V K Pandian: Can He Make The Big Transition?

Bhubaneswar: Politics in Odisha just got more interesting. Yes, as people engaged in Dussehra festivities with a slight nip in the air the politicosphere in the eastern state turned warmer with stakeholders confabulating about the impact V Kartikeya Pandian’s decision to take voluntary retirement from IAS, and possible entry into public life, would have on the twin elections scheduled in April 2024. What’s next? has seemingly become the Big Question.


While it is no secret that Pandian, an Odisha-cadre IAS officer of 2000 batch, has been very powerful in the Naveen Patnaik dispensation especially since 2019 when he was made Secretary to Chief Minister (Transformation and Initiatives), popularly called 5T Secretary, the fact that the Odisha and the central governments okayed his VRS
application within two working days, waived the notice period and the state General Administration department notified his appointment as ‘Chairman of 5T (Transformational Initiatives) and Nabin Odisha’ with Cabinet rank within hours of his retirement speak volumes about the man’s plans and influence.

More than what he has achieved in his 23 years as a bureaucrat, especially his emergence as perhaps the most powerful babu Odisha has ever seen, his alleged behind-the-scenes moves to help propel Biju Janata Dal (BJD) win elections by being CM Naveen Patnaik’s go-to person would remain a topic of discussion for years to come. What might generate even more curiosity and controversy would be his ‘acceptance’ or ‘rejection’ by the public as he switches gears with a perceived ambition to attain a position no former officer in Odisha’s history has accomplished.

There are several views on how and why he could become so powerful that BJD lawmakers have in public meetings described him as none else but ‘the Chief Minister’ while senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh wrote on X about a “de facto situation will finally become a de jure one, and Pandian will become a political figure in his own right”.

Though the person in question has not yet made any statement on whether he would enter politics, he has certainly in the past several months betrayed his political intentions quite clearly in more ways than one.

Also Read: Speculation Rife On VK Pandian’s Entry Into Odisha Politics: BJD Welcomes, BJP, Cong Criticise

His frequent tours in recent months to different assembly constituencies of Odisha to “listen to public grievances” at a huge expenditure, as alleged by the Opposition, made obvious his plans to don the political gear. Will he succeed if he were to turn neta? Does he have whatever it takes to be a political leader? Will the people endorse him in his new avatar? Will the party he chooses to join stand by him? These questions, sooner or later, will seek answers.

As part of a well-calibrated plan, six months ahead of elections, 49-year-old Pandian has been given a role in governance of which he was projected as the face at least for the last four years. The strategy seems to be understandable: government first, party next. But will this approach do the trick? Will the bureaucracy respond to him in the same way as it did till his retirement? Will the politicians see their future with him? Can he wield the same influence and power? Will he be able to stand constant public scrutiny? Most important, can he deliver on the development promises and bolster the prospects of the BJD dispensation in which he now enjoys Cabinet minister rank?

Also Read: V K Pandian VRS: Cong Attacks, BJP Guarded, BJD Mum

The going surely won’t be easy. With the IAS officer tag gone, politicians, journalists, lawyers, social activists and other stakeholders will constantly watch him with a lens. Every move will fuel discussions, debates and even controversies. The Opposition might wait for the opportune moment to pin him down. Those disgruntled within the ruling party too might strike when the iron is hot. The fact that he hails from Tamil Nadu and can be labeled an ‘outsider’ is no less a challenge. The game (read: to become Naveen Patnaik’s successor) in a way has now well and truly begun. Pandian will now face the acid test. How he would fare in great measure shall depend on the effectiveness with which he can strike a chord with the common man. Thus far his journey has been that of a popular leader’s most trusted bureaucrat. Can he make the transition and become the leader which many feel he aspires to?

Either way, the Pandian story will add more interesting chapters to Odisha governance and politics in times to come.

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