Biju Patnaik: The Tall Man in Spirit

Bhubaneswar (Surjit Kumar Dhal): It is March 5, the birth anniversary of the legendary politician and ‘Prabada Purusa’ Bijayananda Patnaik (Biju Babu). Here we are to discuss some key points of Biju Babu’s life on his 107th birth anniversary. Biju Patnaik was a freedom fighter, a pilot, a politician and much more. He was 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 Odisha State in 1961-63 and 1990-95. Biju Babu was not confined to territorial geography of Odisha.

Biju Patnaik was born on 5 March 1916 to Lakshminarayan and Ashalata Patnaik. His parents belong to G.Nuagan, Bellaguntha, Ganjam district. He was educated at Ravenshaw College in Odisha but due to his interest in aviation he dropped out and trained as a pilot. Biju Babu flew with private airlines but at the start of the Second World War he joined the Royal Indian Air Force eventually becoming head of air transport command. While in service he began an interest in nationalist politics and used air force transports to deliver what was seen as subversive literature to Indian troops.

Biju Patnaik met with Former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru during his participation in Indonesian freedom struggle and became one of his trusted friends. Nehru viewed the freedom struggle of the Indonesian people as parallel to that of India, and viewed Indonesia as a potential ally. When the Dutch attempted to quell Indonesian independence on 1947, President Sukarno ordered Sjahrir, the former prime minister of Indonesia, to leave the country to attend the first Inter-Asia Conference, organised by Nehru, in July 1947 and to foment international public opinion against the Dutch. Sjahrir was unable to leave as the Dutch controlled the Indonesian sea and air routes. Nehru asked Biju Patnaik, who was adventurous and an expert pilot, to rescue Sjahrir. Biju Babu and his wife flew to Java and brought Sultan Sjahrir out on a Dakota C-47 military aircraft reaching India via Singapore. For this act of bravery, Biju Patnaik was given honorary citizenship in Indonesia and awarded the ‘Bhoomi Putra’, the highest Indonesian award.

Biju Babu’s political ideals were centred in socialism and federalism. His strong advocacy for equal resources to all Indian states who needed such, made him a champion of his Odia constituents. In 1946 Biju Babu was elected uncontested to the Odisha Legislative Assembly from North Cuttack constituency. In 1952 and 1957 he won from Jagannathprasad and Surada, respectively. In 1960 he assumed the presidency of the state Congress. He was the Chief Minister of Odisha at the age of 45.

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