Naveen Keeps Family Away

People are curious about the political heir to Naveen Patnaik, who is now 72 and heading the state government for the fifth time in a row.

Media is full of speculation about the possible entry of Naveen’s nephew and Biju Patnaik’s grandson Arun Patnaik into direct politics. Whenever there is a possibility, people take the name of Arun Patnaik. Though Naveen has time and again said that people would choose their leader, nobody believes it.

The BJD President has also made it clear that someone from within the party will succeed him.  However, who is that “someone”? People are still clueless. Ultimately, all prefer to zero in on Arun Patnaik as he is the lone political heir to the Biju legacy. This is because people of Odisha love Biju Patnaik. So BJD has to continue with Biju legacy, said a close aide of the BJD supremo.

People, who have been watching Naveen all these years, however, believe him. Though Naveen is fond of his nephew Arun, he may not bring him to politics during his life time. This is the lesson Naveen has apparently learnt from his legendary father Biju Patnaik.

The senior Patnaik during his life time had never allowed any of his family members into politics. He had never allowed his wife Gyan Patnaik to take part in politics even as she actively supported him during freedom struggle and his adventure with aircrafts.

Naveen religiously follows his father’s footsteps and prefers not to bring any one from the family into politics. Naveen has not allowed even his brother Prem Patnaik or sister Gita Mehta, to become a Member of the Rajya Sabha even as the BJD President has the ability to send women self-help group leader Pramila Bisoyi to the Lok Sabha!

During his long political career, Naveen has made domestic helps, drivers, clerks, officers, engineers, journalists and little known persons MLAs or MPs. But he has not brought his family to politics.  

Naveen’s sister Gita Mehta last year preferred not to accept Padma Award announced ahead of the 2019 general elections. His family members have contributed to Naveen’s political career, but he has not given any kind of political help to either to his brother or sister.

Naveen’s siblings are hardly seen in public life. Arun Patnaik was last seen in Odisha in 2015 when the family members came to Cuttack to hand over their ancestral property, Anand Bhawan to the state. Even Arun was denied permission to attend his uncle’s swearing-in ceremony on May 29.

However, both his brother, Prem Patnaik and his sister, Gita Mehta were seen in the front row. Perhaps for the first-time during Naveen’s 19 years as Chief Minister, both Gita and Prem got the opportunity to visit the State Secretariat. The brother-sister duo congratulated Naveen as he left the venue immediately after the swearing-in. This indicated that Naveen was truly against allowing any of his family members to enter politics.
Till Biju Patnaik breathed his last in 1997, he was averse to the idea of naming his political successor. Naveen, who was reluctant initially, made his maiden entry into politics as Member of Parliament from Aska seat which had fallen vacant following his father’s demise. Though Biju Patnaik dedicated his entire life to politics, Naveen had not been in public life before 1997.

Eight months after Biju Patnaik’s death, his loyalists founded Biju Janata Dal and launched Naveen in Odisha politics. Naveen has since not looked back. Though energized by his father’s legacy, Naveen became strong on the Odisha soil and was again elected to the Lok Sabha in 1998 and 1999 on BJD ticket. In 2000, he contested from Hinjili Assembly constituency and since then he has been the Chief Minister of Odisha.

Not to bring anyone from the family into politics seems to be Naveen’s conscious decision. It is a wise decision too, considering the fact that people have developed an aversion towards dynasty politics.

In neighbouring West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress was strong. But, the TMC started losing its grip over Bengal, as she promoted her nephew. Like Naveen, Mamata is also a bachelor. But she has allowed her nephew Abhisek Banerjee into politics. It seems the people of Bengal do not accept him.

There is no dearth of example of dynasty politics in India which was started by Motilal Nehru. His son Jawaharlal Nehru became the first Prime Minister and later Nehru’s daughter Indira Gandhi took over. Rajiv Gandhi became the Prime Minister following his mother’s death. Rajiv’s son Rahul was trying his luck for the country’s top post, but was rejected by people.

Similarly, Lalu Prasad Yadav, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Chandrababu Naidu, Chandrasekhar Rao, M Karunanidhi, N Chandrababu Naidu and many other leaders have planted their family members in politics. While some of them succeeded, many others were rejected.

Former Odisha Chief Minister Giridhar Gamang could become an MP eight times, but he failed in politics after he allowed his wife and son into politics. Similarly, Harekrushna Mahtab, Nandini Satpathy, Nilamani Routray and others gave their children entry, but their success was limited. On the other hand, Naveen, who was not brought to politics by his father, continued to remain the Chief Minister of Odisha for nearly 20 years.

Former Chief Minister J B Patnaik had not allowed his children into politics. But the day his wife Jayanti Patnaik became an MP, the countdown of the Odisha’s most brilliant politician started. JB ended up as Governor of Assam. None of his children are now in politics though his son-in-law S R Patnaik is an MLA on a BJD ticket.

Naveen learns from history. Since keeping family members away from politics gives better dividends, Naveen keeps his nephew Arun Patnaik at a distance. The BJD supremo does not want to lose his Unique Selling Proposition (USP) as he has no family baggage with him and people of the state are his family members, which goes very well with the people of Odisha.

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