Biju Patnaik Birth Anniv: Lesser Known Facts About The “Tall Man Of Odisha”

Bhubaneswar: Biju Patnaik was one of the most prominent survivors of the generation of Indian leaders who took part in the independence struggle against Britain.

It is well known that Biju Patnaik actively helped freedom fighters in the 1940s. Then Vice-President Hamid Ansari had in 2016 said his “daring was evident as he actively joined the Quit India movement in 1942 and collaborated with the underground leaders like Jayaprakash Narayan, Aruna Asif Ali and Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia, even while in the British service”. Patnaik was imprisoned by the British Government for three years later.

In an obit, after he died in 1997, The Independent narrates Patnaik’s journey as a pilot from colonial days to after Independence. “As an officer in the Royal Indian Air Force in the early 1940s, Patnaik flew innumerable sorties to rescue British families fleeing the Japanese advance on Rangoon, the capital of Burma. He also dropped arms and supplies to Chinese troops fighting the Japanese and later to the Soviet army struggling against Hitler’s onslaught near Stalingrad. On the 50th anniversary of the end of the war, Patnaik was honoured by the Russians for his help,” the obit noted.

Interestingly, Nehru entrusted Patnaik with rescuing Indonesian resistance fighters who were fighting their Dutch colonisers. Accompanied by wife Gyanwati, “the lanky pilot flew an old Dakota aircraft to Singapore en route to Jakarta where the rebels were entrenched” in 1948. Dodging the Dutch guns, he entered Indonesian airspace and landed on an improvised airstrip near Jakarta. Using left-over fuel from abandoned Japanese military dumps, Patnaik took off with prominent rebels, including Sultan Shariyar and Achmad Sukarno, for a secret meeting with Nehru at New Delhi.

For his services to the cause of Indonesia’s independence, Sukarno, who went on to become president of the archipelago, conferred the title “Bhoomiputra” or son of the soil on Patnaik and gave him an honorary citizenship. The Independent’s obituary recounts how  it was Patnaik who suggested that Sukarno’s daughter be named Meghavati or “goddess of the clouds”. Diah Permata Megawati Setiawati Sukarnoputri later became Indonesia’s first female president, serving from 2001 to 2004.

Here are some of the interesting facts about the mass leader:

  • Biju Patnaik, full name Bijaya Nanda Patnaik, was born on March 5, 1916 in Cuttack. Biju Patnaik’s parental home belongs to G.Nuagan in Bellaguntha of Ganjam district.
  • During his stay in Delhi, Biju Patnaik was busy giving asylum to freedom fighters and trying to evade arrest by the British police. A foreign freedom fighter who was aware of this had named his house Absconders’ Paradise.
  • Biju Patnaik 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.
  • Biju Patnaik was honored by British rulers for his act of releasing some British families who were imprisoned by Japanese during the Second World War.
  • Biju Patnaik helped the Soviet Army fight Hitler during World War II and was honored by the Russians for his service.
  • In 1943, he was sent to jail for two years after he was found guilty of taking freedom fighters to secret places in his plane.
  • UNESCO Kalinga Prize was founded by Biju Patnaik in 1952 for the Popularization of Science
  • When the Dutch attempted to quell Indonesian independence on 21 July 1947, President Sukarna 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, to rescue Sjahrir. Biju Patnaik and his wife flew to Java and brought Sultan Sjahrir out on a Dakota reaching India via Singapore on 24 July 1947.
  • For his act of bravery, Biju Patnaik was given honorary citizenship in Indonesia and awarded the ‘Bhoomi Putra’, the highest Indonesian award, rarely granted to a foreigner. In 1996, when Indonesia was celebrating its 50th Independence Day, Biju Patnaik was awarded the highest national award, the ‘Bintang Jasa Utama’.
  • Megawati, Indonesian President Sukarna’s daughter, was named by Biju Patnaik and his wife.
  • Biju Patnaik piloted the first plane from Delhi to Kashmir. On October 27, 1947, at Prime Minister Nehru’s request he helped airlift the first Indian soldiers into Srinagar.He flew from Palam Airport at dawn and landed at Srinagar Airport in the early morning. He brought 17 soldiers of 1-Sikh regiment commanded by Lt.Col. Dewan Ranjit Rai.
  • During the Sino-Indian War in 1962, Nehru consulted Biju Patnaik repeatedly for advice. For some time he was Nehru’s defence advisor, unofficially of course.
  • Most of Biju Patnaik’s ventures were named Kalinga, the erstwhile name of Odisha. He set up Kalinga tubes, Kalinga Airlines, Kalinga Iron work, Kalinga Refractories and Kalinga, a daily Oriya newspaper. In 1951 he established the international Kalinga Prize.
  • In 1946, Patnaik was elected uncontested to the Odisha Legislative Assembly from North Cuttack constituency.
  • When the Central government refused to give funds to build the Paradeep port, Biju Patnaik: To hell with the Government of India. I will build the port with state government and my own money.And he spent Rs 1.60 billion on it. Later, of course, Nehru sanctioned funds for the project.
  • Biju Patnaik was an avid bridge player.
  • Biju Patnaik was an avid cyclist too. He was spotted many a time cycling to the State Secretariat. When he was studying, he had cycled all the way from Cuttack to Peshawar (now in Pakistan) to spread the message of humanity.
  • Biju Patnaik was Odisha’s Chief Minister twice and only for 7 years in total.
  • Biju Patnaik was one of the first to be arrested along with other opposition leaders during the Emergency declared in 1975. He was released in 1977.
  • When Biju Patnaik died, the national flags of three countries – India, Indonesia and Russia were wrapped on his body in his last journey. Heads of countries, Premiers often do not have such privilege.
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