BIJU PATNAIK: A PROFILE
Dr. Pabak Kanungo
Perhaps no other leader occupied the imagination of the people of Orissa like Biju Patnaik; freedom fighter, pilot, industrialist, politician and philanthropist. He was Orissa’s restless son and became a legendary hero. His ability to create confidence among people and inspire them was phenomenal. He had a remarkable capacity to transmit his cheerful strength to others. Biju was basically a secular man and was an instinctively nationalist as his hero Napoleon. Like Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, he navigated by the four immutably fixed stars of his convictions – national unity, democracy, secularism and the end of imperialism. 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 Encyclopedia Britannica described Biju as “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”.
Bijoyananda (Biju) Patnaik was born in Cuttack, Orissa, on 5th March, 1916 to Laxminarayan Patnaik and Ashalata Devi. Although he was in judicial service; Laxminarayan was a great nationalist and a prominent leader of the Oriya Movement. He was closely associated with two architects of modern Orissa-Utkal Gourav Madhusudan Das and Utkalmani Gopabandhu Das. He was taking great pride in Orissa’s cultural heritage.Biju inherited the qualities of fearlessness and love of Orissa right from his parents.
Biju had two brothers and one sister. His elder brother Saradhanada (Dr. George Patnaik) was a renowned dentist and his younger brother Jayananda (Siju) was a pilot and the only sister was Sukruti Patnaik.Biju, who was married to Gyan, has two sons and one daughter.His elder son prem is an industrialist and second son Naveen is a writerturned politician. His daughter Gita Mehta, Who lives in New York, is admired as a novelist and as an author of books on the westernization of India.
Biju had his early education in Mission Primary School and Mission (Christ Collegiate) School of Cuttack.In 1927 he joined the famous Ravenshaw Collegiate School, where Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose was once a student.In 1932 he passed matriculation with a first division and got admitted into the intermediate science class of the famous Ravenshaw College, Cuttack.From his days at the Ravenshaw Collegiate School, he was an accomplished sportsman and led the university teams in football, cricket, athletics and hockey. For three consecutive years he was the sports champion of Ravenshaw College.
Biju first saw Mahatma Gandhi in 1927 during the latter’s ‘Khadi Tour’ of Orissa and came under his spell. The desire to defy British rule first awakened in him from his school days. He was assaulted by a British police officer as he tried to get a glimpse of the Mahatma who was visiting Cuttack.He showed his penchant for the extraordinary at a very young age. Like his role model Napoleon, he seemed to have deleted the word ‘impossible’ from his dictionary..
Biju discontinued studies for a B.Sc. degree to undergo training as a pilot at the Aeronautic Training Institute of India and Delhi Flying Club. In fact, as a child Biju was fascinated by aeroplanes and from his school days, he had decided to make a career in flying. A small aeroplane had landed at Cuttack’s Killa Fort,when he was a student of Mission School.Biju ran away from school to touch his dream object. But he was chased away by the security police. “At that time I had only seen pictures of aeroplanes in books”- He recalled later. His great pleasure was flying and his exploits a pilot provided his career with a metaphor that endured from the frolics of his youth to his ambition to be a politician and industrialist. He was, everyone said, a high flyer. It is said that at his wedding to Gyan in 1939, guests arrived in Tiger Moths.
When the Second World War broke out Biju Patnaik joined the Royal Indian Air Force and along with British friends who, like him, had learnt the rudiments of flying at the Delhi Flying Club. When Japan entered the war in 1941, Biju Patnaik evacuated British families from the advancing invaders. He flew supplies to China and the Soviet Union. He pioneered risky operations across the Himalayas to help the Chinese revolutionaries in Chiang Kai Shek’s China. He once flew all the way to Stalingrad on yet another mission. The British Government Particularly appreciated his efforts to evacuate British families from Rangoon ( Yangon) when the Japanese invaded Myanmar during World War-II.
As ‘The Economists’ says – Biju Patnaik had a second loyality.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. While flying over Indian soldiers under the British Command he dropped bags of Gandhi’s “Quit India” leaflets to them. But though he served the British, Biju Patnaik’s loyalty was with the Indian freedom struggle. While on leave, he ferried freedom fighters to secret meetings with their supporters. As head of the Air Transport Command of the RIAF, he sheltered in his house prominent fighters like Jaya Prakash Narayan, Ram Manoher Lohia and Aruna Asaf Ali.While flying the British to safety from Yangon, he also air-dropped leaflets supporting the cause of Netaji’s Indian National Army. “When the British authority found out, they nearly got me shot for subversive activities. That was the time I was put behind bars during the Quit India Movement, “Patnaik said later. Some of the hazardous flying missions that he undertook first with the RIAF and later with Indian National Airways earned him the sobriquet of a “daredevil”.
Bijubabu was very fond of reading. But he was equally unwilling to write anything. Even he was very reluctant to write letters. I have failed to make him write down his adventures that could inspire the posterity.
Prof. Samar Guha, Writer and Parliamentarian
Arun Asaf Ali, who was one of the prominent fighters of the Quit India Movement, has said – “Among the thousands who came forward to take up the challenge, Biju Patnaik was one of the most fearless, and who mobilized his fellow pilots and inspired them to help the “Underground Directorate”. But for their courage and fearlessness, we could never have succeeded in linking up with our comrades in Bombay, Calcutta, Madras and New Delhi. We also used the airlines for traveling incognito sometime”.
But Biju Patnaik’s scarcely concealed double-life could not last. Arrested on January 13, 1943, he was sentenced to two years imprisonment and lodged in Firozpur Fort Jail.
After his release from jail in 1945, Biju was elected to Orissa Assembly in 1946 from North Cuttack Constituency. Though more recognized as a politician, once he reminisced-“Flying is my first love and though it has dimmed with age, it still remains so”. While his love for the country had his opposition to British rule made him plunge into Indian freedom struggle in a daring manner as a young man, Biju played a significant role in the Indonesian freedom movement. 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. He became internationally known, when, under Nehru’s instructions, he conducted sorties to Indonesia against Dutch threats.
In what can be aptly described as a drama in real life, Biju took off in an old fashioned Dakota with wife Gyan for Jakarta (leaving behind their 14 day old son), where the rebel’s headquarters was located. In Singapore, he received a message from the Dutch threatening to shot down his aircraft if it entered Indonesian airspace. “Resurgent India does not recognize Dutch colonial sovereignty over the Indonesian people. If my aircraft is shot down, every Dutch plane flying across the Indian skies will be shot down in retaliation” was Biju’s reply. He also dashed off a message to Prime Minister Nehru – “Take necessary steps should my aircraft be shot down”. As the world watched him with admiration, the 32 year old ace pilot, landing on an improvised airstrip and using left over petrol from abandoned Japanese military dumps, eluded the Dutch to land in Jakarta and flew back to Delhi with Indonesian leaders Mohammad Hatta and Sultan Shariar for holding confabulations with Pandit Nehru and Sardar Patel.
Biju thereafter became a focal point of all activities relating to Indian support to the Indonesian freedom struggle. The wide publicity given to the exploit gave a boost to the cause of Indonesian independence. A grateful Indonesia twice decorated Biju Patnaik with its highest civilian honour ‘’Bhumiputra’ in return for the bravery the Indian leader had displayed at its hour of crisis.Biju Patnaik liked to tell the story of how he persuaded Sukarno to call his daughter Meghawati (Goddess of the clouds).In 1996, on the occasion of that country’s 50th independence day, Biju received, the “Bintang Jasu Utama”-Indonesia’s highest national award.
Biju’s daring-do continued even after Indian independence. He 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 Patnaik 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 Furnance at Barbil.In 1951 he established the Kalinga Prize for the Popularisation of Science and entrusted the responsibility to the UNESCO.
Like a colossus, Biju strode Orissa’s political arena for more than four decades. Whether in power or in the opposition, he was one of the most influential politicians of the country. It was while trying to build an industrial empire at Choudwar, just across River Mahanadi from Cuttack that he forayed into electoral politics. He won an Assembly election from North Cuttack Sadar seat in 1946 and set up Kalinga Tubes at Choudwar, his flagship industry and at one time Asia’s largest pipe manufacturing plant. The resounding success in 1961 midterm poll established him as a superb party organizer and the brief period of his administrative stewardship built his image of a dynamic man who could electrify the people of the State with a sense of urgency and keep bureaucrats on their tiptoes.
Biju Patnaik had a brief tenure in office as he was ‘Kamarajed’ out in October 1963.But during this period he injected a rare dynamism into the administration and lifted the “featureless and futureless” people of Orissa out of despondency. He acutely felt that Orissa mirrors the paradox of all backward areas – poverty amidst potential plenty. Orissa has a wealth of natural resources and yet it is the poorest and most backward state of India. Therefore for him any plan for the development of these vast natural resources, which shall help transform poverty into plenty may well serve as a model for other similarly situated areas in India.
Within that short period during which he took the stewardship of the state administration, Biju Patnaik laid the blue print for Orissa’s development and the state was on the threshold of a new of industrial revolution. He not only accelerated the process of development, but was able to locate a number of new industries in the State- the MIG factory at Sunabeda, Balimela Dam, Public Corporations, Panchayat Industries, the Express High way and a lot many. His ambitious projects, which he named as “Decade of Destiny” was meant to elevate the State to a new height.
A towering personality and administrator, who meant business all the time, Biju could not tolerate red-tapisms.He would have a thing done immediately and not suffer any delay. Result- he was charged with administrative impropriety. To the officials his advice was, “be loyal to me not to the government but to the destinies of this State, to the prosperity of the people”. There is a story that once when a speeding motor truck carrying stones for the Paradeep Port was stopped by a traffic policeman, the drives humorously replied that the speed suggested by the policeman would delay the port work by several years, when Biju Patnaik wanted everybody to work at top gear.
The importance that Biju attached to Orissa’s industrial development was reflected in his speech which he delivered at the inauguration of the Orissa Planning Board on June 15, 1962. He had said – “A people cannot grow unless the industries were developed and established here”. Calling upon the bureaucrats to change their work-style, Patnaik said, “In the new set-up in the new adventure which we are going to embark upon, I would expect my officials to become thinkers and administrators in turn. I would expect them to collectively and willingly push the State towards the goal of prosperity. I would expect them to become leaders of men and not leaders of the longest notes on the files”.
At the invitation of Biju Patnaik, Internationally known Biologist, Scientist and Philosopher Prof. J.B.S Haldane accepted the post of the Director of the Biometry and Genetics Laboratory at Bhubaneswar, which was set up by the Government of Orissa. Prof. Haldane, who imparted to the Indian scientific scene a certain color and character, became an Indian citizen in 1960 and devoted himself to assisting development of science in this rapidly developing country. He accepted Biju’s offer because he (Biju) was ‘capable of displaying great respect towards individuals whom he considered to be performing worthwhile work’. This genius died in Bhubaneswar on 1 st December, 1964.
After Biju Patnaik took the rein of the State administration, Orissa witnessed rapid strides in education. The period between 1961-67 is aptly described as the golden era in the history of education of the State. At his initiative the Regional College of Education was set up at Bhubaneswar. The Regional Engineering College at Rourkela was established in 1961, the Orissa University of Agriculture and Technology was set up and during the Chief Ministership of Biren Mitra (when Biju was the Chairman of the State Planning Board). Universities were established in Berhampur and Sambalpur. Thus Biju is responsible for the giant leap forward of education in Orissa.When Biju was in the Congress, his courage and defiance of the Central Government during the Nehru era built his image among the people. When the Union government refused to construct the Paradeep Port, as the Chief Minister of Orissa he took upon himself to mobilize resources from within the State and built the Rs.14 crore Port when the Center did not show much interest in the project. Patnaik’s strong stand on the issue was vindicated when the Center took over the Port after some years. Biju Patnaik proved his extraordinary organizing ability by successfully holding the Congress Session in 1964 at Bhubaneswar. His dream was fulfilled when on 12th March 1966, the Paradeep Port was commissioned.
Biju Babu was all along trying to spread science education in the state and was of the view that the common man, with little or no education should have access to the latest scientific developments. In the Oriya daily ‘The Kalinga’ which he had started, there was a separate science section and he encouraged many eminent Oriya scientist or science popularisers to regularly write for common men.
A close confidant of Pandit Nehru, Biju enjoyed free access to Teen Murti Bhawan, the P.M’s official residence. Nehru had entrusted him with the additional responsibilities of advising him on defense matters during the Chinese aggression and Patnaik was allotted an office near the P.M.’s office in North Block. Pandit Nehru had asked him to visit the United States as an Advisory to the Ministry of External Affairs and discuss sensitive defense issues with the U.S administration. During his stay in Washington, Biju gave interviews to ‘Baltimore Sun’ and ‘Washington Post’, in which he said that he had come to seek both ground to ground and air to air missiles along with radars, which could conceivably be tied to a network of the South East Asian Treaty Organisation (SEATO). US newspapers also portrayed the Orissa Chief Minister as the coming defense Minister as the coming defense Minister, who will replace Y.B. Chouhan. The opposition charged Biju Patnaik with ‘impropriety of revealing defense secrets, including details of the strength of the Indian Army’. There was a furore in Parliament and even the Lok Sabha Speaker Sardar Hukum Singh ruled that – ‘it is not proper to disclose such information which is denied here’. But the Prime Minister strongly supported Biju and declared in the Parliament that whatever has been said by him to American newspaper ‘did not harm us in any way’. This controversy highlighted how close Biju was to Pt.Nehru.
During the time Biren Mitra was Chief Minister, a memorandum was submitted to the President of India by opposition parties making allegations of impropriety and abuse of office against Biju Patnaik, Biren Mitra and other ministers of Orissa. The Home Ministry referred the matter to the Central Bureau of investigations for a preliminary enquiry. After the receipt of the report of the CBI, the Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri constituted a Sub Committee of the Union Cabinet, which studied various allegations. In a letter to Biju Patnaik dated January 15, 1965 the Prime Minister said: “The sub-Committee has given the finding that in the various transactions in which you were concerned, you had not personally derived any pecuniary…”.
However, Shastriji pointed out, there still remains the questions of improprieties to which the sub-committee has drawn attention. In reply to Shastriji’s letter Biju Patnaik drew his attention to the fact that the sub-committee have arrived at their conclusions based on “scrappy and disconnected information’s” furnished to them. He said, “Where corruption charges are not established, the next handle would be administrative impropriety, irregularity or indiscretion and would even be stretched to lack of judgment, wisdom, prudence, each succeeding one made to be appeared more heinous than the previous one”. Appealing to P.M. to consider the reality, Biju Patnaik said – “As one who has the pride to serve the party and the people with some dedication, I can assure the P.M. that I don’t seek any special consideration except common justice to uphold individual dignity and honour”. If a combination of events and circumstances is deliberately created by a determined few, then the prospects of a fearless, free and democratic India are bleak indeed! After Indira Gandhi took over as Prime Minister in 1966, Biju realized that he is not very comfortable in the Congress Party. In 1967 general election, the Congress Party suffered humiliating defeat in Orissa, as elsewhere and Patnaik was also defeated from a number of Assembly seats.
After the 1967 general election the Congress government was replaced by the Swatantra-Jana Congress coalition and the new government set up the Khanna Commission to enquire into the charges of corruption and administrative impropriety leveled against Biju Patnaik and others. To the pleasant surprise of many Patnaik-admires, although the commission found the charges of administrative impropriety true in some respects it made it clear that none was meant for individual benefits. It paid Biju Patnaik rich compliments. The Commission said:
“The need of Orissa is of a leader of great caliber, inspired by the cause, dedicated, devoted and determined, who may arouse the enthusiasm which is so far dormant, of the masses, harness it to fruitful activity and thus pave the way to economic betterment and future prosperity. Biju Patnaik gave hope of that calibre. He had the halo of an adventurous past. He had daring, dash doggedness and the advantage of youth, good physique and a tall imposing personality. To all these may be added a touch of flambuoyance.Biju Patnaik did commendable job in certain spheres by introducing an element of dynamism in the administration and the work he did by translating the idea of a Port at Paradeep into a living reality is bound to make an impact on the history of Orissa and its future development ”.
More than two decades later, when he returned for a five year rule as the Janata Dal C.M. in March 1990, Biju Patnaik would often recall the Khanna Commission’s findings and said, “I will commit such improprieties even today if it helped Orissa to progress”.
The Indian National Congress has split in 1969. In May 1970 Biju Patnaik and his followers left the Congress(R) in protest against “naked bossism” and central imposition after he had been denied a ticket to Rajya Sabha by the Congress High Command; although his case was sponsored by the Provincial Congress Committee. In 1970 he resigned from Congress Party and subsequently formed a regional party Utkal Congress. In the 1971 election, no party came out with a clear majority. Biju Patnaik and the Swatantra leader R.N. Singh Deo joined hands. This came as a surprise to political observers, as Singh Deo was a bitter critic of Biju. And with the support of the Jharkhand Party, they formed a United Front. Biju successfully persuaded the 82 years Old veteran Politician Biswanath Das to become the Chief Minister, after his long spell of Political retirement.
Utkal Congress and Swatantra parties fought election under the banner of Pragati Party and the political combine fared well in the election. Biju was closely associated with the Lok Sangarsha Samiti of Jaya Prakash Narayan and organized the Orissa visit of J.P. in 1975. When Indira Gandhi declared emergency on 25-26 June, 1975, Biju was one of the first to be arrested under MISA and lodged in Rohtak Jail in Haryana.In the 1977 election, he was elected from Kendrapada to Lok sabha and was inducted into the Moraji Desai government as Minister of steel and mines. In the 1980 election, he was again elected to the Lok Sabha. In 1985 he resigned from parliament retaining his Assembly seat and became the leader of the opposition in the Orissa Assembly.
Biju’s illustrious political career culminated in his party’s resounding victory in the 1990 Assembly polls and he returned as Chief Minister for the second time on March 5, 1990.For the first time he completed the full term (1990-95). A Biju critic says that he functioned in an arbitrary and autocratic manner “I am the party and I am the government” – he used to say “Am I not enough?”What was his reaction when immediately after being sworn in as chief minister in 1990 he was asked, how long it would take for him to choose other members of the cabinet. Biju has a painful feeling that in spite of being so rich in natural resources, Orissa has remained one of the poorest and most backward states in India. The quality of its administration has steadily deteriorated, to the disgust of the voters. Since bureaucrats are virtually unshakable in India, he suggested in a speech that disgruntled citizens should assault them. Biju was never comfortable with the Mandal Commission recommendation and did not hesitate to publicly air his stand against V.P Singh‘s decision to implement the Mandal Commission. Al through many pro-Mandal leaders of the Janta Dal were never happy with Patnaik for his views and style of functioning, they did not dare to do anything to displease the Grant Old Man of Orissa politics. Another point on which his critics find fault with him is that when he lost power in 1995 as in 1967 in the election that followed, he never attempted to build a second line of command in his party.
During the final term as Chief Minister (1990-95), he acted more as a statesman than the head of the government. He caused a turmoil when he threatened that Orissa would secede from the Indian Union if the Center continue to neglect it. Prime Minister Chandra Sekhar took serious exception and demanded that Biju should clarify his position. Patnaik explained that Orissa should be given fiscal autonomy in a true federal structure to script its own economic development. He also floated the demand for full convertibility of the rupee.
The final phase of Biju’s political career was perhaps an unhappy chapter to his long, checkered political career. Having been voted out of power from the States in 1995. He contested two Lok Sabha seats Aska in Ganjam district and Cuttack Sadar. He won both the seats at a time when the congress had swept the election in the state. People naturally expected that he would hold a center- stage at the national politics. But to their dismay, they found that lesser elements within the party, including some who owned their political existence to him, were out to undermine his importance and every possible method to undermine their leader was adopted. To prevent him from joining the Union Cabinet, even graft cases were slapped on him.
Biju Patnaik was disillusioned over the brand of politics going on at the center. He was also unhappy over the constant bickering within his party. As a matter of fact; he was never comfortable with the Mandalisation of the Janta Dal and through that the DAL claim about introducing social justice were suspect. Towards the end, he had become a convert to the ideas of having a broad- based, democratic coalition, which included the Congress.
A long, illustrious career came to an end on 17th April, 1997 when Biju Patnaik passed away at Delhi. His death was one of the worst tragedies that had ever happened to the State of Orissa and removed the greatest figure of our time at the very climax of his career. Grief and shock swept across Orissa as news of his death spread. It was perhaps a tryst with destiny that Patnaik was cremated at Swargadwara, Puri. He was to rest in peace close to the abode of his Kalia (Lord Jagannath). Though he was not religious in the traditional sense, he had a sentimental attachment to Load Jagannath. While addressing public meeting in front of the Puri Jagannath Temple, he used to enter into a monologue with the Lord.
Adventure indeed! It is in his blood from body hood. It is this love of adventure that goaded him to have a bicycle ride from Cuttack to Peshawar when he was a student and to change his profession of an aeronautical engineer to that of a pilot. It is this call of adventure that inspired him to undertake the risky jobs of flying the stranded Britishers in Burma to safety during the Second World War days and to carry on at the same time anti-British subversive activities which ultimately landed him into jail. In providing indispensable leadership, he emerged as the greatest political figure of his age. The story of his adventurous life still inspires the youth of Orissa.
Biju never flinched in his determination to develop the country and uplift the poor. “Never despair” was what he used to say to his supporters. Always he exhorted the people of the state to emulate the ideas of Kharavela. Timeless fortitude; persistence and respect for the common man made him a unique personality. He devoted his life to build a new era of progress and did it with a combination of skilled statesmanship and innovative spirit. He touched millions of Oriyas in a very personal way and earned his place in the home and hearts of a whole generation. As the ‘Hindustan Times’ editorially commented after his death – “It may not be
an exaggeration to say that Biju Patnaik was the tallest among all leader 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, with Nehru and J.P at the height of their power and there was no dearth of colourful politicians in India”.
People were fascinated by the considerable charm and the range of accomplishments of this Grand Old Man of Orissa, who led a full life. No matter what the challenges, he believed that the facts were only one part of reality-the other part was how you react to them and change them for the better. That he was a visionary can be underscored by an illustration Way back in the sixties, when the licence raj permit was as its peak, Biju startled people by talking about liberalization. He remained a votary of economic reform till the very end and had the courage of conviction to take on those who blindly aped this model or that. He was so clear about basic issues because he was not just a politician - an industrialist and a dare - devil that he was, he invested his life with an all- too rare élan.
According to the veteran journalist, there is no epithet that is not used about him. “Wily,volatile,flamboyant,dynamic,reckless,daredevil,damn efficient” and what not? Perhaps all these suit him in one context or the other. But in the jungle of attributes his essential human qualities, his deep love for his people, are often missed. Once Patnaik is deeply moved by the peoples’ distress, he will move mountains to give succur.In October 1971, when the entire administration was benumbed by the rude shock of the killer cyclone and tidal wave that had flattened the coastal Orissa, it was Biju Patnaik who rose to the occasion. When Governments at the State and the center were busy doing maths on relief expenditure, Biju pressed into service a private aircraft and himself started dropping food packets to the marooned thousands who would have perished, but for this prompt step.
This stalwart was endowed with exceptional talent and courage. He had great interest in literature and was a voracious reader.Biju’s life was one of the commanding events in the history of modern Orissa.He had an innate grasp of the Oriya temper and devoted his entire life in restoring optimism among people. Perhaps that is why he enjoyed a long and largely unquestioned popularity among his people.
Biju was the architect of grand designs. Delivering Binod Kanungo Memorial Lecture on ‘Orissa of my dream’ on 27th January, 1992 at Bhubaneswar, instituted in memory of his dearest friend, encyclopaedist and freedom fighter Binod Kanungo, he had said:
In my dream of the 21 st 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 brain, intelligence and capacity, they will recapture the history of Kalinga. I would like my Orissa of the 21 st century to have excellent artisans, Superb Craftsmen and sculptors,greatest musicians and poets”.
Tales and anecdotes about him are a legion. There is a story that Pt. Nehru once asked Dr.B.C. Roy – ‘Have you met a man called Biju Patnaik’. “I have heard about him; but not yet met him”, was the reply of the Bengal Chief Minister. Nehru said,”meet him sometimes. I like such forward-looking, brave people. The only difficulty is that sometimes you don’t know where he will land you”.
Biju was known for his curt and sometimes self-defeating, off-the-cuff statements. He did not help his cause with impulsive comments about the need to beat up corrupt officials or about Orissa being forced to secede, if the Centre continued to neglect it. During his first tenure as Chief Minister (1961-63) he had told a public meeting – I spent rupees one crore to become Chief Minister. I will have to spend rupees 10 crores to become Prime Minister. This statement created controversy. Similar were the remarks that he helped his party colleague, friend and former Chief Minister Biren Mitra earns Rs. 6 lakhs in a single year through his Orissa Agency, which was doing business with the State Government. Some of maverick Patnaik’s utterances and actions during his second Chief Ministership were also typical of him. Sometimes he is painted as arrogant, but in reality at times his confidence merged into arrogance.
Despite being a big name in Indian politics, Biju Patnaik has seen hunger and poverty from close quarters in the mid-forties. He had once said – “I stayed in my Father’s house in Cuttack after being released from jail in 1945.I did not even have Rs.2 to purchase milk for my children”, he said.Biju,who was a chain smoker then, had to quit cigarette smoking because of this.
A giant transference of energy had taken place between him and his people. He delighted the people by his youthfulness of spirit and body and the people were attracted to his spontaneity and utter freedom from pompousness. In the end, his great strength far outweighed his weakness. Therefore when he died, even his most partisan adversaries felt compelled to acknowledge the immensity of the man they had opposed.
February – March 2005