Many messages, and some colour, in Naveen Patnaik’s first foreign trip in a decade

Naveen Patnaik Earlier this week it posted a message on social media with a video of him, relaxed, smiling, and dressed in a light blue kurta, strolling through the Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi – a rarity for a political leader who has lived for years. is stuck for all-white in public.

“The marble dome of Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi is the epitome of grandeur with intricate inlay work inspired by Mughal architecture. I am told that the artisans and marble also came from Makrana village in Rajasthan,” the Odisha chief minister posted at the end of his 10-day foreign visit which was his first in 10 years. “A little India everywhere.”

Separately, there is a ring to it, a chief minister with a keen interest in history and heritage – he is one of the founding members of the non-profit Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) – is bringing out the modern Time to appreciate the architectural works of the time. When seen with another message posted by him a few days back, it sends a beep signal, politics and some history written on him.

On June 22, the Chief Minister posted pictures of himself meeting the Pope in Vatican City. “It has been a great pleasure meeting His Holiness Pope Francis in Vatican City. Thanking him for the warm audience and wishing him good health and a long life,” posted Patnaik.

The meeting with the Pope was made public and well publicized – he is the first chief minister of an Indian state to do so – just days before Patnaik flew to Rome. The information about going to the mosque came only when it came to know. Details of his visit to Dubai, apart from the investors’ meeting which he attended on Thursday, were not shared. At least, not widely.

The two tours – to the Pope and to the mosque – send separate, uninvited signals, depending on which side is on.

For Patnaik’s fans and his Biju’s supporters Janata Dal (BJD) – the party is named after his father and political stalwart Biju Patnaik – reaffirming the secular image of their leader who will be India’s longest-serving chief minister at the end of this term.

To Patnaik’s critics, this may appear to be an attempt by the chief minister, if not strict, to dust off some of the saffron that has settled on his bright white kurta. Perhaps, an attempt to dispel and counter the charge of promoting soft Hindutva by going on a temple redevelopment spree ahead of the last elections in 2019.

The redevelopment programme, running in hundreds of crores, came at a time when the BJD was looking to counter it. BJPOnce a coalition partner that has emerged as the main opposition party in Odisha, replacing the Congress party.

Riding on Prime Minister’s rise in popularity, BJP is munching on its votes Narendra Modi Ahead of the elections in Odisha, Patnaik’s government announced a slew of measures for redevelopment and beautification of temples across the state. Most prominent among the redevelopment works was the plan of the Shri Jagannath Temple in Puri, on which the BJD and the BJP had recently fought a fierce political as well as court battle over allegations of damage to the 12th-century temple.

From a national point of view, however, the meeting with the Pope and the visit to the mosque gives a much bigger signal. She is the leader of a party that has followed a “state-first” policy considering alignment on matters of politics while stepping up to carve a place for herself on the national stage.

Since 2019, with his party winning almost all elections, including rural elections and civic polls, Patnaik finds himself in a comfortable zone, confident enough to play a major role in opposition politics.

While Patnaik has supported the BJP government at the Center on several occasions, at the risk of being called an ally, this foreign trip may have given him an opportunity to establish himself on a secular platform. However, doubts will remain for critics.

Incidentally, a day after returning home from a foreign trip, Patnaik would complete a full circle. On Friday, the Chief Minister will be in Puri for Rathod. Travel Odisha’s biggest religious event attended by lakhs of devotees from across India and the world.

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