Mr. Patnaik’s journey

Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik [ File Photo ]

Whether or not Naveen Patnaik next year overtakes Sikkim’s Pawan Kumar Chamling to become the country’s longest-serving Chief Minister, one thing is certain. He has already made his mark as the tallest leader his state ~ Odisha ~ has ever produced, and ensured that he will occupy a place in the pantheon of great Indian politicians. To have ruled, and to have done so as effectively he has, and to have ensured, without resorting to any of the shenanigans that others of his ilk so readily embrace, that there remains no opposition worth the name in his state is commendable.

To have overcome, as Mr. Patnaik has done, the handicap of not being fluent in his mother tongue, and of having been considered a political novice when he first entered office, are just as creditable. But to have achieved all this without shedding the urbaneness, the suavity and the basic decency that his upbringing gave to him is the outstanding feature of his political journey. This newspaper’s edition in Bhubaneswar hit the stands soon after Mr. Patnaik was first sworn in as Chief Minister of Odisha. It has therefore been uniquely placed to chronicle his political essay.

While we have disagreed occasionally with some of his decisions, and he for his part has accepted our criticisms with genteel grace, we have found far many more reasons to laud his various initiatives. By far the most significant achievement of his early years as chief minister was the transformation of Odisha from a state reconciled to the many disasters that visited it because of its location to one that has learnt to battle them with fortitude and remarkable competence.


The recognition by the United Nations of Mr. Patnaik’s efforts as a model for disaster management efforts globally was well deserved. He brought his state on the world’s radar with the successful hosting of the Hockey World Cup earlier this year. But it is Odisha’s achievements on the economic front that are quite remarkable. From having once been an economic basket case, Odisha has been transformed into a consistently high performer, its compound annual growth rate of per capita income being well above the national average over the past decade.

A report early this year said that Odisha has managed its finances the best among Indian states. Despite his achievements, Mr. Patnaik, while firm in dealing with dissension within his party and detractors outside it, has maintained a benign national presence, taking principled positions when necessary but refusing to seek a larger role for himself in politics outside Odisha. These qualities, coupled with a Spartan lifestyle and an unbesmirched personal record, have endeared him to his people, as they have to most thinking Indians.