Rapid Rise: VK Pandian Granted Cabinet Minister Rank in Odisha Within 24 Hours

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Former Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer and a close confidant of Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, VK Pandian, has been appointed as the Chairman of the 5T (Transformational Initiatives) initiative, attaining the rank of a cabinet minister, according to an official announcement made on Tuesday.

Pandian’s new role as Chairman of 5T, working directly under Chief Minister Patnaik, was swift, occurring less than 24 hours after his request for voluntary retirement from government service was approved. The 2000 batch IAS officer, who began his career as Dharmagarh sub-collector in Kalahandi district, has been an integral part of the Odisha Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) since 2011 and evolved into one of Naveen Patnaik’s most trusted aides.

Originally from Tamil Nadu and initially serving in the Punjab cadre, Pandian’s career trajectory was significantly altered after he married Odia IAS officer Sujata Rout, leading to his shift to the Odisha cadre. His most prominent position as a bureaucrat was serving as the private secretary to Chief Minister Patnaik, a role he held for over a decade, giving him substantial influence in Odisha’s political landscape.

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Pandian’s profile expanded further after the 2019 Assembly polls when he assumed the position of 5T Secretary. The 5T initiative is designed to bring transparency and cooperation to government departments in Odisha. Although there is no official 5T department, Pandian used his role to intervene in various government projects, effectively becoming a key intermediary in government affairs, with ministers and legislators seeking his audience.

Pandian has been the focus of controversy due to his extensive tours of all 30 districts of Odisha using the state’s helicopter. Opposition parties have alleged that these tours resembled ruling party rallies, raising concerns about their nature and purpose.

BJP MP Aparajita Sarangi filed a petition with the Department of Personnel & Training (DoPT), seeking disciplinary action against Pandian for violating All India Service (Conduct) Rules. She argued that he was blurring the line and should formally enter politics after resigning from the IAS.

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Meanwhile, Congress MP Saptagiri Ulaka expressed no surprise at the possibility of Pandian assuming the role of Odisha’s chief minister before the next elections, highlighting the complex power dynamics in the state. Ulaka remarked on the swift approval of Pandian’s voluntary retirement during the holiday period.

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