The Telegraph
Tuesday , March 21 , 2017

Chanakya's political mettle on Naveen lips

- Chief minister leads tribute to Pyari Mohan Mohapatra, the strategist with whom he had fallen out

Chief minister Naveen Patnaik places a wreath on the casket carrying Pyari Mohan Mohapatra’s body at Biju Patnaik International Airport in Bhubaneswar on Monday. Picture by Ashwinee Pati

Bhubaneswar, March 20: Death appeared to have dissolved all their differences as chief minister Naveen Patnaik led leaders from across the political spectrum in paying tributes to his friend-turned-foe Pyari Mohan Mohapatra, who died at a Mumbai hospital yesterday.

The 77-year-old bureaucrat-turned-politician died of a brain infection after having battled lung cancer. His mortal remains were consigned to flames at the Satya Nagar crematorium here this evening.

Naveen, who laid a wreath on the casket carrying the mortal remains of Mohapatra at Biju Patnaik International Airport where it arrived this afternoon, described the former IAS officer, who had served as the principal secretary to his father Biju Patnaik, as a hard working man who proved his mettle both as a bureaucrat and a politician. "He had a distinguished career as a civil servant and is known for his hard work and calibre. Later, he came to politics and became an MP. In politics, too, he has proved his mettle," said Naveen.

He acknowledged the organisational ability of the man, who as the hands-on boss of the BJD for several years, had come to be known as his "Chanakya".

The chief minister also lauded Mohapatra's political acumen, saying these helped him carve out a niche for himself in Odisha politics.

While governor S.C. Jamir described Mohapatra as an able administrator and efficient parliamentarian, senior BJP leader Bijoy Mohapatra, with whom the former Rajya Sabha member had a hostile equation, admitted that "Pyari babu", as he was known to friends and admirers, had a major role to play in BJD's growth. "Though he was controversial, no one could question his ability. After my exit from the BJD, he had played a major role in the party's growth," said Mohapatra.

While railway minister Suresh Prabhu, Union petroleum minister Dharmendra Pradhan, chief secretary Aditya Prasad Padhi and development commissioner R. Balkrishaan reached Mohapatra's Saheed Nagar residence to pay their respects, many BJD leaders, who had shunned him in the past few years, also paid tributes.

A Rajya Sabha member for two terms, Mohapatra had been Naveen's confidante for over a decade till their relations soured following an alleged coup attempt against the chief minister in 2012. The incident led to his ouster from the BJD following which he floated the Odisha Jan Morcha, a regional outfit which, however, failed to achieve any significant political success.

Born in 1940, Mohapatra had a long and illustrious career as an IAS officer, its high point being his stint as principal secretary to Biju Patnaik, during his second term as the chief minister of the state in the early 90s. This was the period during which he came close to Biju babu and his family.

When Biju died in 1997 and Naveen decided to step into his father's shoes, Mohapatra, given his closeness with the family, became his advisor. He is widely perceived to be the brain behind Naveen's initial success in dealing with his rivals within the party.

As the mastermind of Naveen's major political moves and proxy leader of the BJD, Mohapatra's popularity grew in the latter years, and as his stature grew, it seems his ambitions, too, grew. Nemesis caught up with him as he allegedly tried to stage the coup against Naveen while the latter was on a foreign trip. The coup failed and Mohapatra, along with his followers, was thrown out of the BJD. The Odisha Jan Morcha that he floated later failed to take off.

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