Biju Patnaik dead
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
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
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
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
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
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
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"