Skip to main content

Rise of 'depoliticised' bureaucratic culture, worsening inequalities: A Patnaik legacy

By Bhabani Shankar Nayak* 

The classical Odia literature, art, architecture, stone carvings, and its historical and cultural heritage, along with distinct philosophical musings, stand as testaments to Odia renaissance of the state, society, and polity in Odisha. The internationalist outlook is embedded within its easy-going and laid-back attitude towards everyday life. Resilience and determination define the Odia renaissance, where the acceptance of the 'other' as its 'own' delineates its unique cultural heritage and legacies.
In spite of its caste-class based feudal-cliental political landscape, the progressive Odia ethos has survived all onslaughts of history, both past and present. However, contemporary Odisha appears to be a 'politics-free zone,' where technocratic interventions have buried the political processes aimed at deepening democracy and empowering its citizens for progressive transformation toward social, political, and economic equality in the state.
Under the leadership of Naveen Patnaik, the state of Odisha displays the growth of a bureaucratic culture of 'anti-politics machines,' reinforcing existing reactionary power structures, exacerbating all forms of inequalities, and undermining local political processes.
The political landscape also exhibits over-centralization of power, creating conditions of tyranny and undermining decentralized democracy in the state. The hyperactive bureaucracy under centralized leadership functions as a tool to bypass, marginalize, and weaken democratic institutions and structures of governance.
This is against the ideals of progressive political, social, and economic transformation of the state. The culture of depoliticization helps in maintaining the status quo, which is contrary to the values of the Odia renaissance.
The technocratic and instant solutions provided by the all-encompassing 5T (Transparency, Technology, Time, and Transformation) interventions, without political engagement, may seem beneficial temporarily. It provides an immediate boost, akin to instant coffee, but it damages the body polity in the long run.
The political management with the help of technical expertise and bureaucratic efficiency can never empower citizenship rights or contribute to the deepening of democracy. They can never replace the critical role of political participation in the deepening of democracy and social transformation.
Naveen Patnaik and his government had a great opportunity to transform the state within the last twenty-three years of governance. However, his government has utterly failed to deepen democracy, transform Odia society, and realise the promises of Odia renaissance by overly relying on bureaucrats.
He is centrally responsible for undermining local political processes and outsourcing empowerment to 'self-help groups (SHGs).' Political transformation appears elusive in rural areas, and hospitals, schools, colleges, and universities in the state seem to be in a debilitating condition.
Framing issues of people and solutions to their predicaments as purely apolitical bureaucratic initiatives undermines people and their voices in the democratic decision-making process. This approach will have profound political implications in the long run.
The inherent contradiction of bureaucratic governance is detrimental to authentic socio-economic progress, as it only benefits elites in society while marginalizing the masses. The caste-class dominance and urban bias in the development process in the state are the net outcomes of depoliticized bureaucratic governance in Odisha.
Progressive politics involves bringing people and their lived experiences to frame policies and programs, empowering them as shareholders of a democratic state. Naveen Patnaik has failed to transform the state due to his disconnected bureaucratic politics. The propaganda of progress and modernization can mask the underlying power dynamics that shape political transformation based on the ideals of Odia renaissance.
Technocratic solutions without political engagement provides immediate boost, akin to instant coffee, but damages body polity
Progressive politics not only articulates the needs and aspirations of the masses but also materializes them for an egalitarian transformation. Patnaik and his government have failed to articulate such an agenda in the last twenty-three years of his leadership and governance.
Despite all his promises, the agenda for social justice and equity looks gloomy in the state. By hobnobbing with Hindutva politics, Patnaik has helped BJP to strengthen its organisational base in Odisha and weaken the politics of social justice. The depoliticised political environment is a fertile ground for the RSS to grow. The RSS has entered into every nook and cranny of the state. Mr Patnaik’s political art of equidistance is a politics of opportunism disguised as neutrality that is suitable for the BJP in the centre.
The twenty-three years of depoliticization in Odisha under Patnaik have not only weakened its political processes but also undermined accountability and transparency in governance. The 5T initiative and its propaganda often create a space where decision-making is concentrated in the hands of experts and bureaucrats, limiting the influence of local communities and elected representatives.
The overreliance on bureaucrats has shifted decision-making power away from local institutions, hindering the development of accountable and transparent governance mechanisms in the state.
The death of political opposition and engagement, and the rise of a depoliticized bureaucratic culture are twin achievements of Patnaik’s leadership. His governance, led by a bureaucratic anti-politics machine, has created a politics-free zone in the state, which is dangerous for Odisha and its people in the long run.
While Patnaik may have found his henchman to carry forward his legacies in politics, Odisha and its people have lost two decades in realizing the dreams and values of the Odia renaissance. This is a cautionary tale from a fellow Odia comrade. 
Will Patnaik listen and revisit his approach to revive the radical and progressive promises of the Odia renaissance based on political participation and engagement? Will Patnaik change his political direction and initiate inclusive and accountable governance and politics for the deepening of democracy in Odisha?
The answers to these two questions will shape the narratives about his political legacies in the future.
*University of Glasgow, UK



'Flawed' argument: Gandhi had minimal role, naval mutinies alone led to Independence

Counterview Desk Reacting to a Counterview  story , "Rewiring history? Bose, not Gandhi, was real Father of Nation: British PM Attlee 'cited'" (January 26, 2016), an avid reader has forwarded  reaction  in the form of a  link , which carries the article "Did Atlee say Gandhi had minimal role in Independence? #FactCheck", published in the site The article seeks to debunk the view, reported in the Counterview story, taken by retired army officer GD Bakshi in his book, “Bose: An Indian Samurai”, which claims that Gandhiji had a minimal role to play in India's freedom struggle, and that it was Netaji who played the crucial role. We reproduce the article here. Text: Nowadays it is said by many MK Gandhi critics that Clement Atlee made a statement in which he said Gandhi has ‘minimal’ role in India's independence and gave credit to naval mutinies and with this statement, they concluded the whole freedom struggle.

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

Don't agree on domestic subsidies, ensure food security at WTO meet: Farmer leaders

Counterview Desk  The Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers Movements (ICCFM), a top network of farmers’ organizations in India, in a letter to Piyush Goyal, Minister of Commerce and Industry, has asked him to “safeguard food security and sovereignty, even as ensuring peasants' rights" at the 13th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO MC 13), to take place from 26 to 29 February 2024 in Abu Dhabi.

Students, lawyers, professors detained in Delhi for demonstrating in support of farmers

By Our Representative  About 25 protestors, belonging to the civil rights network, Campaign Against State Repression (CASR), a coalition of over 40 organisations, were detained at Jantar Mantar for holding a demonstration in support of the farmers' stir on Friday. Those detained included students, lawyers and professors, including Prof Nandita Narain and Prof N Sachin. 

Sharp 61-85% fall in Tech startup funding in India's top 'business-friendly' States

By Rajiv Shah Funding in Tech startups in top business-friendly Indian states has witnessed a major fall, a data intelligence platform for private market research has said in a series of reports it has released this month. Analysing Tech startup data of Telangana, Maharashtra, Delhi NCR, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala, Tracxn Technologies Ltd , the Bengaluru-based research firm, finds that except for Kerala, funding witnessed a fall of anywhere between 61% and 85%.

Solar energy funding dips 9% in 2023; 2024 'kicks off' with US$1 billion investment

By Lakshmitha Raj*  Solar energy tech companies have already secured slightly over US$1 billion in funding in 2024 (till Feb 7, 2024) after total funding into Solar Energy companies in India fell 9% to US$1.55B in 2023 from US$1.7B in 2022. A total of 39 $100M+ rounds have been closed till date, with Delhi leading the city-wise funding, followed by Gurugram and Mumbai.

Maize, bajra, jute, banana cultivation banned off West Bengal border: Plea to NHRC

Counterview Desk  West Bengal-based human rights defender Kirity Roy, who is secretary, Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Manch, and is national convenor of the Programme Against Custodial Torture & Impunity, in a representation to the chairman, National Human Rights Commission, second within few days, has bought to light one more case of trespassing and destruction of a fertile banana plantation by BSF personnel along the Indo-Bangladesh border, stating, despite a written complaint to the police has taken "no initiative".

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

India second best place to invest, next to UAE, yet there is 'lacks support' for IT services

By Sreevas Sahasranamam, Aileen Ionescu-Somers*  The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is the best place in the world to start a new business, according to the latest annual Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) survey. The Arab nation is number one for the third year in a row thanks to a big push by the government into cutting-edge technology in its efforts to diversify away from oil.

Mahanadi delta: Aggressive construction in flood plains, reduced fish stock, pollution

By Sudhansu R Das  Frequent natural calamities, unemployment, low farmers’ income, increase in crime rate and lack of quality human resources to strike a balance between growth and environment etc. continue to haunt the state. The state should delve into the root causes of poverty, unemployment and natural calamities.