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“Unfortunate”: Naveen Patnaik On Criticism Of Close Aide VK Pandian

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Outgoing Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik today defended his close aide, VK Pandian, against mounting criticism. “There has been some criticism of Mr Pandian. This is unfortunate,” Mr Patnaik stated, addressing the swirling speculations and allegations aimed at Mr Pandian, a bureaucrat-turned-politician who has been a linchpin in the Patnaik administration.

Mr Patnaik was unequivocal in dispelling rumours about Mr Pandian’s political ambitions and his potential as a successor. “I would like to say that Mr Pandian has also worked and helped in health, education, sports, and our programme of temple restoration. Mr Pandian joined the party but has not had any posts. I have always clearly said that when they asked me about my successor, I said clearly that it was not Mr. Pandian. I repeat it. The people of Odisha will decide my successor,” Mr Patnaik declared.

READ | Analysis: Decoding Naveen Patnaik And BJD’s Shock Odisha Defeat

Mr Patnaik also addressed the role played by Mr Pandian during crises such as cyclones and the COVID-19 pandemic. “As an officer, he did excellent work. He did an excellent job helping with the two cyclones and the COVID-19 epidemic in our state. Later, he retired from bureaucracy and joined my party and he has contributed largely to that by doing excellent work. He is a person of integrity and honesty and he should be respected for that,” Mr Patnaik stated, emphasizing Pandian’s dedication and service.

The recent state elections in Odisha saw the end of Mr Patnaik’s 24-year rule, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) storming to power by securing 78 seats in the 147-member assembly, a significant shift from BJD’s previous dominance. The BJD managed to secure 51 seats, while the Congress took 14 seats, and three went to Independent candidates. In the Lok Sabha polls, the BJD suffered a rout with the BJP winning 20 and the Congress emerging victorious in 1 out of 21 seats in the state. 

Reflecting on the poll outcome, Mr Patnaik said he was proud of what his party has achieved during his tenure as the Chief Minister. “I think we have always tried and done an excellent job. We have much to be proud of in our government and the party. In a democracy, you either win or lose. So, having been defeated after a long time, we must always take the verdict of the people gracefully,” he said. 

“I have always said that the 4.5 crore people of Odisha are my family. I will continue to serve them in whichever way I can,” he added.

The 77-year-old’s defence of Mr Pandian comes amidst rumours surrounding the latter’s alleged influence over not just Mr Patnaik but also the state’s administrative machinery in recent years. Mr Pandian, an IAS officer from the 2000 batch, served as Mr Patnaik’s private secretary. His recent transition from bureaucracy to politics, marked by his voluntary retirement and subsequent joining of the BJD in 2023, has been a focal point of discussion by Opposition parties. 

Addressing reporters in Bhubaneswar, Mr Patnaik insisted that the multifaceted role Mr Pandian played in the state’s development does not equate to a bid for succession. “I have always clearly said that when they asked me about my successor, I said clearly that it was not Mr. Pandian. I repeat it. The people of Odisha will decide my successor,” he reiterated.

The Odisha election results mean Mr Patnaik fell 73 days short of eclipsing Pawan Chamling as the longest-serving chief minister in India.

 Outgoing Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik today defended his close aide, VK Pandian, against mounting criticism. “There has been some criticism of Mr Pandian. This is unfortunate,” Mr Patnaik stated.    

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