31 July, 2021

Naveen Patnaik: Novice To Novelty

This excerpt from a political biography of Naveen Patnaik details Odisha’s discredited political class after the super cyclone, retelling how rapturous Odias accepted Biju Babu’s heir as a messiah.

Alone At The Top
The chief minister of Odisha at his residence in Bhubaneswar
Photograph by Narendra Bisht
Naveen Patnaik: Novice To Novelty

The twin-engine helicopter flew low, skirting over swathes of hills, valleys and fields. Having taken off from Bhubaneswar, the chopper was headed towards Thakurmunda, a speck of a town in the state’s interiors. From that height, the ground below looked picturesque. Plantations stretched mile upon mile, punctuated occasionally by rivers that cut across the terrain before vanishing into the horizon in a serpentine maze. Rolling hills gave way to small valleys, which in turn made space for another range of hills. Hamlets peeped out intermittently, the tin and thatched roofs of ordinary huts belonging to dirt-poor families glinting charmingly under the bright sun. Narrow pathways etched magical designs on the landscape, and brimming village ponds encircled by trees and the cattle wandering about gave the impression of uninterrupted bliss.

Nothing from the top betrayed the turmoil that the people of Odisha—which accounted for 4.8...

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