Pyarimohan Mohapatra, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s one-time mentor-turned-detractor, died on Sunday at Mumbai’s Hinduja Hospital after a long battle with lung cancer. The former Rajya Sabha MP was 77 and is survived by his wife, two sons and two daughters.
Mohapatra, a political strategist, was often referred to as Chanakya of Odisha politics for making the Biju Janata Dal the strongest political force and guiding it to successive victories in Assembly and Lok Sabha polls between 2000 and 2009. He was believed to be the eyes and ears of Patnaik before he fell out with his disciple over an alleged coup in May 2012.
Mohapatra, whose second tenure in Rajya Sabha ended last year, had been suffering from cancer and he had also had a heart attack several years ago. He had undergone surgery in his lungs in March last year but some infections surfaced recently.
He was on ventilator support at Hinduja hospital and had difficulty in speaking. His daughter confirmed the death at 9.30pm. Patnaik and Union minister Dharmendra Pradhan conveyed their condolences to the family. Pyaribabu, as Mohapatra was known, was believed to be the person who turned the BJD into a potent force in Odisha soon after it was formed after the demise of former chief minister Biju Patnaik in 1997.
The principal secretary to Biju between 1990 and 1995, Mohapatra, a 1963-batch IAS officer, exercised ruthless power. Soon after he joined the BJD in 2000, he earned Naveen’s confidence. The same year, he worked the levers to throw out the BJD’s founder member Bijoy Mohapatra from the party just hours before the nominations for the Assembly polls closed, apprehending that Bijoy could be a challenger to Naveen after the polls.
After Naveen became the Chief Minister in 2000, Mohapatra did the handholding as he steered him in politics and administration, often sending long fax messages on things to do and not to do. The joke in Odisha politics was that PM (initials of Pyarimohan) was running the state and not the CM. Mohapatra was believed to be behind in the BJD’s snapping of ties with the BJP ahead of the 2009 Assembly polls. Mohapatra had conducted a survey which showed that the BJP had lost its core voters and was more of a political liability.
Despite the widespread belief that the 2009 polls would throw up a hung Assembly, the BJD won 103 seats in the 147-member House. It helped to lift Mohapatra’s stature higher. But Mohapatra and Naveen fell out during the 2012 panchayat polls and the gulf widened when in May 2012 the former bureaucrat engineered a coup while Naveen was in London. The coup failed. When Patnaik returned, he suspended Mohapatra from the party, calling him “ungrateful” and a “traitor”. Mohapatra formed the Odisha Jana Morcha, but in the 2014 polls it proved to be damp squib.