised by Pandian is punished by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik is corroborated by the recent violence at Indian Metals & Ferro Alloys Ltd (IMFA) plant at Therubali in Rayagada. Several families have been taken hostage in the violent protests; however, the government has remained silent in face of protests. Innocent families have therefore become a victim of political witch-hunting. While the police had arrested a woman attempting to stage dharna in front of the official residence of Chief Minister’s private secretary, V Karthikeyan Pandian has refused to act in a dire situation. Meanwhile, the district tribal union has condemned the violent protests and has claimed that the protests were orchestrated by the ruling party. This further reinforces the allegations made by BJP leader Jayaram Pangi that the protests are a handiwork of the “third floor” (Pandian). Inaction on the part of the government to rescue hundreds of women and children confined in the employees’ colony by the violent protestors hints at tacit support by the government to the protestors.
Another 'third floor' critic.
How many more will speak up? https://t.co/IYDkXiEfpc
— Pratyasha Rath (@pratyasharath) April 27, 2018
Odisha Chief Minister Patnaik’s working style of leaving administrative matters to bureaucrats is no longer a secret. Political observers have hinted in the past that he is not interested in nitty-gritties of administration and party work and shows over-dependence on bureaucrats. This had once led to the emergence of a retired bureaucrat, Mohapatra as a political heavyweight. However, this time around, a serving bureaucrat has been given the leeway of interfering in party matters and even challenging democratically elected leaders. The fact that Jay Panda, being one of top BJD leader, has been ousted to protect Pandian shows that Patnaik is not able to prioritise correctly due to his over-dependence on the bureaucrat. This is destined to give rise to an irreparable split in the BJD. It might just be a bonus opening for the BJP with its shrewd national president Amit Shah in place, who will not miss out on such an opportunity to pave BJP’s way to power in the eastern state.
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