Odisha: Naveen Patnaik's blue-eyed boy VK Pandian quits IAS, likely to join politics

With the 2024 elections barely months away, Pandian’s retirement has given shape to a big churn in Odisha politics.
VK Pandian. (File photo)
VK Pandian. (File photo)

BHUBANESWAR: In a move that came as no surprise, VK Pandian, the power centre of Naveen Patnaik government has taken voluntary retirement from All India Civil Services cementing speculations over a full-time political role.

Pandian was private secretary to the Chief Minister of Odisha.

The Department of Personnel and Training, Government of India, on Monday approved his request for Voluntary Retirement Scheme (VRS), waiving the notice period as recommended by the state government.

The 2000-batch IAS officer who has been the private secretary to Naveen since 2011 had slowly taken complete control of the government machinery with the Chief Minister taking a backseat in recent years.

With the 2024 elections barely months away, Pandian’s retirement has given shape to a big churn in Odisha politics. His next move seems no mystery as his way of functioning in recent years had drawn allegations about completely blurring the line between the officialdom and political leadership in the state.

Pandian, who also served as 5T Secretary to the State Government, had taken centrestage in the Naveen Patnaik government with not only the bureaucracy but also the entire Biju Janata Dal looking up to him as the representative of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik.

While till 2019 elections, Pandian chose to stay behind the curtains, the massive mandate spurred him to step out of the shadows and become the face and voice of Naveen Patnaik. He has ever since been hailed as Naveen’s political strategist with full control of the government and BJD politics. Naveen too made no bones about conveying the message that Pandian was his blue-eyed boy.

His sharp political acumen was reflected in the move to create a 5T Initiatives Department which subsumed all wings of the government making them reportable to him. With Naveen reposing his complete trust in Pandian, the IAS officer gave shape to grand projects and programmes of the government aligning with BJD’s political goals. From 2019, all the mega projects such as Sri Jagannath Heritage Corridor, temple redevelopments across the state, school and college transformation programme, health sector initiatives, rural and urban transformation etc have been his brainchild and conducted under his direct supervision.

While there had been consistent murmurs against the way of functioning of Pandian, his extensive tours to districts in the last four months, where he not only addressed the local grievances on the spot but also made a slew of announcements, drew sharp criticism from the opposition political as well as sections within the BJD. As the state BJP came all guns blazing, criticizing his authority as an IAS officer to conduct programmes with blatant political overtones, his tours were also questioned by senior BJD leader and MLA Soumya Ranjan Patnaik. The controversy was set to rest with Naveen clarifying that the IAS officer was his representative, sent by him to listen to people and solve their issues at their doorsteps. The Opposition BJP and Congress had also challenged Pandian to quit service and join full-time politics.

Now that he has put in his papers, the Odisha politics is set for a very invigorating few months ahead of the all-important 2024 elections It also brings in a new dimension to the long speculation of ‘After Naveen Who.’

While opposition chief whip and BJP leader Mohan Majhi said Pandian’s resignation will have no impact on BJP, Congress campaign committee chairman Bijoy Patnaik said the move is to draft him to active politics.

The opposition believes that Pandian will likely be given a Cabinet rank in the government so that he continues to enjoy the same power.

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