Bhubaneswar: Naveen Patnaik, who was sworn in Odisha chief minister for the fourth consecutive term Wednesday, came into politics reluctantly 17 years ago to revive the fortunes of a party that was in shambles after the death of his legendary father Biju Patnaik.
He has not only proved that he inherited his father’s legacy, but also managed to establish himself as one the country’s most popular and charismatic leaders.
The 67-year old bachelor politician, known for his friendship with Jacqueline Onassis, Mick Jagger and other jetsetters, has now become the longest serving chief minister of the state. No chief minister had earlier ruled the state for more than 14 years.
Overcoming anti-incumbency and a Modi wave, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) led by Patnaik secured 117 seats in the 147 member-assembly and 20 of the state’s 21 Lok Sabha seats in the just concluded general election against 103 and 14, respectively, in 2009.
Patnaik’s political career began with his election to the 11th Lok Sabha in 1997 in a by-poll from Aska, his father’s traditional seat, on a Janata Dal ticket — and since then, he has never looked back.
A year after winning this election, he formed the BJD – a regional party named after his father. The BJD became an ally of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by the Bharatiya Janata Party in the same year.
Patnaik, popularly known to his friends as Pappu, got elected to the Lok Sabha for the second time in 1998 and became leader of his party in parliament.
He was elected to the Lok Sabha for the third time in 1999 and became a cabinet minister in the central government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
He moved to state politics and became the state chief minister of the BJD-BJP coalition government in 2000. He became chief minister of the coalition government for the second time in 2004.
The coalition jointly fought the Lok Sabha polls in 1998, 1999 and 2004 and the assembly elections of 2000 and 2004. In the Lok Sabha polls of 1998, 1999 and 2004, the BJD won 9, 10 and 12 seats, respectively, while the BJP won 7, 9 and 7 seats, respectively.
In the assembly polls of 2000 and 2004, the BJD bagged 68 and 61 seats, respectively, while the BJP won 38 and 32 seats, respectively. The BJD snapped ties with its 11-year-old ally in 2008 over the communal riots in Kandhamal and went to polls alone in the 2009 election.
It won 103 seats in the assembly and 14 Lok Sabha seats in the state that year.
In the latest election, the BJD surprised everyone when it shattered its own past records.
Patnaik’s government had been embroiled in several controversies, especially over the mining scam, chit fund scam and law and order situation, but that did not affect his popularity.
Several pro-poor programmes implemented by the government during past years helped his party achieve a spectacular win, said Patnaik after the latest victory.
Born Oct 16, 1946 at Cuttack, 25 km from here, Patnaik, the second son of Biju Patnaik, did his schooling at Welham Preparatory School for Boys in Dehradun and then at Doon School till he passed out with a Senior Cambridge Certificate when he was 17.
He excelled in history, oil painting and athletics in school. He went to Delhi University where he graduated in arts at the age of 20. Patnaik has travelled extensively in India and abroad. He is a founder member of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (Intach).
He is the author of three coffee table books — “A Second Paradise”, a book on Indian culture; “A Desert Kingdom”, about the princely states of Rajasthan; and “The Garden of Life”, which deals with India’s environment and traditional knowledge.
One of these books was edited by Jacqueline Onassis. All his books have been published in India, Britain and the US. He has also written several articles on culture and environment.