Naveen Patnaik’s eventful UK trip

Last week, word spread that Naveen Patnaik and his entourage were cancelling a talk at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), Sussex. There were about ten news articles on this and being an IDS alum, this caught my eye of course. Apparently, a couple of rights groups and students had decided to ask a few uncomfortable questions during the proposed talk.

Then there was a longer HT article that decried the air of secrecy that surrounded the Odisha CM’s meetings in the UK – not just with members of the UK government (which might be sort of understandable), but also with reearchers from IDS.

secrecy surrounds a meeting Patnaik had on Monday with researchers from Sussex University’s prestigious Institute of Development Studies (IDS), which is partly funded by DfID. After Patnaik cancelled a lecture at IDS, allegedly to avoid being questioned by activists and students, three researchers headed by the school’s director Lawrence Haddad, trooped into London to call on Patnaik.

“Two other researchers (apart form Haddad) who are experts on nutrition attended the meeting. I can’t provide you with their details,” said an IDS spokeswoman. “Nutrition was the main topic, and discussion also touched on education initiatives to keep girls in school and cash transfers to poor households. I won’t be able to provide you with any further information.” In an extraordinary act of secrecy, she refused to give the names of the two other researchers from the institute, which takes a keen interest in India and has programmes for Indian scholars and civil servants…

Its unfortunate that Naveen Patnaik chose not to take on the protestors and clarify his position. Odisha, in parts, does seem to be making a move on, although the government has been slow on dealing with mining licenses and rehabilitation and resettlement of affected communities. Large-scale development projects involve tough decisions, something the UK government seems to understand, going by their statements on the issue. At the same time, the rights groups have a right to engage governments in a debate and demand answers to their questions. I have to say, once again, that Naveen Patnaik should have been game for a open debate.

Second, did the Odisha CM feel cornered in the UK – a country that funds large-scale development projects in Orissa? Did this aid empower the rights groups to adopt a harsher tone with Odisha than they would normally? If yes (and I honestly don’t know if it was), what does that say about the power a donor country exerts over the recipients – not necessarily the hard power that the donor governments themselves exert, but the soft power exerted by other actors rooted in the donor country?

All in all, an eventful trip for the Odisha CM, which I think slipped from the news given the attempted coup that he had to rush home to quell. But this is just another instance of bad media and PR management by yet another prominent Indian political leader.

Also, here is the IDS Director Lawrence Haddad’s blog post on the issue

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