INTERVIEW | ‘Want to help Naveen babu get a sixth term as CM’

As far as the party is concerned, BJD and Naveen Babu have stood for the interests of the people of Odisha and the people of India.
INTERVIEW | ‘Want to help Naveen babu get a sixth term as CM’

Sitting in his tastefully decorated office with mute pastel tones that suit his self-effacing personality which hides a keen mind, Karthikeyan Pandian speaks to Ravi Shankar on his foray into politics, why the PM targets him and denies being the sole gatekeeper to Naveen Patnaik. Excerpts:

You’ve served as the most influential bureaucrat in Odisha for a long time. Why this sudden turn to politics?

Sometime last year, I was asked by Naveen babu to handle the Chief Minister’s grievance cell in all constituencies in the state and reach out to people. After Covid-19, the cell’s footfall had come down. I went around the state and felt the love and affection of the people. They didn’t treat me like a bureaucrat. Boundaries were being crossed. So I thought I should take that call. And go the extra mile for the people. I discussed it with my boss and that’s how it happened. And also the fact that I want to help him whichever way I can so that he gets a sixth term.

Many BJP leaders call you an outsider — a Tamil, and an offence to the Odiya pride that an outsider is allowed to influence state affairs?

My identity in Odisha is that I’ve been working for Odisha. I’ve been working for Naveen babu and the people of Odisha. So the people of Odisha will decide who I am and what I am. In a democracy it’s best that people decide.

For the first time a prime minister of a country is attacking a bureaucrat…

I’m no longer a bureaucrat (laughs)

Why is the PM attacking you, a person who has never held a public office before and has never been in politics until now?

And isn’t contesting either.

Then why are you being singled out?

The BJP doesn’t have many issues to talk about in Odisha. They can’t attack Naveen babu on governance, transparency, transformation and performance.He has done a huge canvas of work for the people of Odisha. This is the reason he keeps winning every election with higher and higher margins. In the last panchayat elections, he won 30 out of 30 seats. Twelve were held by the BJP earlier. They have to raise something which they think will give them electoral gains.

An accusation against you is that you are guarding all access to the chief minister.

The chief minister has a the Mo Sarkar Program; he used to give random calls to citizens to get feedback on the government’s functioning. It’s one of the parameters on which the government has been ranked very well. The CM is open to everyone who wants to meet him. It’s not as if I’m guarding him. I’m a foot soldier and I’ll always guard the chief minister against whatever or whoever attacks on him, spread rumours about him, and make allegations of non performance against him because I’ve the facts to counter them.

The BJD speaks about taking an “equidistant position” but has supported the BJP on many issues. Is this equidistance?

As government-to-government, forget about the party, the CM is for a constructive relationship with the Centre in the sprit of true federalism. As far as the party is concerned, BJD and Naveen Babu have stood for the interests of the people of Odisha and the people of India. For example BJD, opposed the Farmers Bill strongly. The Chief Minister was completely against the NRC.

Is the allegation true that your closest advisors are non-Odias?

It is factually incorrect. This is a political narrative, what can I say, someone is trying to promote since 2000. Let’s start with the CMO. After I left, it is now headed by a very senior chief secy rank retired officer from Odisha. There are many IAS and IPS officers from Odisha there. Why only think of the all India services? The grassroots work is done by the Odisha Administrative Services.

Why does the Chief Minister trust you so much?

I think our bond is the work ethic we share. Our commitment to the people of Odisha, the professionalism with which we approach issues and impeccable integrity are things that bind us. I get my inspiration from him and his principles which I try to incorporate into my value system. I am trying to inculcate them into a professional team of people who are delivery oriented and have integrity.

This time as the state goes to the polls with Naveen babu seeking a sixth term, what is your poll plank?

BJD is thinking about 100 years of state formation in 2036. The chief minister has a blueprint ready for what should be done to take Odisha to the top among the states and also be globally competitive. You take Covid management, the fatality rates were the lowest in the country. In disaster management with God’s grace and people’s cooperation, we had zero casualties. Every life is precious. From a food deficit state we have become a food surplus state. Odisha is recognized as India’s sports capital. The only Olympic gold medal went to an Odiya boy. Our state is the only revenue-surplus state in India.

If you ever get the opportunity, will you like to be chief minister?

As I’ve always said, I have come here to serve the chief minister and the people of Odisha. I surrender to Lord Jagannath about tomorrow.

I live one day at a time.

Related Stories

No stories found.

The New Indian Express