Bhubaneswar: It can be a coincidence or a providential plan. May 29, 2012, and May 29, 2019, shall go down as portentous days in Chief Ministers Naveen Patnaik’s political career. And May 29 also happens to be the birthday of V Karthikeya Pandian, who has possibly emerged as the most influential factor in the ruling dispensation during the past seven years.
Pandian, as he is popularly referred to in Odisha, is officially private secretary to the Chief Minister. But his role and impact have turned out to be much more than what his predecessors ever had. So much so that in recent years he is being described as Naveen’s most trusted person, someone who acts as his eyes and ears and assists him in key decision making.
A 2000-batch Odisha cadre IAS officer, Pandian became private secretary to the CM in May, 2011, after serving as collectors of Mayurbhanj and Ganjam districts. But his emergence as Naveen’s closest aide coincided with the gradual decline of the BJD president’s once key advisor, bureaucrat-turned-politician Pyarimohan Mohapatra. The Naveen-Pyari relationship took a turn for the worse when the latter made an aborted coup bid on May 29, 2012, while the former was visiting the United Kingdom.
Political analysts believe Pyari’s ouster from Naveen’s scheme of things paved the way for Pandian to stand like a pillar of strength for the CM, helping him through important governance and political issues. “Pandian is very hard-working and always protects his boss’ interests. And unlike Pyari, he is a serving IAS officer. This has seemingly made Naveen trust him completely,” observed a senior government officer, requesting anonymity.
This has not only made Pandian, a native of Tamil Nadu, the ‘most powerful’ bureaucrat in Odisha but also someone BJD leaders try to keep in good humour. “It’s not for nothing that the CM trusts him so much. He has proved himself time and again, be it in dealing with the situation following Pyari’s ouster from the BJD or rolling various welfare schemes to keep the BJP challenge at bay,” noted a BJD leader.
That Pandian functions as a shield to safeguard Naveen is not lost on the CM’s political rivals, who have levelled different kinds of allegations against the former. While Baijayant Panda has publicly blamed the IAS officer for his quitting the BJD, the BJP has accused him of meddling in political matters.
However, even his critics agree that Pandian, whose wife Sujata is also an Odisha cadre IAS officer, has ensured Naveen passes the toughest of tests. And his administrative acumen and political astuteness contributed to the BJD’s landslide victory, for the fifth consecutive time, in Elections 2019. Little wonder, the decision to have the swearing-in ceremony on May 29 could have more to it than being mere coincidence!