As Odisha celebrates the 80th year of the state’s formation, it is worthwhile to recall how Bijayananda (Biju) Patnaik, a true statesman, freedom fighter and an illustrious son of India, was the architect of modern Odisha and the tallest leader of post-independence Odisha. On 24 February 2016, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik unveiled a logo for the year-long celebration of Biju Patnaik’s birth centenary beginning from 5 March, Biju Patnaik’s birth anniversary. Biju Patnaik, Biju Babu for millions of his admirers, both in his life-time and even after his death, enjoys an iconic status in Odisha and is widely admired across India for his courage, idealism, statesmanship and dedication to the cause of the common man. People of Odisha lovingly call him the “Hero of Kalinga” and the “Kharavela of Kalinga”. He was a man who created history, changed history and shaped history.
Biju Patnaik was born in Cuttack on 5 March 1916 to Lakshminarayan and Ashalata Patnaik. He completed his early education at the Mission Primary School and Mission Christ Collegiate of Cuttack. In 1932, he got admitted into the intermediate science class of the famous Ravenshaw College, where he was a talented sportsman and headed the football, hockey, athletics and cricket team of the University. He was the sports champion for continuously three years. He studied Aeronautics at the Aeronautical Training Institute of India.
ROLE IN FREEDOM MOVEMENT
Biju Babu was closely associated with two architects of modern Odisha — Utkal Gourav Madhusudan Das and Utkalmani Gopabandhu Das. Inspired by them and by Mahatma Gandhi, Biju Babu dedicated himself to the Indian Freedom Movement.
In 1942, Biju decided to join the Quit India Movement under the guidance of the Father of the Nation to make India free. In 1943, he was sent to prison for about two years for participating in the Quit India Movement. Aruna Asaf Ali, recalling Biju Babu’s role during this period, mentions: “Among the thousands who came forward to take up the challenge, Biju Patnaik, Chief Pilot of the Dalmia-Jain Airways, was one of the most fearless who mobilised the fellow pilots.”
In 1946, Patnaik was elected uncontested to the Odisha Legislative Assembly from North Cuttack constituency. In 1952 and 1957, he won from Jagannath Prasad and Surada, respectively. In 1961, he assumed the presidency of the state Congress.
Under his leadership, the Congress Party won 82 of 140 seats and Patnaik (representing Chowdwar constituency) became the Chief Minister of Odisha and remained in the position until 2 October 1963, when he resigned from the post under the Kamaraj Plan to revitalise the Congress party. He was the Chief Minister of Odisha at the age of 45.
Patnaik was close to Indira Gandhi who took over the Congress Party in 1967. However, they clashed in 1969 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. Patnaik then 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, Biju Patnaik was one of the first to be arrested along with other opposition leaders. In 1977, he was released and elected to the Lok Sabha from Kendrapara and till 1979 under the government of Morarji Desai and Choudhary Charan Singh, he was the Union Minister for Steel and Mines.
In 1980, Biju was elected to the Lok Sabha and then again in 1996, he was re-elected to the Lok Sabha. In the 1990 state Assembly election, Janata Dal won and Biju Patnaik again served as the Chief Minister of Odisha till 1995. Biju strongly advocated for equal resources to all Indian states that needed such, in the true spirit of federalism.
Biju Patnaik started his own airline, the Kalinga Airlines, 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 Babu is considered 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 furnace at Barbil.
In 1951, he established the Kalinga Prize for the Popularization of Science and entrusted the responsibility to the UNESCO.
Even at the age of 35, he had the foresight to foresee the importance of science and technology and to establish this prize considered a prestigious award by the international scientific community. Biju Babu died in New Delhi on 17 April 1997 of cardio-respiratory failure.
In 1992, he left this quote for the people of Odisha: “In my dream of the 21st 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 brains, intelligence and capacity, they will recapture the history of Kalinga.”