A day after the Centre approved the voluntary retirement of Odisha cadre Indian Administrative Service officer VK Pandian, the state government on Tuesday appointed him as a Cabinet minister, reported The Indian Express.

Pandian is a close aide of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and has served as his private secretary for 12 years. The Biju Janata Dal government has appointed him as the chairperson of the 5T programme, which stands for teamwork, technology, transparency, transformation and time.

The programme, a brainchild of Pandian, was launched in 2019. Under the programme, the state government says it has transformed over 4,000 high schools with refurbished classrooms, laboratories and playgrounds, reported the newspaper.

Pandian began his career as the deputy collector of Dharmagarh in Kalahandi district, reported The Hindu. He went on to become the district magistrate of Mayurbhanj and Ganjam before his posting in the Chief Minister’s Office in 2011.

The Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party has raised questions about Patnaik’s reported reliance on bureaucrats more than his party colleagues. BJP national president JP Nadda had said at a rally in Kalahandi district in June that the administration in Odisha had been “outsourced to bureaucracy”.

Biju Janata Dal MLA Soumya Ranjan Patnaik was removed from his post as the vice president of the party last month after he spoke against Pandian’s state-wide tours, reported The Hindu.

He also faces disciplinary action as he accused Pandian of meddling with state politics.

On the latest development, Patnaik told The Print: Bureaucrats should not be doing politics. Secretaries should be helping the ministers, but it should not be the other way around. If the CM wants to send someone [to raise awareness about schemes and outreach] he should send elected leaders.”

On Tuesday, Opposition leaders in the state broadly welcomed Pandian’s new role. BJP’s Odisha unit chief Manmohan Samal said that his party no longer objects to Pandian joining politics as he has retired from the administrative service, reported The New Indian Express.

“There is nothing wrong for a retired IAS officer to enter politics and there are many such persons in BJP also,” Samal told reporters. “Now he can enter politics.

Congress Legislature Party leader Narasingh Mishra said that Pandian’s appointment as the chairperson of 5T is not illegal or unconstitutional.

However, Congress state unit chief Sarat Pattanayak alleged that the haste with which Pandian’s voluntary retirement proposal was accepted by the Union government exposes the tacit understanding between BJD and BJP.

Pandian’s key appointment in the government comes a year ahead of the Assembly elections in the state and the Lok Sabha polls.