THE DARK KNIGHT
As Bhubaneswar gets all set to stage the Men’s Hockey World Cup starting later this month, its residents have been watching impressed. Soon the rest of the world, too, will get a taste of the hosting prowess of the capital city of Odisha. Everybody knows that all this would not have been remotely possible without the grand vision and personal attention of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik. But hardly anyone seems to be aware of the people who have been entrusted with the task of seeing that vision through on the ground.
On the top of that list perhaps is V Karthikeyan Pandian, private secretary to Chief Minister, who has quietly but uncompromisingly overseen the preparations for the mega event. The state media has barely bothered reporting that. However, whenever anyone drags this diligent bureaucrat through the mud, some sections of the press seem eager enough to publish it without any due verification whatsoever.
Last month former MP Laxman Tudu, who had just joined the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha after quitting the Biju Janata Dal, made a bizarrely serious claim. While addressing a press conference in Baripada, Tudu alleged that Pandian was involved in the purported mining scam in Mayurbhanj during his stint as the district’s collector.
Tudu accused Pandian of being hand in glove with then Member of Parliament Sudam Marndi on a nefarious agreement to illegally mine iron ore in the district. He also stated that the 2000-batch IAS officer prevented him from apprising the chief minister of this secret deal by simply not letting him have an appointment with his party boss.
Promptly reacting to the allegations hurled at him, Marndi said Tudu should have brought those along a long time ago and must provide whatever evidence he might have to substantiate them now. Marndi clarified that he was a social worker, not a mining magnet, who was enjoying his currently privileged position only because of the public goodwill he had earned from his work.
However, Pandian said nothing in his own defence. Not a word.
In the preceding month of September, too, he was the target of another serious allegation. Expelled BJD leader Damodar Rout accused Pandian of intentionally stymieing last year an ordinance to protect sharecroppers’ rights in Odisha.
Revealing that he was part of the working committee on sharecropper legislation, the former minister and BJD vice-president said it was Pandian who was responsible for the bill being put on the backburner. Rout also recalled his fellow party members and ministers Suryanarayan Patro and Maheshwar Mohanty as telling him something to that effect.
Rout’s recollections were swiftly denied and roundly rubbished by Mohanty. The Revenue Minister of Odisha explained that the sharecroppers’ bill was only taking time as it was a complex and sensitive matter which required ensuring adequate protection for the rights of both landlords and farmers.
But Pandian maintained silence even then. That was nothing new, though.
Earlier this year, in February, when a bunch of boisterous BJP workers barged into the premises of his official residence and vandalised it (a move that was widely reckoned to be a desperate attempt by the saffron party to intimidate the Naveen Patnaik government and its key people ahead of the 2019 elections), everyone – from the Chief Minister himself and other senior leaders from the BJD and Congress, to the state associations of the IAS, IPS and OAS – expressed shock over the incident and unequivocally condemned it.
Everyone but Pandian.
Many political observers of the state have noted that his persistent silence could be attributed to his characteristic modus operandi. Ever since Pandian arrived in Odisha as a freshly recruited IAS officer at the turn of the millennium, he has always let his work do all the talking. His developmental efforts in Kalahandi, Mayurbhanj and Ganjam districts not only garnered praise from the public, the government and the bureaucratic community, but also earned him a handful of national awards.
Apart from his efficiency, enterprise, industriousness and consequent achievements, he had also earned a reputation for his honesty and integrity – qualities that Naveen has always held in high regard. Hence, it was no wonder when Pandian was appointed the Private Secretary to Chief Minister in 2011.
Ever since then, he has successfully ensured thorough and timely implementation of Naveen’s pet policies and schemes. In order to achieve such a tall order with optimal efficiency day in, day out, week in, week out, and year in, year out over the past seven years, Pandian has perhaps found it expedient to operate discreetly, keeping away from the media and its unending distractions – even at the expense of being rendered unable to defend all the accusations that wrongly come his way thanks in large part to his enviable position as Naveen’s right-hand man.
As long as his boss is satisfied with his work and the people of Odisha are benefiting from it all, Pandian seems more than happy to be – just like fictional superhero Batman – a dark knight.