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Biju Patnaik dead

Biju Patnaik Biju Patnaik, adventurer, aviator, businessman and politician, passed into the ages on Thursday morning.

The end came at 0805 hours IST at the capital's Escorts hospital where he had been admitted last week following serious complications.

The former Orissa chief minister was 81.

Doctors at the hospital said he had been suffering from bronchial asthma, pneumonia and respiratory problems.

The body of the man, often described as the 'Emperor of Kalinga', will be flown to Bhubaneswar by a special Indian Air Force aircraft at 0730 hours on Friday. He will be cremated at Swargdwar in Puri.

Freedom fighter, pilot, industrialist, politician and philanthropist, Biju Patnaik towered above all in state politics.

Born on March 5, 1916 in a family of freedom fighters, the 'Kalinga Bull' or 'Bijubabu', as his followers hailed him, deleted the word 'impossible' from his dictionary, very much in the manner of his idol, Napoleon Bonaparte. A colourful personality, he stood out from other politicians because of his idealistic approach that sometimes turned out to be as whimisical as that of his idol.

Though he is better known today for his political achievements, he once reminisced, ''flying is my first love, and though it has dimmed with age, it still remains so.'' He took to flying after completing his studies at the Ravenshaw College, Cuttack and joined the Royal Indian Air Force as a pilot.

He was a dardevil and flew some hazardous flying missions, first with the RIAF and later with the IAF.

During World War II, it was Patnaik, who pioneered risky operations across the Himalayas to help the Chinese revolutionaries in Chiang Kaishek's china. He once flew all the way to Stalingrad on yet another mission.

The British government particularly appreciated Patnaik's efforts to evacuate British families from Rangoon when the Japanese invaded Burma during the Second World War.

Even while serving the British, Patnaik remained loyal to the Indian freedom struggle. While heading the RIAF's air transport command, he sheltered in his home the likes of Jayaprakash Narayan, Ram Manohar Lohia and Aruna Asaf Ali who were on the run from the British.

While flying the British to safety from Rangoon he also used to drop leaflets from his plane supporting the Indian National Army's cause. ''When the British authorities found out, they nearly got me shot for subversive activities. That was the time I was jailed during the Quit India movement,'' he said wistfully.

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 occupationist Dutch forces. Patnaik, ably assisted by wife Gyan, piloted his old Dakota to Singapore on the way to Jakarta, leaving behind their 14-day-old-son Naveen at home.

Landing on an improvised air-strip and using leftover petrol from abandoned Japanese military dumps, he flew out Indonesian leaders, who included Dr Sultan Sjharir and Sukarno for a secret meeting with Nehru at New Delhi amid severe bombardment from the Dutch forces.

After independence, the Indonesian government bestowed on him its Bhumiputra (son of the soil) award and honorary citizenship. In 1996, on the occasion of its 50th independence day, he was conferred with the Bintang Jasa Utama, Indonesia's highest national honour.

He showed his mettle on other fronts as well. Penniless on the eve of Independence, he vowed to do something for India's poor. By the age of 30, he showed remarkable business acumen, set up the Kalinga group of industries and the Kalinga Airways and went on to become one of India's top industrialists. He later sold off his empire and plunged into politics.

Patnaik contested the first-ever election held for the Orissa assembly in 1952 in typical style. He rode an old bicycle through the winding streets of Cuttack, explaining the reasons for being a candidate for the assembly seat. He won the election uncontested -- without spending a rupee.

''In 1961, I headed the Congress party of Nehru in Orissa and for the first time the party came to power with an absolute majority. Nehru insisted that I should give up my industries and take over the reigns of government,'' he once recalled.

He became chief minister in 1961, replacing his mentor Dr Harekrushna Mahatab. He was only 42

The Chinese aggression of 1962 and the subsequent crisis saw Nehru consult the tall Oriya leader repeatedly for advice. For sometime he was Nehru's defence advisor, unofficially of course. 'The prime minister was dazzled by Mr Patnaik's familiarity with military subjects,' wrote a political commentator of the time. Small wonder then that, 'Nehru's searching gaze for a fitting successor rested on Biju for a wee moment.'

During his chief ministership Orissa made tremendous industrial progress. The Steel Authority of India set up a steel plant at Rourkela, the MiG factory was established at Sunabeda, an all weather port was constructed at Paradip.

Always full of ideas, he was impatient to get them implemented despite many constraints. When the central government expressed its inability to finance the Paradip port project during his first chief ministership, Patnaik went ahead with the work on his own and forced the Centre to take it up later. The Centre still owes several hundred million rupees to the state government on this account.

In 1963, he quit the chief ministership along with several others under the Kamaraj plan.

Patnaik remained a major political figure in the state, with influential contacts in New Delhi. He was close to Indira Gandhi, who became the prime minister in 1967, but the relationship soured when the Congress lost the Orissa assembly poll the same year.

The inevitable break came in 1969, when he clashed with Indira Gandhi 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, but he himself was defeated.

Undaunted, Patnaik 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, he was one of the first to be arrested along with other Opposition leaders.

He was released in 1977, and got elected to the Lok Sabha for the first time and became Union minister for steel and mines in both the Morarji Desai and the Charan Singh governments.

The collapse of the Janata Party government at the Centre pushed him back into the political wilderness. He went back to Orissa. Patnaik retained his Kendrapara seat in 1985, despite the sympathy wave in the Congress's favour following Indira Gandhi's death.

With the Congress defeat in 1989, he bounced back into the political limelight, but after playing a key behind-the-scenes role in maneuvering V P Singh to the prime minster's post, he again chose to go back to Orissa, and prepared for the assembly election.

He came back to power in 1990, when the Janata Dal won a specta- cular victory, bagging 123 seats out of 147 seats in the Orissa assembly.

Soon after he took over he asked the the people in the state to beat up corrupt officials. This move, however, damaged his image.

Patnaik remained a man much ahead of his time and age. He ushered in large private investments in Orissa in his second stint in office and enacted laws to empower women at the grassroot level in the state five years ago.

But the Janata Dal lost power in the 1995 assembly poll. He was still very popular and won election to the Lok Sabha in May 1996 from two seats, Aska and Cuttack.

Bijubabu's wish for an instantaneous death, however, remained unfulfilled. He had to wage an 18-day-long battle with death in hospital.

When a journalist asked him on his 79th birthday how he would like to die, he had quipped, ''certainly not in an air crash or from prolonged illness. I would like to die instantly, just fall down and die''

He is survived by his wife and two children, the novelist Gita Mehta and Naveen Patnaik, who is also an author and a patron of the arts.

The likes of Biju Patnaik will never be seen again.

"Charismatic leaders don't need an ideology"

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