After the entire cabinet resigned, 21 new ministers have been sworn in, including five women. While nine ministers were retained, 12 were dropped. Three ministers were dropped due to certain controversies surrounding them, while a few others were dropped due to non-performance.
Patnaik recently completed 25 years in public service and 22 years as Chief Minister of the eastern state. Naveen 'Babu', as he is fondly called, hopes to retain power in 2024 on the basis of his popularity, his government’s social welfare schemes, a solid women's vote bank, and a revamped and young cabinet that carries no baggage.
Naveen 'Babu' hopes to retain power in 2024 on the basis of his popularity, his government’s welfare schemes, a solid women's vote bank, and a young cabinet that carries no baggage.
After the entire cabinet resigned, 21 new ministers have been sworn in, including five women.
This is the third such ministry revamp in a state after the BJP changed the entire cabinet in Gujarat last year, and Jagan Reddy of Andhra Pradesh took everybody’s resignations in April this year.
Both Modi and Patnaik have similar personality traits, and it is not surprising to see Patnaik implement Modi’s Gujarat trick in Odisha.
The five-time Chief Minister is fully aware that it is very natural for anti-incumbency to creep in against such long-tenure governments.
The Need for New Faces
This is the third such ministry revamp in a state after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) changed the entire cabinet, including the Chief Minister, in Gujarat last year, and Jagan Reddy of Andhra Pradesh took everybody’s resignations in April this year.
Patnaik's party is still going strong in the state. After a resounding victory in 2019, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) has won all the five by-elections in Odisha. It swept the municipal elections held early this year. So, why did he go for a complete overhaul?
The five-time Chief Minister is fully aware that it is very natural for anti-incumbency to creep in against such long-tenure governments. While people still like Patnaik – he was rated as ‘India’s Most Popular Chief Minister’ under the ‘Mood of the Nation survey 2022’ – some of his MLAs and ministers have been mired in controversy.
In local elections, one-third of voters cast their votes on the basis of the image of the candidate. Party symbol and Patnaik's charismatic leadership can take the BJD to only a certain level, which won’t be enough to comfortably cross the threshold.
With an aggressive BJP knocking on his doors, Patnaik might have felt the need to present new faces and a new vision for the state. The timing is also ripe as it gives roughly two years to the new ministers to settle and implement the new agenda.
Patnaik & Modi are Quite Similar
Both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Patnaik have similar personality traits, and it is not surprising to see Patnaik implement Modi’s Gujarat trick in Odisha.
Both are unmarried, which perhaps helps them build a non-corruptible image. People trust them for their ‘saaf niyat’ (clear conscience). Both rely more on bureaucrats for running the government and implementing policy decisions. It’s a common refrain that the country is run by the PMO, and Odisha from the ‘Third Floor’ of the Secretariat.
Both have towering personalities and have managed to create a huge fan base of their own, which is much bigger than their party. Both want to win each and every election and not simply rest on their laurels
Can't Afford any Negative PR
The appointment of the new cabinet also underscores the fact that Naveen Babu has taken ground feedback into account. He has proactively attempted to nip in the bud any dissatisfaction building among a section of voters due to non-performance, corruption, or controversies. Patnaik cannot afford to have the image of non-performers rub off on his popularity.
The reshuffle also puts to rest the question of who the in-charge of the state administration is. Local media is abuzz about a certain bureaucrat calling the shots and being in control.
Patnaik, through this revamp, has also silenced all speculation on who will be his successor. He hasn’t announced or given a hint about who he will pass on the mantle to, clearly indicating that he will lead the party in the next state and general elections. Patnaik turns 76 in October this year.
Over the years, Patnaik has developed a solid vote bank of women. As many as 47% of women in the state supported the BJD in 2019 (+6%), compared to men. The self-help group revolution in the state, through which lakhs of women have been given livelihood opportunities, has helped Patnaik consolidate the women vote. By inducting five women ministers (+3), he has sent a clear signal to women voters.
The new cabinet has more than 40% ministers from OBCs and four members from the SC/ST community, ticking the boxes for social engineering as well.
Simultaneous elections in the state have helped the party over the years win maximum seats in the Lok Sabha. Out of 21 seats, BJD won 14 seats in 2009, which increased to 20 in 2014, before dropping to 12 in 2019. With this revamp, Patnaik also hopes that the party could repeat its 2014 performance in the state.
The seasoned politician, who has backed the BJP on important issues in Parliament, may be hoping that inflation along with stagnation leads the BJP to be short of a majority in 2024, wherein the BJD could play the role of kingmaker.
To sum up, Naveen Babu is hoping to get majority seats in Lok Sabha as well as the Rajya Sabha in 2024 through this revamp, banking on Odia asmita (pride), the legacy of his father and the TINA factor, among other things.
(The author is an independent political commentator and can be reached at @politicalbaaba. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)