Around 4 a.m., we experience the deepest quality of sleep. Around 4 a.m., a fitness freak like Akshay Kumar hits the gym. Who else remains awake around this time? People into night shifts? Voracious readers. And the insomniac.
Imagine earning a moniker as a 4 a.m. man? Meet VK Pandian, the ‘4 a.m. officer’ as he’s fondly called, known for monitoring the progress of the Odisha government’s flagship Jagannath Temple Heritage Corridor project even as our sleep reaches peak levels.
He resigned from the Indian Administrative Service but his new position in the cabinet rank is believed to be just a stop-gap arrangement, reported The New Indian Express.
The Tamil Nadu-born 2000-batch IAS officer is a trained middle-distance runner – and as The New Indian Express article notes, “Like a 3,000-metre run, he has had a steady and gradual progression through the crowd.”
A bit of background.
Hired as Naveen Patnaik’s private secretary in 2011, he won his trust in both administration and political affairs. Unassuming and soft-spoken to a fault, he rose in stature and even was assumed as the de facto CM. The New Indian Express says, “Even BJD leaders by slip of tongue addressing him so.”
When he started his career, he was quick to establish himself as a people’s man. His stint as an additional district magistrate of Rourkela is often cited – he drove a JCB to raze down unsanctioned encroachments.
As the article notes, even in his posting as Ganjam’s collector, he brought in innovations that impressed the CM.
A year after being posted to the CM’s office, in May 2012, he encountered the worst crisis of his professional life when Pyarimohan Mohapatra, his political advisor, staged a coup. Pandian played a quiet role in the exercise of damage control, helping to put an end to the rebellion. Because of his reputation for placing more trust in bureaucrats than in his party colleagues, he had to exercise greater caution in the wake of the failed coup. According to people close to Pandian, he was crucial in encircling his boss in a protective ring and making sure that the party never produced another power centre.
Naturally, the power corridors began to concentrate around him. His office on the third floor of the CM’s secretariat turned into a household name. Pandian was the only way to connect to Patnaik.
Pandian rallied the administration to spearhead some of the most audacious projects aimed at transforming Odisha over the past six years. A new era of government was ushered in for the state, with Pandian spearheading all the initiatives.
His influence is clearly visible in the governance map of Odisha. The state became a global centre of sports after hosting the Asian Athletics Championships in less than 90 days, two consecutive men’s hockey World Cups, numerous international football competitions, and other sporting events. He left his mark on many projects, including the construction of the state’s top medical facility, SCB Medical College, and the Jagannath Heritage Corridor.
The New Indian Express write-up adds that Pandian continued working behind the scenes up until 2019.
The 2019 BJD sweep altered the situation. He was appointed secretary of the 5T (Transparency, Technology, Teamwork, Time and Transformation) wing, which was specifically designed for Pandian, ensuring that all departments reported to him.
Not that every party was welcoming towards him. The opposition was offended by his recent district visits during which he listened to complaints from the public. He was challenged to leave the service and enter politics by the BJP and Congress.
As the state prepares for elections in a few months, the road ahead will be anything but simple. But Pandian has the spirit of a sportsman. He should be up for it.
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