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At 16, Naveen eyes 2014
- Master strategist steps ahead of rivals

Bhubaneswar, Dec. 25: As the BJD turns 16 tomorrow, its supreme leader and chief minister Naveen Patnaik have emerged stronger and more confident than their rivals to win next year’s poll battle.

Naveen, long derided as a political novice, has over the years built up a formidable reputation as a master political strategist with an uncanny sense of timing and a knack for making short work of adversaries both within and outside the party.

In the final year of his third term, he has, so far, managed to keep the anti-incumbency factor at bay if the results of panchayat and the recently concluded municipal elections are any indication. Equally significant is that he continues to flaunt a teflon-coated image despite his government having been hit by a string of scams and scandals during the last four years.

His public image of the unassuming bachelor, invariably clad in a crumpled kurta-pyjama, presents a sharp contrast to the typical Indian politician high on rhetoric and low on performance. The masses continue to be under the spell of this Delhi-bred socialite transformed into an “Aam Admi” who, they feel, can empathise with their joys and sorrows.

Barbs from the Opposition notwithstanding, the flurry of welfare schemes unleashed by him has only added to his popularity. The huge chunk of poor and the underprivileged voters have turned decisively in his favour with public distribution system rice now being made available to them at Re 1 a kilo at a cost of around Rs 1,000 crore to the exchequer annually.

The ruling BJD has further cemented its position at the top of the political totem pole with the government loosening its purse strings to distribute pensions worth Rs 729 crore under the Madhu Babu Pension scheme and handing out mobile phone sets to farmers apart from free umbrellas and blankets to the poor.

The clever politician that Naveen is, he has catered to all sections of the electorate doling out funds to youth clubs, galvanised alumina sheets to the poor to refurbish their humble dwellings and providing land rights to the landless under the Mo Jami- Mo Diha scheme.

This is not to suggest that chief ministership has only been a bed of roses for Naveen. During his third term in office, he has faced a string of challenges beginning with the revolt within his own party led by his friend-turned-foe, Pyari Mohan Mohapatra, who now leads the Odisha Jan Morcha.

During this period, his government was also rocked by a number of scandals with Naveen being accused of turning a blind eye to the wanton loot of state’s mineral resources, chiefly iron ore and manganese. The Opposition also sought to put him in the dock for recommending coal blocks in favour of certain corporate houses ignoring the claims of state-run companies.

However, though the Opposition continues to demand a CBI inquiry into these issues, it is yet to come up with any concrete evidence against him. Naveen, in fact, has hit back at his critics, asserting that his recommendations with regard to coal block allotment were made keeping the state’s highest interests in mind as Odisha needed value addition to its mineral wealth.

There is, though, a growing speculation on what the stand of his government would be on the findings of Justice MB Shah Commission, which inquired into the cases of illegal mining in the state. Sources said the commission had found instances of large-scale irregularities in the mining sector, but the silver lining for Naveen could be that the panel has refrained from pointing fingers at politicians.

The BJD government’s success in containing the damage of cyclone Phailin, which struck the state in October, keeping the casualties to the minimum possible has been another feather in the chief minister’s cap, earning him plaudits even from international organisations such as the United Nations.

“Naveen babu is at present the only leader in the country to enjoy such popularity. His work has earned him the confidence of people living even in the remote villages of this state,” said BJD vice-president and panchayati raj minister Kalptaru Das.

Senior Congress leader, Narasingha Mishra, however, is far from convinced.

“Public opinion is against him. Anti-incumbency in different constituencies is visible. The Opposition needs to take advantage of it. What Naveen claims to be his achievements are actually central schemes hijacked by him,” said Mishra.

The final verdict on Naveen will, however, be delivered by the people he rules when he seeks a fresh mandate next year.

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