Bhubaneswar: In 2023, significant political developments unfolded in the state, with particular attention centering on Kartik Pandian in Odisha politics. As a former influential officer deeply aligned with chief minister Naveen Patnaik, Pandian had been the de facto steward of state administration for several years. However, by the close of 2023, he assumed a dual role, transitioning from his previous job to a political stance.
The chief minister appointed him as the 5T and Naveen Odisha Chairman, entrusting him with the transformation of Odisha. Despite lacking an official organizational position within BJD, Pandian’s impactful presence within the party is unmistakable, indicating the chief minister’s reliance on him for executing decisions in both governmental and party realms.
The year 2023 might have provided an answer to the question of succession after Naveen, as Pandian’s influence and responsibilities expanded. His ascent within BJD’s political landscape was neither sudden nor unexpected. Starting as the chief minister’s private secretary in 2011, Pandian’s journey to prominence was propelled by loyalty, dedication, and hard work, acknowledged even by his sternest critics.
Several political observers of the state felt that during the 2019 general elections, opposition strategies pivoted towards Pandian rather than targeting Naveen Patnaik directly.
Pandian’s strategic acumen in the background left the opposition perplexed. Post the 2019 elections, when Naveen Babu assumed his fifth term as chief minister, Pandian was appointed as the secretary of the newly created 5T department, tasked with transforming Odisha. His direct involvement in projects such as the Puri Heritage Corridor and the redevelopment of various temples showcased his commitment and effectiveness.
Following the Chief Minister’s directives, Pandian embarked on a comprehensive tour of the entire state starting from last March. During the course of 62 days, he covered all 147 constituencies, actively participating in 2000 meetings and directly engaging with nearly 25 lakh people. The overwhelming response to this extensive tour served as the catalyst for the initiation of a distinctive program called “Naveen Odisha” by chief minister Naveen Patnaik, allocating Rs 4,000 crore for developmental activities across the state.
Pandian’s role extended to overseeing the transformation of schools and hospitals in the state. He aligned with the chief minister’s directive to position Odisha as a sports hub and Odisha’s sponsorship of the national hockey team contributed significantly to state’s global sports recognition.
Initially, opposition parties raised concerns, accusing Pandian of actively participating in political events while still in government service. They went on to challenge him to resign from his government position and fully engage in politics. To address these allegations, Pandian took the bold step of leaving his job and entering politics with renewed determination and enthusiasm, putting an end to the opposition’s criticisms.
An intriguing aspect of this transition was the remarkably swift acceptance of Pandian’s voluntary resignation by the union government, surprising many observers. Preceding this development, during union home minister Amit Shah’s visit to Odisha in August, Pandian engaged in an extensive discussion with him for almost half an hour. The series of events, encompassing both the resignation approval and the meeting with Shah, remains veiled in mystery and opacity for many, including leaders within the state BJP.
Pandian, the clandestine force shaping the narrative for the ruling party and the government has become the primary target for the opposition, a development that unfolds as no surprise.
Amidst his developmental agenda for the state, Pandian faced controversies, the latest involving social media influencer Kamiya Jani’s participation in Srimandir. Allegations surrounding her dietary preferences stirred media attention prompting responses from the state Congress, while senior state BJP leaders maintained calculated silence. Unperturbed by social media criticism, Pandian remained focused on his work, intensifying efforts as the 2024 general elections approaching fast. However, the coming year holds the promise of unraveling the puzzle surrounding his aspiration in politics.