Naveen Patnaik opts for a lean Cabinet for fifth straight term as CM

Naveen Patnaik takes oath as the chief minister of Odisha, in Bhubaneswar, on Wednesday | Photo: PTI
Bjiu Janata Dal (BJD) president Naveen Patnaik took oath as Odisha’s chief minister for the fifth straight term. He is the third CM after Jyoti Basu (West Bengal) and Pawan Kumar Chamling (Sikkim) to achieve the rare distinction.

Odisha’s Governor Ganeshi Lal administered the oath of office and secrecy to Patnaik and his new Council of 20 ministers.

Patnaik led BJD to a thumping win in the 2019 assembly elections, winning 112 of 146 constituencies. The immense mandate blew away the Modi wave seen in the Lok Sabha elections and anti-incumbency.

Election for Patkura (in Kendrapara district) had to be deferred twice- first after BJD candidate Ved Prakash Agarwal deceased and later owing to the catastrophic  storm Fani which barrelled in Odisha’s coast near Puri on May 3.

The swearing-in ceremony for Patnaik stood out as it marked a departure from the usual convention as the venue was shifted from Raj Bhavan to Idco Exhibition Ground in the heart of Bhubaneswar. The oath taking ceremony had a touch of India Inc’s sparkle, attended by Tata Steel’s global CEO & managing director T V Narendran, JSPL chairman Naveen Jindal and MindTree co-founder Subroto Bagchi, among others. Patnaik’s elder sister and noted author Gita Mehta, brother Prem Patnaik, too, joined in the posse of about 5,000 dignitaries.

Patnaik’s new team is a mix of fresh faces and the long time loyalists. While old timers like Prafulla Mallick, Bikram Keshari Arukh, Niranjan Pujari, Sushant Singh, Pratap Jena and Arun Sahoo were named Cabinet ministers, 10 new faces, including two triumphant women legislators were inducted. Titlagarh MLA Tukuni Sahu took oath as a Cabinet minister, while Padmini Dian was given Minister of State (MoS) rank. Naba Kishore Das, who jumped fences from Congress to BJD in the run-up to 2019 polls, was rewarded with a Cabinet rank. Six-time Athagarh MLA and Biju Patnaik acolyte Ranendra Pratap Swain got a Cabinet berth. Debutante MLA Raghunandan Das, who emerged a giant assassin by humbling the formidable Damodar Rout at Ersama-Balikuda, too, got a ministerial berth.

The portfolios were allocated swiftly after the swearing-in ended. Patnaik, the chief minister, will additionally oversee home, general administration & public grievances and any other department not assigned to other ministers. Niranjan Pujari, the former speaker of the state assembly is the new minister for finance & excise. Prafulla Mallick retains his old portfolio of steel & mines along with works. New entrant Naba Kishore Das will look after health & family welfare. Tukuni Sahu, Patnaik's lone colleague in the Cabinet, has bagged the ministry of women and child development & Mission Shakti.

A noted political commentator who doesn't want to be named says the new Council lacks balance in representation of the entire state. “It is not viable to have ministers drawn from all 30 districts. But the new government ignores 13 districts- not a single MLA chosen as minister. Patnaik’s Cabinet composition also sends a strong signal to BJD dissidents and turncoats who crossed over to other parties”, he said.

As the newly sworn-in ministers await their portfolios, congratulatory messages are pouring in on social media for Naveen Patnaik.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi took to twitter to congratulate Patnaik and his new team. “Congratulations to Shri Naveen Patnaik Ji on taking oath as Odisha’s Chief Minister. Best wishes to him and his team in fulfilling the people’s aspirations. I assure complete cooperation from the Centre in working for Odisha’s progress. @Naveen_Odisha”, Modi tweeted.

Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan also gave the new council of ministers his best wishes.

“Best wishes to Shri @Naveen_Odisha on taking oath as the Chief Minister of Odisha. I am hopeful that the state govt in Odisha will proactively support the Centre in uplifting the lives of our Odia brothers & sisters to help further the dream of a developed & #NewOdisha”, Pradhan tweeted.

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