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Patnaik’s Fiefdom–Odisha Today

The classical Odia lite-rature, art, architecture, stone carvings, and its historical and cultural heritage, along with distinct philosophical musings, stand as testaments to Odia renaissance of the state, society, and polity in Odisha. The internationalist outlook is embedded within its easy-going and laid-back attitude towards everyday life. Resilience and determination define the Odia renaissance, where the acceptance of the 'other' as its 'own' delineates its unique cultural heritage and legacies. In spite of its caste-class based feudal-cliental political landscape, the progressive Odia ethos has survived all onslaughts of history, both past and present. However, contemporary Odisha appears to be a 'politics-free zone', where technocratic interventions have buried the political processes aimed at deepening democracy and empowering its citizens for progressive transformation toward social, political, and economic equality in the state.

Under the leadership of Mr Naveen Patnaik, the state of Odisha displays the growth of a bureaucratic culture of 'anti-politics machines', reinforcing existing reactionary power structures, exacerbating all forms of inequalities, and undermining local political processes. The political landscape also exhibits over-centralisation of power, creating conditions of tyranny and undermining decentralised democracy in the state. The hyperactive bureaucracy under centralised leadership functions as a tool to bypass, marginalise, and weaken democratic institutions and structures of governance. This is against the ideals of progressive political, social, and economic transformation of the state.

Mr Naveen Patnaik and his government had a great opportunity to transform the state within the last twenty-three years of governance. However, his government has utterly failed to deepen democracy, transform Odia society, and realise the promises of Odia renaissance by overly relying on bureaucrats. He is centrally responsible for undermining local political processes and outsourcing empowerment to 'Self-Help Groups (SHGs)'. Political transformation appears elusive in rural areas, and hospitals, schools, colleges, and universities in the state seem to be in a debilitating condition. Progressive politics involves bringing people and their lived experiences to frame policies and programmes, empowering them as shareholders of a democratic state. Mr Naveen Patnaik has failed to transform the state due to his disconnected bureaucratic politics. The propaganda of progress and modernisation can mask the underlying power dynamics that shape political transformation based on the ideals of Odia renaissance.

Progressive politics not only articulates the needs and aspirations of the masses but also materialises them for an egalitarian transformation. Mr Patnaik and his government have failed to articulate such an agenda in the last twenty-three years of his leadership and governance. Despite all his promises, the agenda for social justice and equity looks gloomy in the state. By hobnobbing with Hindutva politics, Mr Patnaik has helped the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to strengthen its organisational base in Odisha and weaken the politics of social justice. The depoliticised political environment is a fertile ground for the Rashtriyaswayam Sevak Sangh (RSS) to grow. The RSS has entered into every nook and cranny of the state. Mr Patnaik’s political art of equidistance is anything but politics of opportunism disguised as neutrality that is suitable for the BJP at the centre.

The twenty-three years of depoliticisation in Odisha under Mr Patnaik have not only weakened its political processes but also undermined accountability and transparency in governance.

The death of political opposition and engagement, and the rise of a depoliticised bureaucratic culture are twin achievements of Mr Patnaik’s leadership.

[Contributed]

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Vol 56, No. 24, Dec 10 - 16, 2023