VK Pandian With Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik of Biju Janata Dal.
Bhubaneshwar: In a big development in Odisha politics, V Karthikeyan Pandian or VK Pandian, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s trusted private secretary and state’s 5T secretary, has been given the Cabinet rank. Working in the shadows until 2019 (when the CM’s office published a photograph of him with the CM) the 2000-batch IAS officer served as the private secretary of the Odisha chief minister since 2011. His clout within the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) comes from being close to party president and state chief minister Naveen Patnaik.
Pandian has now opted for voluntary retirement amidst growing criticism from the Opposition regarding his frequent public appearances ahead of the crucial 2024 elections. Immediately, on the next day, he was given the Cabinet rank by the Odisha Chief Minister. Odisha goes to polls for both the Assembly and Parliament next year.
The state’s General Administration and Public Grievance Department in its October 24 order mentioned that Pandian has been appointed chairman of 5T (Transformational Initiatives) and Nabin Odisha scheme in the “rank of Cabinet minister”. “Pandian shall work directly under the Chief Minister,” the order said.
The Department of Personnel and Training approved the voluntary retirement of Pandian on October 23 after a reference letter from the government of Odisha.
VK Pandian’s Bureaucratic Milestones:
As a young bureaucrat, V Karthikeyan Pandian earned accolades for his efficient handling of rehabilitation matters in Odisha’s Ganjam district in the aftermath of the state’s horrific super cyclone in 1999. Naveen Patnaik brought him to the Chief Minister’s Office in 2011. Gradually, Pandian started to fill in the space vacated by Patnaik’s once-trusted aide and ex-IAS officer Pyari Mohan Mohapatra who was expelled from the party after attempting to dislodge the CM.
Pandian is said to have been the brain behind several initiatives and campaigns that helped Naveen Babu pocket the 2019 state assembly polls. As the 2019 elections trickled in, the only other person who watched them along with Patnaik was Pandian. Two days after Naveen Patnaik took oath as Chief Minister of Odisha for the fifth time in May 2019, a photo shared on social media showed V K Pandian, his private secretary, with the CM at his residence.
It was Pandian again who was seen standing behind Patnaik as the last rites of his departed sister Gita Mehta were being conducted in the Lodhi road crematorium in Delhi last month.
VK Pandian has only grown more powerful as the quintessential back-room boy, publicity-shy babu, and easily Odisha’s most powerful bureaucrat with a strong influence in the CMO. He began to be seen accompanying the CM in all campaign videos released to the press — whether it was meeting industrialists, felicitating sportspersons or inauguration ceremonies.
As a bureaucrat, his frequent public tours across Odisha’s districts drew the ire of the opposition parties. He took on public contact work wherever the 78-year-old chief minister felt it necessary to address people’s grievances or attend public meetings but needed a proxy instead. Pandian stepped in for him.
Just How Influential is VK Pandian in Odisha politics?
Veteran journalist Rajesh Mahapatra says, “Just as after 2019, Naveen crafted a new position as 5T secretary for him, I will not be surprised if he creates a new post in the party for him, and his command over the party will be cemented with this. It will be formal and official that Pandian is the man in charge of the BJD”.
In fact, the 5T secretary had completed touring all 147 assembly constituencies across 30 districts of Odisha in six months this year beginning with Mayurbhanj and ending in Jajpur. The BJP had even formally complained about the bureaucrat’s moves as unbecoming of a serving civil servant. Patnaik, however, had defended Pandian on the floor of the Assembly saying that the officer was simply following his orders.
Pandian’s increasing public presence had created unease even within the Biju Janata Dal (BJD). In August this year, ink was thrown at the influential bureaucrat during his tour to Puri district. Puri Collector Samarth Verma, who was accompanying Pandian, also received ink stains on the campus of UGS College, Satyabadi, about 20 km from the district headquarters town of Puri. But Pandian went on without a change of clothes to attend the meeting and complete his task.
Mahapatra says, “It has been almost a year that Pandian has positioned himself as the face of the government and, in the process, has made his political ambitions abundantly clear. It was a matter of time before he would have had to quit his job as a serving bureaucrat and openly get involved in party affairs, which were increasingly seen as acts of impropriety and have drawn widespread criticism from the opposition”.
VK Pandian’s Family:
VK Pandian hails from Tamil Nadu and is married to a 2000 batch IAS officer Sujata R Karthikeyan who is currently Secretary of Mission Shakti. The duo’s daughter Nayantara Karthikeyan is a noted highly accomplished swimmer who trains at the SAI facility in Bhubaneshwar.
She bagged 4 Gold and 3 Silver medals in Girld’ Group (12-14 years) of the 62nd Odisha State Junior and Sub-Junior Swimming Championship held at the Biju Patnaik Swimming Pool Complex of Kalinga Stadium in May 2022.
The Road Ahead for VK Pandian:
Though it is too early to say whether Pandian will be contesting the 2024 assembly elections, it is clear that he will play a key role in managing the BJD and, consequently, in Odisha’s politics at least in the upcoming 2024 elections.