Ever since the beginning of the end of the Congress party a few years ago, powerful new regional satraps have begun dominating the national political discourse. They are seen and heard and their actions are commented upon with great interest in the national media. Never before have state Chief Ministers occupied this much space in matters of national importance.
They loudly voice their demands in TV studios, they take out morchas on the streets of the national capital, they issue daring challenges to the Central leadership (when they are not cracking jokes about them in front of large audiences). Narendra Modi, Mamata Banerjee, Nitish Kumar, J Jayalalithaa are all household names. No matter which part of India someone lives in, these names are as as familiar to them as the names of leaders from their own state.
The name of one regional leader though, remains conspicuous by its absence — Naveen Patnaik, Chief Minister of Odisha.
By and large, Odisha manages to remain absent from the national political stage. No voices come forth complaining about the many storms and floods that ravage it each year. No dharnas cause Delhi to stop in its tracks because Odisha got less than its share of money from the Centre. As someone who calls Odisha motherland, I often stop to wonder — where is Naveen Patnaik?
But at the same time, I realise that Navin Patnaik is no Mamata Banerjee. The drama queen act is not something he can carry off with any amount of elan. Besides, he has never been a cog in the Central machine the way Jayalalithaa, Nitish, and Mamata have been. He has not pushed Governments into power and he has not brought Governments down. Naveen Patnaik’s political play, as far as one can tell, has been distinguished by mild complaining and sitting sullenly in the corner after having shyly made Odisha’s needs known.
Patnaik is not an agitator like his fellow local lords. Although he is probably the more cerebral among them. He seems ill at ease addressing the Press and upon watching him in rallies, it becomes very evident that large-scale political drama is really not his cup of tea.
Perhaps it might not be a bad idea for the reclusive Chief Minister of Odisha to try and make a grab for some space in the nation’s attention span. Ever since parting ways with the BJP before the General Elections in 2009, Patnaik as well as his reclusive State have managed to withdraw completely into the background of national affairs. So much so that even the tragic floods that inundated entire landscapes and forced lakhs of people into homelessness in 2011 failed to make it into national news bulletins.
The BJD rose to power on an anti-Congress plank and has, in the course of its 15 years of existence, managed to render the once-mighty national party completely powerless in Odisha. But in order for Odisha to become relevant to India, the Chief Minister must realise that alliances are made for tactical reasons. The Chief Minister must give some thought to mending fences with the BJP if he wishes to make Odisha worth something on the national front once again.