Forced to plunge into politics “reluctantly” at the age of 51, following the death of his father Biju Patnaik, Naveen Patnaik has never found himself in the Opposition space in the state. The Biju Janata Dal he founded in 2000 only grew from strength to strength — till this election.

Knocked out by the BJP in his bid for sixth straight term in power — which would have made him the longest-serving CM in the country — Patnaik is now facing the prospect of sitting in the Opposition benches. And the question in political circles is: Will Patnaik, now 77, do so? And how the BJD copes without power, amid widespread apprehension that the party may disintegrate into multiple groups in a post-Naveen Patnaik scenario.

Not just the BJD, Patnaik also suffered losses at a personal level. While he faced his first poll defeat ever, losing from Kantabanji in western Odisha to the BJP’s Laxman Bag, in bastion Hinjili, his victory margin was reduced to 4,636 votes.

Addressing a joint press conference after BJD’s loss, spokesperson Sasmit Patra along with Manas Mangaraj and Sulata Deo said the regional party was indebted to the people of Odisha for allowing it to serve the state uninterrupted for 24 years. “We will continue to serve the people of the state,” said Patra.

In the aftermath of the BJP’s spectacular win in Odisha, Patnaik’s decision to snap ties with the BJP in 2009 may also come into question. While at that time the BJP was seen as piggybacking on the BJD’s organization without having any base in the state, since then the national party has been growing. It also drew sustenance from the fact that Patnaik himself maintained cordial relations with the BJP top leadership, and the BJD came to the Modi government’s rescue several times at the Centre.

Festive offer

In fact, until as recently as before the elections, the two parties were in alliance talks. During the polls, as the BJP went hammer and tongs at Patnaik personally, and ran its campaign around his closest advisor VK Pandian, the BJD could not mount a credible counter-narrative.

Despite this, few expected Odisha to turn its back on Patnaik so comprehensively, given the admiration across the political spectrum for him as a “gentleman” and as an able administrator, who acted swiftly against several leaders of his own party and senior officers if they were seen as having crossed paths with him.

The first such sackings came within a year of Patnaik first assuming charge as CM, in July 2001, when he “unceremoniously” removed Cabinet colleagues Nalinikanta Mohanty, Kamala Das and Prasanta Nanda on the grounds of “shadow of corruption” over them. Over the years, dozens of other ministers were sacked on a similar premise, helping Patnaik create a popular image for himself as that of a ‘clean politician’, with ‘zero tolerance’ for corruption.

The fact that he does not face any serious charges on this front despite being in power for 24 years helps.

Where Patnaik earned uniform accolades was his government’s disaster management, which helped him achieve minimize casualties, even bringing them to zero, in the face of several cyclone crises.

For his “cradle to grave” welfare schemes targeting various groups —women, rural poor and farmers — he earned the reputation of being a pro-people leader. When PM Modi, in recent election speeches, accused the CM of depriving Odia people of many Central schemes — including Ayushman Bharat and Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana — these did not get much traction as the Patnaik government had similar schemes running, such as Biju Swasthya Kalyan Yojana, and the Mamata scheme for pregnant and lactating mothers.

Under Patnaik, Odisha became the third-largest contributor to the country’s PDS-pool from once being a food-deficit state, saw big infrastructure projects, witnessed emergence of Bhubaneswar as the country’s hockey capital and hosted two successive hockey World Cups in 2018 and 2023. .

Patnaik also earned general respect as a “progressive” leader, who took several pro-women steps such as reserving 50% seats in Panchayati Raj institutions and urban local bodies for them, announcing 33% reservation in Lok Sabha seats for women and economically empowering women. through his Mission Shakti initiative.

Unlike father Biju Patnaik whose stature made him a national leader, Patnaik never ventured beyond Odisha. At the same time, he was commended for “political maturity” in ensuring good Centre-state relations whether under the UPA or the NDA.

A video of Patnaik that emerged after the results saw him talking to party workers to boost their morale, listing his government’s achievements.

“When I became the CM of Odisha, around 70% people were below the poverty line. Now, not even 10% people are. We brought in programs in various sectors including health, education, irrigation, agriculture and women empowerment,” said Patnaik.

He added: “We don’t have to be ashamed of our government’s works in the past 24 years. We have worked very hard for the people and we will continue to do so.”

After a meeting of the newly elected BJD MLAs at Patnaik’s residence, senior party leader Arun Kumar Sahoo said, “Naveen babu consoled us, told to remain strong and to work for Odisha’s betterment. All MLAs will work together to make the party stronger again.

Although Patnaik has not groomed anyone as his political successor and left the decision to the “people of Odisha”, for a while, Pandian was seen as his successor. But in a pre-result interview to ANIto ward off the BJP’s constant attacks on the matter, Patnaik said the issue was far from settled, and that the people would pick his successor.

All eyes are hence on Pandian’s next move, with his words at an election rally on May 10, that he would quit politics if Patnaik did not return to power, still fresh in the people’s minds. His position within the BJD will definitely come under pressure, given that the Tamil-origin ex-IAS officer had singlehandedly driven the party’s campaign.