Prasanta Patnaik,Sr.Media Associate
Shri.Bijaynanda Patnaik known as Biju Patnaik, a two-time chief minister of Orissa (now Odisha) — whose interest in aviation and remarkably adventurous life as a young pilot make him stand apart from other Indian politicians — was born on 5 March 1916 in a princely family.
His parents Shri.Lakshminarayan Patnaik and Mrs.Ashalata Patnaik were from the Ganjam district. Patnaik studied at the Ravenshaw College but discontinued his higher education as he was more interested in flying planes.
He married Gyan Patnaik in 1939. He first flew a private aircraft, and later joined the Royal Indian Air Force during the World War 2.
in part thanks to a meeting with Mahatma Gandhi, Patnaik was attracted to the nationalist movement from an early age and did his bit for the cause by using Air Force planes to drop leaflets to Indian troops fighting in Burma under the British command. He also flew Congress leaders so that they could take part in secretive nationalist meetings. For his activities he was jailed by the British government in 1942. He remained in jail till 1946.
In its obituary on him, The Economist commented: “When he was 13, Biju had met and come under the spell of Mahatma Gandhi, the proponent of passive resistance to British rule. In the war he sought to satisfy both of his strongly-held beliefs: the need to defeat Japan, and to give India independence.”
Some of his finest moments as a pilot came after the Indian independence during the Kashmir conflict and the Indonesian crisis.
As rediff.com reported after his death: “After Independence, Jawaharlal Nehru chose the young, lanky pilot for a danger-fraught mission, to carry the first contingent of Indian troops to Srinagar, surrounded by invading Pakistani tribesmen. A few months later Nehru entrusted him with another task — rescuing Indonesian freedom fighters from the [occupying] Dutch forces . . . Landing on an improvised air-strip and using leftover petrol from abandoned Japanese military dumps, he flew out Indonesian leaders, who included Dr Sultan Sjahrir and Sukarno for a secret meeting with Nehru . . .
For his daring contribution, Patnaik received the honorary citizenship of Indonesia and was awarded the Bhoomi Putra, and later that country’s highest national award, the Bintang Jasa Utama.
Patnaik was elected to the Odisha Legislative Assembly in 1946. He again won in the polls in 1952 and 1957. In the 1950s Patnaik focussed on industrialisation and started several projects in Odisha, including a textile mill and a refrigerator factory.
He became president of the state Congress in 1961, with the party winning 82 seats in the 140-member House. He became Odisha’s Chief Minister on 23 June 1961. He occupied the chair for over two years, quitting as part of the 1963 Kamaraj Plan that sought to revitalise the party across the country.
Biju Patnaik was initially close to Congress leader Indira Gandhi, but he left the party after differences with her and formed his own Utkal Congress. He later joined hands with the socialist leader Jayaprakash Narayan, who had started a massive campaign against the establishment in the 1970s. Like many opposition leaders, Patnaik too was arrested during the Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi.
Later he was elected to the Lok Sabha and became Union Minister for Steel and Mines in the Morarji Desai and the Charan Singh cabinets.
He continued to remain close to central politics in the 1980s. In 1990 he returned to state politics and led the Janata Dal to a handsome victory, again becoming Chief Minister of Odisha. But his party lost in the next state polls five years later.
In the 1996 Lok Sabha elections he was again elected to the Parliament. He died on 17 April 1997 after being hospitalised for a respiratory condition.
A flamboyant man, Biju Patnaik made controversial statements at times. For instance, during his second term as chief minister he urged people to beat up corrupt officials, a careless remark that backfired. In the last years of his life, his political clout was on the downswing, but he remained a popular figure in his state. His vision for Odisha in his own words was: “In my dream of the 21st century for the state, I would have young men and women who put the interest of the state before them. They will have pride in themselves, confidence in themselves. They will not be at anybody’s mercy, except their own selves. By their brains, intelligence and capacity, they will recapture the history of Kalinga.”
The Hindustan Times noted after his death: “It may not be an exaggeration to say that Biju Patnaik was the tallest among all the leaders from Orissa, who made their mark in national politics. A major reason why he acquired his status was undoubtedly his romantic, impulsive nature, which made him stand out even at a time when Nehru and J.P. at the height of their power, there was no dearth of colourful politicians in India.”
Prasanta Patnaik,Sr.Media Associate