The 70-year-old Chief Minister of Odisha Naveen Patnaik, called 'pappu' by his family and friends, is under siege.
But Naveen Patnaik, the unlikely politician, who once felt more comfortable with the likes of Mike Jagger and Jacqueline Onassis than politics, is hardly down or out. Patnaik spent much of his early years pursuing paintings and arts, and joined politics only after his father, legendary politician and freedom fighter Biju Patnaik died.
Buoyed by its recent success in the recent local bodies elections in Odisha, the BJP is trying to push further. It wants to ends to Patnaik's 17-year uninterrupted run in Odisha. And, in the two-day high-decibel national executive meet in Odisha's Bhubaneswar, the BJP has made clear that it wants the state. The BJP is also trying to appropriate the right totems to gain acceptability in Odisha. For instance, the Prime Minister felicitated the descendants of historical Paika Rebellion, who undertook an armed rebellion against the British rulers in Odisha in 1817.
The BJP's push is forcing Naveen Patnaik to change as well. For the last 17 years, Patnaik has been known for his clean image, but equally for his dour-faced, uncommunicative and aloof leadership. That is exactly what is changing.
While the Prime Minister Narendra Modi is known for his strong presence in the social media, Naveen Patnaik recently took his first selfie at the age of 70 with kids who fought of a crocodile. "Thrilled to meet little braveheart from Kendrapara Tiki and her friend Basanti. Worthy occasion for my first selfie with the heroes. Proud," he tweeted.
That's not all, Patnaik is believed to be unwell. But as rumours of his health issues have been passed on through whispers, Patnaik has made it point to be seen in public more often. After the recent set-back in the local body elections, Patnaik, with his sister Gita Mehta in tow, visited a local book store and interacted with the youth. That's not all, as tensions in Bhadrak spread, Naveen Patnaik rushed to the spot and spent time with the people.
While the entire attention is focused on BJPs national executive meet, the Naveen Patnaik government is planning to celebrate the 20th death anniversary of Biju Patnaik across the state from the 17 April. He also revamped his youth and student wings recently.
In 2014, Odisha remained untouched by Narendra Modi wave. Patnaik's Biju Jananta Dal won 117 of the 147 Assembly and 20 of the 21 Lok Sabha seats. His policy of distributing essential food grains at a subsidised rate among the poor remains extremely popular. All this makes Naveen Patnaik a formidable opponent. But importantly, for the people, Naveen Patnaik is no longer an aloof or dour-faced leader. Now he is smiling too.