V.K. Pandian: Chairman of 5T

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In a significant move, the Odisha government has appointed V.K. Pandian as the Chairman of the 5T (Transparency, Technology, Teamwork, Time, and Transformation) Initiative and Nabin Odisha. This comes on the heels of his voluntary retirement as an IAS officer. Pandian, who held the position of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s private secretary for over a decade, has been granted the rank of Cabinet Minister and will directly collaborate with Mr. Patnaik.

The Department of Personnel and Training swiftly approved Pandian’s voluntary retirement, waiving the notice period as recommended by the State government. His formal entry into the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) has raised speculation, particularly with the upcoming Assembly and Lok Sabha elections.

Pandian’s remarkable journey has seen him serve as the private secretary to Mr. Patnaik for a dozen years, exceeding half of his service tenure as an IAS officer. The Tamil Nadu-born former Odisha-cadre IAS officer has earned a reputation as the go-to person for politicians, officials, industrialists, and visitors seeking appointments with the Chief Minister. His role also included serving as the 5T Secretary.

Pandian’s career began as the Deputy Collector of Dharmagarh in Kalahandi district, subsequently taking up the mantle of District Magistrate in Mayurbhanj and Ganjam. In 2011, he was posted in the Chief Minister’s Office. His efforts in simplifying the processes for issuing certificates to people with disabilities garnered widespread recognition.

In a pivotal moment in 2012, Pandian’s role became even more critical when Mr. Patnaik’s adviser, Pyari Mohan Mohapatra, attempted to dislodge him from the Chief Minister’s post. As Mr. Mohapatra exited, Mr. Patnaik needed a trustworthy confidant, and Pandian filled that void and gained Mr. Patnaik’s confidence.

Pandian’s influence extended to several key government programs highlighted as the BJD government’s achievements, including school transformations, temple renovations, sports development in Odisha, and expedited government program execution.

He played a pivotal role in conceptualizing major infrastructure projects such as converting SCB Medical College into an AIIMS-like institution and accelerating long-pending irrigation projects.

Pandian’s extensive district tours since June raised eyebrows, with the Opposition accusing him of overstepping his official duties. He utilized helicopters extensively for grievance redress sessions in the State, conducting elaborate meetings with BJD MLAs and MPs. While he was primarily a silent and diligent officer during his time in the CMO, his district tours aimed to gauge his acceptance among the people. When the Opposition intensified their criticism, Mr. Patnaik publicly defended him, emphasizing that Pandian was his representative.

However, welcoming a Tamil Nadu-born IAS officer into a political party founded on strong regionalism presents its challenges. Pandian’s transition into the BJD and gaining acceptance among the people and party cadres will be closely watched, particularly in the dynamic landscape of Odisha politics.

As a notable example, Aparajita Sarangi, a former Odisha-cadre IAS officer originally from Bihar, successfully entered politics by becoming the Bhubaneswar MP on a BJP ticket. Her connection to an Odia IAS officer, Santosh Sarangi, may have eased her political journey. In the realm of Odisha politics, V.K. Pandian’s journey from bureaucrat to political player promises to be an intriguing narrative.

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