In 1997, the death of the veteran Odia politician Bijayananda Patnaik opened the space for his 51-year-old son, Naveen Patnaik, to contest elections for the first time. At the time, political leaders in the state expected Naveen to attract voters who were sympathetic to his father, but did not have greater expectations of the debutant politician. But Naveen has surprised his sceptics—he is presently serving his fourth consecutive term as the chief minister of Odisha.
In a recent political biography titled, Naveen Patnaik, the journalist Ruben Banerjee chronicles Naveen’s life and success in politics. In the following extract, Banerjee recounts a formative moment in Naveen Patnaik’s political career, in which he cemented his position as a leader of the Biju Janata Dal and a chief ministerial candidate, by pre-empting any challenge to his supremacy by the party leader Bijoy Mohapatra. “Naveen’s supporters said it was a masterstroke,”Banerjee writes. “His opponents saidit was Machiavellian.”
Though new to the game, Naveen was already conscious of his image. He knew his biggest draw at that point was his family lineage and his perceived innocence. Unlike the other politicians, he was untainted and unsullied. He wanted to stay clean. He did not want people to know that he was staying at a five-star hotel while seeking to be the leader of a state known for its back-breaking poverty. Nor did he want them to know that he loved to smoke. He wished to be perceived as a “good boy” in all ways, even if it meant being a little deceitful.