BIJU PATNAIK; a patriot to the core, a great son of India & a true national icon from soil of Odisha

Biju Patnaik was a towering and multi-dimensional personality no less than a colossus in every sense of the term. His contributions were not only multi-dimensional but even transcended the periphery of Odisha and India extending to the international domain. A pilot- cum-dare-devil nationalist, he was closely associated with stalwarts like Jai Prakash Narayan, Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia and others. He extended his all-out support to them during the Quit India Movement (1942) carrying in his aircraft those nationalist leaders to their destination. He also distributed handbills of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and that is why he was Court-martialled and was sentenced to three year imprisonment.
Apart from contributing his mite in India’s struggle for freedom he as an international activist for freedom was closely associated with the Indonesian freedom struggle unconcerned of all the life-risk it entailed. His expanded love for democracy and freedom also found expression in his association with Nepalese democratic movement since 1953.
Every inch an ardent patriot and fearless nationalist, he served mother India and safeguarded its national interest both in Kashmir and during the Chinese aggression (1962) or when called upon to do so. In the post-independence period, he emerged as a high-profile and successful industrialist rolling in riches and affluence.
However, destiny ordained it otherwise. He was not cut out to be only an industrialist getting engrossed in business and industry in the private domain of life. His other-regarding self virtually propelled him to enter into the public domain which in course of time catapulted him to blazing lights of prominence and popular acclaim.
The legendary leader and idol of the masses had also a hectic and uninterrupted political career serving his state and country in turns working in different capacities. He was a distinguished and talented member of Odisha Legislative Assembly, an outstanding leader of opposition, a remarkable Chief Minister of Odisha in 1960s and 1990s and an efficient parliamentarian and effective central minister. His contribution to India’s democracy was the role he played tenaciously and repeatedly in Odisha and at the national level for forming opposition unity through times of factional politicos.
Apart from the aforesaid prelude many more things have been written about Biju’s personality and achievements. His fearlessness dare devilry and his dashing spirit in the provincial national and international sphere and of course
his role and position in Odisha Politics and national politics have also been dealt with in detail.
But what was Biju Patnaik in national lens in the eyes of national leaders with whom he worked and interacted in national politics? It is an attempt to provide some answer to those questions.
Biju Patnaik passed away an 17th April 1997 at new Delhi at the age of 81 after a brief illness. The obituary references on the floor of the Parliament by national leaders at the time bring out vividly the multi-faceted personality of the man and his stature and achievements.

Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the then leader of the opposition and former Prime Minister in his homage to Late Biju Patnaik brought out important dimensions of his personality.
Reflecting upon the irreparable loss to the nation with the sad demise of Biju Patnaik he said:
“……………. If a post falls vacant it is filled but the loss suffered by the nation because of the sad demise of Biju Patnaik, will probably never be compensated …………….. he had a towering personality and was a magnanimous person. He
liked playing with fire and flying high in the sky, yet he was a responsible person. He had a jovial nature and it was his habit to call a spade a spade ….. yet he never allowed anything between to take root in his mind.
Shri Vajpayee had a deep sense of regret, that he did not have the opportunity of being in his company when he was in Rohtak Jail during emergency. ‘Those who were with him in prison relate how he bore all the hardships in prison stoically and as a good companion helped the other inmates to pass the crucial time.’
A prison is such a place where the true personality of a person comes to the fore and his real nature comes out. Shri Pilu Modi was also in the same prison as Biju Babu. Both were from rich families and were used to high standard of life, but when they were imprisoned, they did not air any grievances or make any complaints. Probably this was the result of the qualities he had developed as a pilot during the freedom struggle.
He was the store keeper in the prison. All the provisions received in jail were entrusted to the custody of Shri Biju Patnaik so as to ensure fair and suitable distribution. He never gave any one any cause for complaint.
At the end Shri Vajpayee said: ‘with the sad demise of Shri Biju Patnaik an important link with the past has been severed. It is no exaggeration when I say that virtually an era has come to an end.’

Former Prime Minister I.K. Gujural with a heavy heart paid his respectful homage to Late Biju Patnaik who passed away on 17thApril 1997 at New Delhi.
He had a very high opinion of Biju Babu as amply evident from his words on the floor of the Parliament. “He was a patriot to the core, a great son of India a towering personality, the warrior of freedom struggle who strode the country like a colossus for over five decades”.
Honourable Prime Minister underlined Biju Babu’s sprit of youth and dynamism which continued undiminished till his death. Biju Patnaik died as he had lived, a man ever young. Jawaharlal Nehru called him India’s buccaneer’. For his versatility and dare devilry of his own kind, Biju Dada became a living legend in his young life.
Biju Patnaik was loved by the young and old alike and was admired by all. He was an esteemed leader, a guide, philosopher and a friend to countless number of men in public life.
‘In his death’ I have suffered a personal loss’. The country has lost a great son, the messiah of the people. He was a prominent and dynamic industrialist. He was formerly head of the air command during the war years 1940-42. He was closely associated which the building of the fortunes of the country and shared the vicissitudes with stalwarts like Jai Prakash Narayan, Dr. Ram Monohar Lohia and others. He underwent imprisonment during 1943-46.
Gujral also referred to the services rendered by Biju Babu in Kashmir. As he said: “He fully utilized his flying skills. He landed the first platoon of the troops in Srinagar which engaged the Pakistani radars in 1948”.
He was an international activist who was associated also with the Indonesian freedom movement for which he was honoured by the Indonesian Government with the title of ‘Bhumi Putra’ or ‘The Son of the Soil’. Regarding Biju Babu’s association in the Indonesian freedom struggle it has been aptly said: ‘His Indonesian expedition shows that he was a patriot of a different kind, an international patriot. His patriotism was not confined to the borders of a country, it was confined to the border of humanity.
He was also closely associated with the Nepalese democratic movement since1953. For flying across to the embattled Soviet troops during the Second World War, a grateful Russia conferred honour upon Biju Patanaik for the services to the country in 1945.

Shri Chandra Sekhar Ex-Prime Minister paid his tributes to the memory of Biju Patnaik sharing some of his interesting reminiscences with a personal touch. He said that the sad demise of Biju Patnaikji has created a vacuum in Indian politics. His competence, bravery, spirit of sacrifice, patriotism and his vision of a new India will be a source of inspiration to the people and leaders of the country.
Giving a personal touch with of course due admiration Shri Chandra Sekhar said: “I was 62 closely associated with him during emergency”. His capability to encourage people and his sense of attachment to people was worth-emulating. He was senior to me in terms of age but he always treated me like his colleague and equal. During the last twenty years whenever we met he called me “Bolo Ballia” and I used to reply to it by saying ‘Kaho Odia’.
When Biju Babu was admitted to hospital for illness Shri Chadra Sekhar visited him. The doctor requested him to persuade Biju Babu to stay in the hospital as he was not ready to do so. After persuasion of 20 minutes he became ready to stay in hospital of course on one condition that he would come tomorrow positively to the hospital.
Next day his condition severely deteriorated and subsequently after two days he breathed his last when Chandra Sekharji last visited him.
The unimaginable popularity of Biju Babu and the spontaneous love of the people towards him was evident when his dead body was taken to Puri for last rites. Shri Chandra Sekharji said: ‘I remember the scene of Puri. Atalji and Dev Gowdaji were also with me. It seemed that the whole of Orissa had gathered on the seashore to pay their last homage to their beloved leader. A large number of political leaders were also present there. I cannot describe Biju Babu’s courage and enthusiasm. Atalji and other leaders mentioned his contribution to the progress of the country.
He actively took part in revolutionary movement of 1942 ; democratic movement of Nepal and Indonesian straggle for Independence. He was associated with Lohiaji ,Arunaji, Jay Prakashji and Narendra Devji.

Shri George Fernandes Ex-Central Minister who had the opportunity of enjoying Biju Babu’s company for 31 years was a great admirer of Biju Patnaik. In fact his patriotism and love of the country deeply impressed him. He along with many others constantly pestered on Biju Babu to write down his experiences of Freedom Struggle for posterity. As he said on the floor of Parliament : ‘we used to say him one thing time and again, that he should write down his experiences which he got during the freedom struggle and other
struggles for it is very necessary to let the people of this country know about the contribution he made in our freedom struggle. This was more necessary in view of the fact that many people for many years have launched a well-planned move to defame Bijuji. It was of course a different thing that Biju Babu never bothered about such things as his was a great soul. But his critics never threw
any light on his dynamic life and the contributions he made for the freedom of this country but also for the independence of some of our neighbouring countries.
Shri Farnandes said further : ‘I do not know if Bijuji had written some thing about his life or not. But we repeatedly requested his daughter to get his conversation tape recorded whenever he spoke about the country so that the coming generation of the country may know that such a great patriotic soul had taken birth in this country.
Biju’s house was the centre of the movement of the underground people.Dr Lohia, Jay Prakash Narayan, Aruna Asaf Ali and several other leaders used to launch their struggle from the house of Bijuji. Whenever they faced problems for journey to any part of the country, they sought his help and Biju Babu used to carry these people to their respective destinations. Moreover Biju Babu used to disseminate information on the movement of the Indian National Army of Netaji to the country.
He was not merely a pilot but also the chief of the Transport command of the Royal Air Force of southern Asia and in that capacity he was drawing his salary. In Burma, not once but on several occasions his plane was shot down by the Britishers bullet. On several occasions it was declared that Biju Babu has been killed in the war. But as he had to escape, he escaped from the jaws of death. He escaped not only from the bullets of the Britishers but also from the death sentence he was awarded. He also made significant contribution for 1942 Movement.
Biju Babu was deeply concerned about the disparity in development with regard to different states under the Indian federal system.He often raised his voice to the injustice being done to certain states in the matter of development and the resultant countrywide imbalance.

Shri Sarad Pawar also paid his homage to Late Biju Patnaik. With the passing away of Shri Biju Patnaik, India, he said ‘has lost a unique person, a freedom fighter, an efficient administrator, a skilled aviator, a known industrialist and a magnanimous person.’
He led a courageous life right from his school days. When he was in school, he went to attend a public meeting of Mahatma Gandhi being held in Cuttack. Police stopped him at a certain point and even beat him up but still then he tried to get as close as he could.’
He could not complete his college education and joined the Royal Air Force. He was very much interested in the profession. Flying 60 aircraft and facing the risks involved was a part of his nature. He had taken on this responsibility during the regime of Britishers but the spirit of attaining freedom for the country always remained alive in his heart. He further said ‘the house might be aware that even while serving the royal air force, he made use of the aircraft to carry the nationalist leaders to their destination. He also distributed the handbills of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and that is why he was court martialled and sentenced to three years imprisonment. At that time he met Panditji and thereafter he remained a confidant of Panditji uptill his last days.
Concluding his speech he said:’ He used the sit very close to us in this house. He spoke out his mind freely. As a Chairman of the Standing Committee on finance he did a very commendable job -------------. He was ever vigilant to uphold the honour of Members of Parliament. He is no more. We have lost an able and wise parliamentarian, freedom fighter, aviator, industrialist and great son of India.He is not amidst us but he will always be remembered.

Shri Somnath Chatterjee, a veteran Parliamentarian and ex-Speaker of Lok Sabha had a very high opinion of Biju Patnaik as a leader.
As he said ‘I deeply mourn the passing away of one of our tallest leaders, tallest in all sense of the term. Today the Indian political life is poorer as a stalwart and great son of India has passed away and is no longer with us. As he further said “His commitment to parliamentary democracy, his commitment to the development and progress of the country through industrialization, his concern
for the development of the states and his belief in true federalism gave us not only food for thought but also plan for action.
Biju Babu’s two speeches one at the 18th meeting of the eastern zonal council held on 25th September 1991 at Bhubaneswar and the other one at the meeting of the National Development Council on Dec 23,1991 expound his views on federalism and development in India. It breathes out in bolder relief his outlook and vision on the management of our federal polity and bring him out as a far sighted thinker and statesman. They give us not only food for thought but also plan for action so said Chatterjee.
Explaining Biju Babu’s concept of federalism Shri Chatterjee said:” Sir, I know and he said that he believed that unless the states become strong, India can never be a strong nation and that is why when he fought for Orissa’s development, it was not by any reason of narrow consideration but to make India stronger as a whole. He realized that true federalism will result in strengthening India’s unity in diversity and that will hasten the pace of progress of our nation as a whole.
As regards his contribution to Odisha, Shri Chatterjee rightly said: “Indeed, he was the maker of modern Odisha and the architect of industrialization in Odisha. He was himself a successful industrialist and brought Odisha to the map of industrial India.
As he continued further “He was a very successful Minister. I had the privilege of seeing him as a Minister of Steel and Mines in the Central Cabinet. He was a very very successful Chief Minister and a very effective member of Parliament. He inspired the younger generation of his time. A freedom fighter and nationalist to the core, his life was an example of how commitment to certain principles and dedication towards the nation’s development can be the guiding force of our people.
Concluding his address he said: “We have lost not only a colourful leader, colourful personality but also a good guide, a good friend - probably a void created by his passing away will not be filled up soon”.

Sardar Surjeet Singh Barnala, ExMinister mentioned briefly the remarkable services to the nation rendered by late Biju Patnaik. He served the Royal Indian Air Force where he was court martialled and imprisoned in Red Fort.
During the freedom struggle he brought some freedom fighters from Indonesia by his plane bravely. As a Minister of Steel and Mines during the Janata Dal regime he was an influential member of the Cabinet. He was considered a person who did not indulge irrelevant and useless discussions and used to stress his points in apt and appropriate manner. The then Prime Minister Moraji Desai used to pay great attention to his words.
He wanted to develop Orissa in the field of agriculture. He proposed that 400 to 500 persons should be brought from Punjab so that new techniques could be taught for agricultural development of Orissa.

There was another side of his relationship with Punjab. He had been married to a girl from Punjab. He was a cheerful person and the country will remember him for a long time for his contribution and services to the nation.

P.A. Sangma, the then speaker of the lok sabha in his obituary reference extensively reflected upon his life and work and his contribution to the Indian polity. During his formative years Biju came under the impact of Mahatma Gandhi and the great nationalist sons of Odisha, Gopabandhu Das and Madhusudan Das. Eventhough a pilot during British Raj Biju Babu was a nationalist at heart. In fact, he joined the Quit India Movement of 1942 when “Do or Die” became the revolutionary slogan with Gandhiji’s exhortation “we shall free India or die in the attempt”. He worked under ground with leaders like Jaya Prakash Narayan and Aruna Asaf Ali and gave them hidden air lifts from one place of India to others in his transport plane.
While referring to this phase of Biju’s life he said: “He joined the freedom struggle and actively participated in the Quit India Movement in close association with Aruna Asaf Ali and others and their underground activities against the British. He underwent imprisonment from 1943 to 1946 in the Red Fort, New Delhi, Ferozepur, Lahore and Cuttack.” Due to this association with the Quit India movement and his imprisonment Biju Patnaik came in direct contact with Nehru and became one of his trusted friends.
Jawahar Lal Nehru who had now developed immense faith in Biju’s courage and adventure as a nationalist pilot wanted to use his services in Indonesias fight for Independence in 1946-47 for which he had his full sympathy.
Hence, at the instance of Nehru, Biju Babu at the risk of his life flew clandenstine missions in to Indonesia and brought Sjahrir and later Mohammad Hatta for personal conference with Indian Prime Minister Nehru. Biju Babu’s death defying and dare-devil act of adventure in rescuing the entrapped top-rung patriots of Indonesia was referred by Sangma. In his own words. “He dared the Dutch and with the support of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru threw his lot, at considerable personal risk, with the freedom fighters of Indonesia in their struggle for independence”. He was also associated with the
Nepalese democratic movement as well.
During the Chinese aggression of 1962, Nehru invited Biju Babu to render advice at the time of this national tragedy. Independent India’s military history will record his name as the only civilian whom Nehru consulted on every conceivable matter of warfare and matters concerning the external security of India. It may be noted that as the civilian adviser to Prime Minister Nehru, he was given a separate chamber in the external affairs Ministry.
Over and above, Biju Babu was given a diplomatic assignment as a special envoy of Prime Minister Nehru to impress upon President John. F. Kennedy to come to the aid of India. The precious role that Biju Babu played in securing the support of the Kennedy administration was recognized by B.M. Kaul, the Chief of the General staff, in the book “Untold Story”. He unhesitatingly recognized his unfailing and successful role as a diplomat when he said that Biju Babu’s American mission was very much in keeping with the personality of an unfailing leader.
At the height of the Indo-Chinese war when Tezpur, headquarters of the 62nd infantry brigade was abandoned, Biju Babu accompanied Home Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri and Assam Chief Minister B.P. Chaliha to discuss the modalities of Indian operation there.
It is said that braving the danger, he made a marauding effort there in the interest of his Motherland. It led B.M. Kaul to rightly remark that Biju Patnaik loved his country more than his personal security.
P.A. Sangma referring to those services rendered by Biju Babu during this period said: “The services he rendered to the nation at the call of Panditji in the area of diplomacy at the time of Chinese aggression in 1962 are part of our history”. That Biju Babu was ever prepared to guard India’s national interest was also evident during Indo-Pak war when Ayub Khan, President of Pakistan secured the support of Indonesia against India. It is said that being requested by the then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, he went to Indonesia with his wife and successfully prevailed upon Sukarno, President of Indonesia not to help Pakistan against India reminding him of what he did for his country during the Indonesian war of independence.
He also rightly acknowledged one of the great contributions of Biju Patnaik to the country’s democracy. His great contribution to Indian democracy was “the role he played tenaciously and repeatedly in Odisha and at the national level for forming opposition unity through times of factional politics. Indeed he proved that the delight of political life is as well in opposition”. To Biju opposition has to survive if democracy is to survive in this country.
In November 1990 when the National Front government was almost tottering for want of a majority in the Lok Sabha, he put all his efforts to avoid a split in the Janata Dal’. In 1989, the Janata Dal was born. Years ago in 1975, the internal emergency heralded the birth of the Janata Party with four constituents Congress (opposition), Bharatiya Lok Dal, Jana Sangh and Socialist Party merging together to offer a broad platform of non-congress political parties.
On both these occasions, Biju Patnaik was the person everyone was looking for with opposition unity remaining on top of the agenda, ‘Lunch Politics’ was in. By now Biju Babu had carved a niche for himself as ‘one who hosts lunches and talks only of opposition politics’. ‘For Biju Patnaik opposition unity is not the second thing. It is first’. In a country of sub-continental size and diversity, national unity is of vital and over-riding importance. The breakup of the Soviet Union in 1990s was before him and in order to avoid such a situation in case of India’s federal polity, Biju Babu was for a new technique of political management. He emphasized on equitable regional development and development of underdeveloped states. He rightly realized that disparity in the matter of development may be a cause of discontent and tension among different states and may weaken our integral nationhood.
P.A. Sangma was enamored of this statesman like approach of Biju Babu for the cause of national unity and integral nationhood through federalism. In his own words: ‘Like Dr. Hamilton and Dr. Madisson, the framers of the American constitution, Biju Patnaik believed that national unity should be preserved through federalism. For him federalism was an economic doctrine, not a political slogan. He even called for a united states of India in which the financial resources would equitably flow to the states consistent with their exploitable natural resources”.
In his obituary evaluation P.A. Sangma also expounded the socialist dimension of Biju Babu’s personality. ‘He was a socialist at heart and Acharya Narendra Dev, Jaya Prakash Narayan and Minoo Masani were his role models.
As he said further: “One with Prime Minister Chowdhary Charan Singh he believed that the backbone of the country was a strong peasantry and wanted modernization of agriculture. At the same time the natural entrepreneur and founder of Kalinga Airlines and Odisha Textile Mills as he was, he wanted agrarian feudalism to be dismantled and industrial revolution to take place.
In the sixties, when he was Chief Minister of Orissa for the first time along with Governor Ayodhyanath Khosla, he launched a ‘Decade of Destiny’ and ushered in an era of industrialization in the state. Later in 1990s again when he was Chief Minister of Orissa industrialization continued to be his obsession and in keeping with the dynamic world and national economic scenario, wanted the public sector enterprises to gain strength through exposure to market forces”.
Over and above, Sangma stressed upon Biju Babu’s contribution to women empowerment, his advocacy of economy in expenditure as a steady style of Governance and his focus on modernization of society through dissemination of science.
Biju Patnaik’s second spell as Chief Minister in 1990s will be remembered by posterity for different steps he took for the development and empowerment of women. ‘Before any other state had come up with a policy on women it is Biju Babu who showed the path towards the empowerment of women by reserving one third seats for them in Panchayati Raj institutions’. Even the policy of keeping apart one third of staff strength for women was extended to Government jobs. In all the classes barring class-I and classII, women were to be given their representation.
This bold and outstanding step towards empowerment of women was referred to by Sangma. ‘A true believer in the empowerment of women he practiced it by establishing one third reservations for women not merely in local bodies but in Govt. jobs.’
Popularization of science was accorded top priority by Biju Babu who played the role of a promoter of science. Like Nehru he had immense faith in and commitment to science. As a dedicated promoter of science Biju Babu instituted in 1960s the prestigious Kalinga Award for the dissemination and popularization of science.
The Kalinga Foundation and prize set up by him said Sangma “is an everlasting testimony of his ideal of modernization of society through dissemination of science.
Moreover, strongly believing in a lean and lively bureaucracy, he fearlessly advocated economy in expenditure as a steady style of governance rather than as an off-on formula of austerity to be applied during times of financial strain.
Mr. Sangma does not also forget to mention how Biju Babu was nostalgic and ecstatic about the Odia maritime tradition and how Paradip was in no small measure due to the bold initiative of the man. With his heart in Odisha and mind in New Delhi, he shared his public life between the state and centre.
He was a member of the sixth, seventh and eighth Lok Sabha representing Kendrapara Parliamentary constituency during 1977-79, 1980-84 and 1984-85. He was the Union Minister of Steel, Mines and Coal during 1977- 80. He had been a member of Rajya Sabha in 1971. He had also been a member of Odisha Legislative Assembly for seven terms and was the Chief Minister of the State during 1961-63 and 1990-95. During 1996-97, he was the chairman of the Standing Committee on Finance in Parliament.

A perusal of the obituary references of national leaders of eminence like Prime Minister , ex- Prime Ministers, Speaker and ex-Speakers and Leader of the opposition and many other important national leaders show that our national leaders not only knew tit bits of legendary Biju’s multi-faceted personality and multi-dimensional achievements but held him in high esteem in the national level. He had such stature and such national importance that even Prime Minister V.P. Singh at the dead of the night in 1992 came down the Orissa Bhawan to meet him and discuss matters of national importance. Prime Minister Shri I.K.Gujral very rightly assessed the stature and personality of Biju Babu when he said he was a patriot to the core, a great son of India, a towering personality, the warrior of freedom struggle who bestrode the country like a colossus for over five decades. That apart, Biju Babu’s personality and achievements were not only confined to Odisha and India but extended to the international sphere as could be evident from his role in Indonesian struggle for independence and democratic movement of Nepal.
After Biju Babu’s death, there has been a demand that Biju Babu should be conferred Bharat Ratna. It is an unfortunate irony that it has not been conferred so far by the central authorities notwithstanding his personality, stature and achievements as a patriot and nationalist who protected our national interest all through his life apart from his role in nation-building and contribution to India’s democratic and federal structure.

Dr. Shridhar Charan Sahoo
Courtesy: Orissa Review

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