VK Pandian and Naveen Patnaik: A Match-winning Partnership

In the run-up to the 2019 elections, he was like Lord Voldemort – all powerful and significant – so much that he was Odisha’s own ‘He Who Must Not Be Named.’ Politicians and political experts would rather call him the ‘Third Floor,’ but excuse themselves from uttering his name. VK Pandian had been an enigma in Odisha until he decided to come to the fore.

As it turns out, unlike Voldemort, he is not really an antagonist; his character would rather find a parallel in some South Indian movie, where the hero stays undercover only to reveal his intentions in the climax.

Coming to the point – at a time when politicians are changing political parties and their ideologies at the drop of their hat – VK Pandian is like a constant in a scientific experiment. He has stood by Naveen Patnaik for over nine years and continues to do so.

On August 15, when Odisha joined India in muted Independence Day celebrations, one particular news piece overshadowed all the others. The TV channels kept rolling the image of VK Pandian driving Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik to the ceremony venue. To be fair, it was not that a big deal since it was just a precautionary step taken in view of COVID-19. But then, how many IAS officers have taken the wheel and drove a political leader themselves?

VK Pandian

The Backstory

It all began in 2011 when Pandian was posted as CM’s Secretary. So, when late Pyarimohan Mohapatra, the then Naveen Patnaik’s aide made an unsuccessful coup against the leader, Pandian had got his opportunity. After Pyarimohan’s ouster, it was VK Pandian’s turn to become the Chief Minister’s close confidant.

While the election victory in 2014 was more of an expected outcome, the 2019 elections was the real test. With the BJP making inroads and the fear of ‘Modi wave’ lingering in the BJD camp, Naveen Patnaik’s shining knight was VK Pandian once again, who is credited to have come up with several welfare schemes to woo the public.

The task was not easy – more so, because the opposition had openly started targeting the ‘third floor,’ for being the actual power behind the Chief Minister’s post. Nonetheless, the master kept his faith and his most trusted aide didn’t let him down.

Even when a big shot BJD leader openly accused VK Pandian of controlling and interfering in political matters, nothing changed for the Patnaik-Pandian duo. Rather, the said politician had to switch to another political party instead.

While all of this happened mostly with VK Pandian staying in the shadows, rarely making himself clicked or captured – things turned around post-elections.

An official photograph of the smiling duo was circulated online, with leaders and political experts openly acknowledging VK Pandian’s contribution to the election victory. Since then the aide has ‘officially’ taken up matters in his own hands, becoming the 5T Secretary – a role that enables him intervention into several Government departments.

A Formidable Duo

So, what really clicks with VK Pandian? The Patnaik-Pandian duo is of course, not the first Sachin-Sehwag partnership in Indian politics. The brightest example is Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. Though Modi is the Prime Minister, Shah is credited to be the brains behind every move.

However, in Odisha politics, the situation is different – unlike politicians Modi-Shah, Patnaik is a political head while Pandian is an IAS officer – at least up until now.

The growing and now visible influence in decision-making has prompted the political circles to believe VK Pandian might be the successor. While Naveen Patnaik has never acknowledged his succession plan, one never knows the turn of events in politics.

Whatever happens in the future, one thing is for sure – Odisha’s political story will remain incomplete without the Patnaik-Pandian mention – A Chief Minister and his trusted aide.

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