Officials had never seen anything like it before. It was 4.30 am on Holi and the top brass of the Cuttack district administration, including the revenue divisional commissioner, central range, the collector, the twin city police commissioner and the Cuttack Municipal Corporation commissioner—were all present at the Badambadi bus stand to receive V. Karthikeyan Pandian, CM Naveen Patnaik’s Man Friday and secretary of the ‘5T’ (team work, technology, transparency, transformation and timeline) initiative. While Pandian was in a track suit and T-shirt, the officers were all formally dressed. It was, of course, nothing new for Pandian. Insiders say his day starts at 3.30 am with yoga and ends only at night. Like his boss, he is known to be an early-to-bed man. But for the officers who had to turn up at that unearthly hour, it was not something they looked forward to—certainly not on a government holiday.
Ever since Pandian started his whirlwind tour of the state five months ago, often in a chopper, in a bid to energise and tone up the administration and make it more people-friendly, officers in the districts have been trying to come to terms with the unusual working style and schedule of the bureaucrat blindly trusted by the CM for his supposed integrity, loyalty and efficiency. They complain that they get information about his visit barely hours in advance and thus have little time to prepare for it. Such is the fear that no officer is willing to speak about it on record. Privately, though, they make no secret of their unease. “If this continues for long, it could disrupt the whole administration, which works under a time-honoured chain of command,” says an officer.