Rise of VK. Pandian, Tamil Nadu-born IAS officer in Odisha’s public life
A day after his voluntary retirement from All India Civil Services, V.K. Pandian has been given responsibilities in rank of cabinet minister
October 24, 2023 10:38 am | Updated 12:16 pm IST – BHUBANESWAR
Odisha politics, otherwise dubbed quiet and monotonous for 25 years of domination by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, is set for an exciting and raucous phase as the CM’s long-time private secretary V.K. Pandian was on Tuesday appointed as the Chairman of 5T (Transparency, Technology, Teamwork, Time and Transformation) Initiative and Nabin Odisha.
The appointment comes a day after his voluntary retirement from all India Civil Service.
Mr. Pandian has been given the rank of Cabinet Minister and would directly operate under Mr. Patnaik. Though the nature of appointment is not overtly political, his likely entry in many ways may redefine the politics in the State.
The Department of Personnel and Training in its letter has approved Mr. Pandian’s voluntary retirement with waiver of the notice period recommended by the State Government. With a few months left for both Assembly and Lok Sabha elections in the State, his formal joining in Biju Janata Dal may be fast-forwarded, opined political observers.
Mr. Pandian, a no stranger in Odisha’s public life, has served as the private secretary to Odisha CM for 12 years accounting more than half of his entire service period in bureaucracy. The lanky IAS officer is widely believed to be the one stop contact for politicians, officers, industrialists and visitors seeking appointment of Mr. Patnaik. Besides this he has also served as the secretary to 5T.
The Odisha-cadre IAS officer had started his career as deputy collector of Dharmagarh in Kalahandi district and subsequently assumed district magistrate of Mayurbhanj and Ganjam before his posting in CMO, Odisha in 2011. As collector, his efforts to simplify processes in issuance of certificates for people with disabilities was widely recognised.
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On May 29, 2012, Odisha CM faced an attempt of coup by late Pyari Mohan Mohapatra, a former bureaucrat and advisor for the CM. Mr. Patnaik needed someone whom he would trust. With the BJD supremo known to count more on his bureaucracy than his political colleagues, Mr. Pandian filled the vacuum and grew in confidence.
Soon the IAS officer had his imprint in all key flagship government programmes which the Biju Janata Dal Government highlighted as its achievements. The school transformation, temple renovations, turning Odisha into a sports hub and swiftness in execution of government programmes are said to be his ideas.
Mr. Pandian appeared to have created a space for himself in achieving BJD’s promises through different government welfare programmes. Mr. Pandian is the key force behind conceptualising mega infrastructures such as converting SCB Medical College into AIIMS like institution and fast-tracking long pending irrigation projects.
His whirlwind tours to all districts of Odisha since the second week of June this year had raised eyebrows with Opposition accusing him of transcending power. Mr. Pandian had extensively used helicopters, a rare for serving IAS officer, to conduct grievance redressal sessions in the State. His meetings were elaborate ones with local BJD MLA and MPs working behind the scene to make them successful.
Mr. Pandian, who for better parts of his stint in Chief Minister’s Office remained shy as a silent and hardworking officer, indicated his arrival in public life. But the district tours were aimed at testing his acceptance level among people. When opposition’s attack grew shriller, Mr. Patnaik came to his defence clarifying that he was his representative. Odisha CM known as man of few words had to read out a four-page exhaustive clarification on floor of State Assembly to defend his private secretary’s tours.
The BJD was founded on basic premise of strong regionalism. Making the Tamil Nadu born IAS officer’s possible drafting into BJD and his decision-making status acceptable among people and party cadres could well be a challenge being keenly watched by political observers.
Aparajita Sarangi, a former Odisha cadre IAS officer, but native of Bihar, has successfully forayed into politics by becoming Member of Parliament on Bharatiya Janata Party ticket from Bhubaneswar Lok Sabha seat. She is married Odia IAS office Santosh Sarangi.
“Ms. Sarangi’s case is different from that of Mr. Pandian. In Indian polity as in the social structure, people accept daughters-in-law as part of their own family like that has happened in case of Sonia Gandhi. Same is not case with son-in-laws. Though Mr. Pandian is married to Odia IAS officer Sujata Kartikeyan, his acceptability is something which BJD would have to work on,” said political commentator and senior journalist Rabi Das.
Mr. Das said if Mr. Pandian assumes any important position in BJD, this would put the question of successor to Odisha CM to rest. The IAS officer is likely to play a bigger and visible role in strategising BJD’s electoral charge in 2024 elections.