Bhubaneswar Club Elections Today: Former, Current CMO Babus Turn It Into High-Stakes Battle

Bhubaneswar: As Bhubaneswar Club members get ready to vote for a new set of office-bearers this weekend, the hectic campaigning, especially for the post of president, by two former Odisha Chief Secretaries has become a point of discussion in different circles here.

What has upped the ante is not just the high-profile fight between Bijay Kumar Patnaik, a 1976 batch IAS officer, and Asit Kumar Tripathy, a 1986 batch IAS officer, but also the fact that the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO), popularly referred to as Third Floor because of its location in Lok Seva Bhavan here, figures prominently in the chatter in the run-up to the elections to the premier club.

While Patnaik was formerly Principal Secretary to Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and was considered a key associate of the latter about a decade ago, Tripathy is presently serving as Principal Advisor to the CM and seen as an important member of the ruling clique. After superannuating as Chief Secretary in December 2000, Tripathy was appointed by the BJD government as Principal Advisor to CM (a position also held by former IAS officer R Balakrishnan) and also Chairman, Western Odisha Development Council.

Though Patnaik has retired from government service since 2013, his earlier proximity to Naveen and the fact that his rival in the club elections is Tripathy, who is believed to be part of Naveen’s current coterie, has fuelled speculation that there is more to the club elections than meets the eye. “This is perhaps the first time in Bhubaneswar Club’s 72-year-old history that such high-voltage elections are being held. The dynamics make it apparent that it’s not a simple club election but bigger forces are at work,” pointed out a senior club member, requesting anonymity.

Odisha’s finance secretary Vishal Dev, a 1996 batch IAS officer, vying for the club secretary’s post has also added to animated gossip round the elections. He is an important part of the bureaucrats’ group calling the shots in the state and is perceived to be very close to Tripathy. When Tripathy was Chief Secretary, Dev served as his Officer on Special Duty and was involved in COVID management in 2020. Dev is currently serving as secretary of Odisha IAS Officers’ Association, of which Tripathy is the advisor though he has retired from service. Businessman Mahendra Gupta (for vice president) and Ashok Mishra (for joint secretary) complete Tripathy’s panel of contestants, club sources said. Earlier this year, Tripathy was reelected president of Bhubaneswar Golf Club.

Patnaik, in turn, is said to enjoy the support of outgoing club secretary Ashok Chinchela, who is seeking re-election, and outgoing vice-president Sudipto Das. Both Chinchela and Das, who are under the club scanner for inducting 274 new members by allegedly flouting club rules, were close aides of former club president Priyabrat Patnaik. Priyabrat practically ruled the club for nearly three decades till he died in July 2020. He and Bijay Patnaik were friends and IAS batchmates.

“Though Bijay Patnaik has tried to stay away from being part of a panel or group, he in a way represents the old guard. Tripathy and Co. are seen as the challengers, a former bureaucrat and club member said and quickly added, “But that’s not all. The fight is also seemingly between the old Naveen group versus the current Naveen team.”

Patnaik has been reaching out to club members by making personal calls and also taken the social media route to appeal for votes. Tripathy, too, is leaving no stone unturned, making it not just a prestige issue for self but apparently also for the powers that be in Odisha’s capital city.

Apart from Dev and Chinchela, Dewa Shankar Tripathy, Partha Sarathi Panigrahi, Jyoshnamayee Panda and Damodar Pradhani are also in the fray for the secretary’s post. Five candidates, Jayanta Kumar Hota, Tapesh Roy, Dewa Shankar Tripathy, Mahendra Kumar Gupta and Aroon Birla, are vying for the vice president post while Koushik Mohapatra, Jyotirmoy Mohanty and Ashok Kumar Mishra are battling it out for joint secretary.

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