With the induction of close aide and former IAS officer V Karthikeyan Pandian into his ruling Biju Janata Dal, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik may have just answered the question of who would take on the mantle in the party after him.
VK Pandian, a 2000-batch IAS officer, joined the party in the presence of the Chief Minister, ministers, lawmakers and senior BJD leaders. He has been Patnaik’s private secretary for 12 years since 2011. Known to be an able administrator, Pandian has enjoyed the complete support of Naveen Patnaik through the years.
He had taken voluntary retirement from government service on October 23 this year. He was later appointed as the chairman of the state’s flagship 5T (transformational initiative) and ‘Navin Odisha’ scheme in the rank of a cabinet minister to work directly under the CM.
But with his formal induction into the party, experts say Patnaik seems to have sent a clear message – it’s Pandian after Patnaik. The move ends the speculation on future leadership of the party and with his tacit approval of Pandian, the BJD leader has also pre-empted any immediate prospect of a rift in ranks.
ସଭାପତି ତଥା ମୁଖ୍ୟମନ୍ତ୍ରୀ ଶ୍ରୀ @Naveen_Odisha ଙ୍କ ଦୃଢ଼ ନେତୃତ୍ବରେ ଲୋକଙ୍କ କଲ୍ୟାଣ ତଥା ରାଜ୍ୟରେ ରୂପାନ୍ତରଣ କାର୍ଯ୍ୟକୁ ଆହୁରି ତ୍ୱରାନ୍ୱିତ କରିବା ଲକ୍ଷ୍ୟ ନେଇ #5T ଏବଂ ନବୀନ ଓଡ଼ିଶା ଅଧ୍ୟକ୍ଷ ଶ୍ରୀ ଭି.କେ ପାଣ୍ଡିଆନ୍ ବିଜୁ ଜନତା ଦଳରେ ଯୋଗ ଦେଇଛନ୍ତି। ଶ୍ରୀ ଭି.କେ ପାଣ୍ଡିଆନଙ୍କ ଏହି ଯୋଗଦାନ ସାଧାରଣ ଲୋକଙ୍କ ହକ୍,… pic.twitter.com/RQWgQRvP3C— Biju Janata Dal (@bjd_odisha) November 27, 2023
The opposition BJP and Congress, meanwhile, opposed the move, saying Patnaik had “outsourced” the government to a bureaucrat. The BJP has also approached the central government against the move.
Pandian’s rose to prominence as the close aide of the chief minister has often landed him in controversies, with opposition parties alleging that he was misusing his position for political gains.
In a letter to the state’s General Administration Department, the Centre’s Department of Personnel and Training had said his voluntary retirement has been accepted “with the waiver of the notice period as recommended by the State Government”.
Who is VK Pandian?
Pandian began his bureaucratic career as the sub-collector of Dharmagarh in Kalahandi district in 2002. He was appointed the collector of Mayurbhanj district in 2005, and then in 2007, he was made the collector of Ganjam. It was during his posting in Ganjam that he became close to the chief minister, who is originally from the Ganjam district.
Pandian joined the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) in 2011, and since then, he has been Patnaik’s private secretary.
After Patnaik became the chief minister for the fifth time in 2019, Pandian was given the additional responsibility of the ‘5T secretary’ to implement some transformational initiatives in government departments.
The opposition BJP and Congress had asked him to resign and “officially join the BJD”, after he went on a whirlwind tour across the state during which he held 190 meetings to hear public grievances.
All eyes will now be on what charge Pandian is given ahead of Odisha Assembly elections due early next year.