Bijayananda (Biju) Patnaik, a true statesman, freedom fighter and an illustrious son of India, is the architect of modern Odisha and the tallest leader of post-independence Odisha. Biju Patnaik, Biju Babu for millions of his admirers, both in his life-time and even after his death, enjoys an iconic status in Odisha and is widely admired across India for his courage, idealism, statesmanship and dedication to the cause of the common man. People of Odisha lovingly call him the Hero of Kalinga and the Kharavela of Kalinga. He was a man who created history, changed history and shaped history.
Biju Patnaik, was born in Cuttack, Odisha on March 5th, 1916 to Lakshminarayan and Ashalata Patnaik. He completed his early education at the Mission Primary School and Mission Christ Collegiate of Cuttack. In 1932, he got admitted into the intermediate science class of the famous Ravenshaw College, where he was a talented sportsman and headed the football, hockey, athletics and cricket team of the University. He was the sports champion for continuously three years. He studied Aeronautics at the Aeronautical Training Institute of India.
Biju Babu was closely associated with two architects of modern Odisha – Utkal Gourav Madhusudan Das and Utkalmani Gopabandhu Das. Inspired by them and by Mahatma Gandhi, Biju Babu dedicated himself to the Indian Freedom Movement. In 1942, Biju decided to join the Quit India Movement under the guidance of the Father of the Nation to make India free. In 1943, he was sent to prison for about two years for participating in the Quit India Movement. Aruna Asaf Ali recalling Biju Babu’s role during this period mentions: Among the thousands who came forward to take up the challenge, Biju Patnaik, Chief Pilot of the Dalmia- Jain Airways was one of the most fearless who mobilised the fellow pilots.
Biju Babu was also instrumental in assisting Indonesia with its bout for Independence from the Dutch in 1947. The same indomitable spirit had him fly to India the leaders of the Indonesian freedom struggle, despite the threat of his plane being shot down by the Dutch Colonial rulers.
The Indonesian Prime Minister Sutan Sjahrir was placed under surveillance by the colonial Dutch, who had had absolute control over Indonesian sea and air routes, and did not let him leave the country. Nehru entrusted the task of rescuing Sutan Sjahrir to Biju Patnaik, who was an expert Pilot and was famous for his passion for adventurous achievements. Biju Patnaik sprang up to instant action. As an avid reader of the history of Kalinga, Biju Babu knew how Kalinga and Indonesia had a long-standing cultural link in the past and now was the opportunity to render some service to the people of Indonesia at their crucial hour of need. He braved all hazards and flew to Java and brought Sutan Sjahrir and staff aboard from Java islands on 22 July 1947 by his own Dacota to Singapore, and finally to Delhi, where Sjahrir was able to meet Jawaharlal Nehru. An indebted Indonesia conferred the highest civilian award, Bhumi Putra to this valiant personality and even it is heard that the Indonesia government offered a huge tract of land to him which he returned back politely.
In 1946 Patnaik was elected uncontested to the Odisha Legislative Assembly from North Cuttack constituency. In 1952 and 1957 he won from Jagannath Prasad and Surada, respectively. In 1961 he assumed the presidency of the state Congress. Under his leadership, the Congress Party won 82 of 140 seats and Patnaik (representing Chowdwar constituency) became the chief minister of Odisha and remained in the position until 2 October 1963, when he resigned from the post under the Kamaraj Plan to revitalize the Congress party. He was the Chief Minister of Odisha at the age of 45.
Patnaik was close to Indira Gandhi who took over the Congress Party in 1967. However, they clashed in 1969 over the Presidential election. He left the Congress and formed a regional party-the Utkal Congress. In the 1971 assembly poll, his party did reasonably well. Patnaik then re-established contact with his old friend Jayaprakash Narayan and plunged into the JP movement as it picked up momentum in 1974. When the Emergency was declared in 1975, Biju Patnaik was one of the first to be arrested along with other opposition leaders. In 1977, he was released and elected to the Lok Sabha from Kendrapara and till 1979 under the government of Morarji Desai and Choudhary Charan Singh he was the Union Minister for Steel and Mines. In 1980, Biju was elected to the Lok Sabha and then again in 1996 he was re-elected to the Lok Sabha. In the 1990 state assembly election, Janata Dal won and Biju Patnaik again served as the Chief Minister of Odisha till 1995.
Patnaik’s political ideals were centered in socialism and federalism. He strongly advocated for equal resources to all Indian states that needed such, in the true spirit of federalism. Nehru affectionately called Patnaik “India’s buccaneer”. During his time in the Parliament of India, Nehru said of him, “Biju Patnaik has the courage, dynamism, and zeal to work. So there is no blunder in giving more aid to Odisha.”
The following are just some of his outstanding contributions, among countless others:
Biju Patnaik started his own airline, the Kalinga Airways and in 1947 carried soldiers into Kashmir, when it was threatened from across the newly created border sky. At great risk, he landed the first platoon of troops in Srinagar.
Biju Babu is considered as a pioneer of the industrial growth of Orissa and established a string of industries in mission. He set up the Kalinga Tubes, the first modern Textiles Mills at Choudwar, Orissa, the first Refrigerator factory at Jobra, Cuttack and a low shaft furnace at Barbil. In 1951 he established the Kalinga Prize for the Popularization of Science and entrusted the responsibility to the UNESCO. Even at the young age of 35, he had the foresight to foresee the importance of science & technology and to establish this prize which is considered a prestigious award by the international scientific community.
He died in New Delhi on April 17, 1997 of cardio-respiratory failure. In 1992, Biju Patnaik left this quote for the people of Odisha:
“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.”
Sir Julian Huxley, UNESCO’S First Director General and also a Kalinga Prize Winner, had described Biju Patnaik as a “remarkable Indian whose adventures would fill a book”. In an obituary reference, the prestigious magazine The Economist says “It is worth writing about Biju Patnaik for at least two reasons. His long life can be read as something of a history of India back to the time when the country was run by the British. And he gave Indian politics a rare fresh of colour.” The Encyclopaedia Britannica describes Biju Patnaik as an Indian Politician; who parlayed his fame as a World War-II aviator, anti-British freedom fighter and commercial airline entrepreneur into a political career, notably as Chief Minister of Orissa State, 1961-63 and 1990-95.