Personal Insights on Immortal Biju Patnaik

Biju Babu was a “TALL” leader, a giant, a pioneer and a pathfinder.  He was a statesman with vision and a true leader of masses. I have been fortunate to have some personal insights regarding this wonderful personality which I would like to share by penning them down.

I am from BJB College. Once Biju Babu had come there and spoke to us. He said, “Why are my sisters and daughters standing in hot sun, organisers pl note for future”. He then spoke of population control and requested all to go in for family planning. He spoke about unemployment and said that he will give us 1000 jobs, but by the time he does so, we stupid chaps will give birth to 10000 kids. Said that these are issues which all have to tackle , not only those in Government. Imagine a leader speaking like this to 16-17 year students and that too in 1990.  Fantastic.

After BJB College I went to Delhi University. Once at Orissa Bhawan New Delhi, i was walking downstairs with a classmate Ranjib and we sensed a buzz. Turning back, we saw  JB Patnaik walking down leisurely and Biju Babu behind him. Biju babu who walks faster went passed JB and got into the earmarked car of JB Patnaik. The perplexed driver looked at JB, who with a wave of his hands indicated him to carry on and take Biju babu and that he will go in another car. That was the magnetic personality of this tall leader

My relative was his Doctor. Once he told him, Sir, please slow down on your eating, you are eating omelette with 6 eggs, thats not good for u. Biju Babu exploded with anger “What kind of Doc are u, u should make me fit so that I can go back to having omelette with 12 eggs”. A friend’s brother in law had treated him for some time and at a time when he was unwell and supposed to be in bed the doctor walked in to find him with his favorite sukhua (dry salted fish), mutton and chicken – and he made him eat with him without any discussion. Legend is that he was able to eat 1 kilo of mutton by himself-as one of the food items.

As CM he once wrote a letter to the PM starting with “My dear Narasimha”. His IAS Secy hemmed, hedged and finally blurted that he should write Sir. Biju Babu frowned and said, “Arre he is my junior and he calls me Sir”. The officer replied that it is from chair of CM to chair of PM. Biju Babu told him Get out and the officer quietly left the room. 5 minutes later Biju babu called him back and said that he had reconsidered and the officer was correct. Amazing

My Dad was Chief Engineer and once I was with him for a  Bridge inauguration event by Biju Babu. CM spoke about various issues of health, employment, centre-state relations, about the pending work he wants to do, about the meeting he had with PM week back and the week following- and what he will get for Orissa in the meeting. Then he completed his speech with a single sentence, “Ah, I have come for bridge inauguration, I am sure engineer babu and his staff must have done their work well, I will also tell Kaalia ( Lord Jagannath) so that the bridge serves the people of Orissa for more than 100 years, I am going for meeting with PM, Thanks all of you”.

Biju babu was very fond of my dad as roads were good in his time and my dad was chief Engineer roads for 3 years. My dad had only 1 month service left and  was due for promotion. Biju babu called him and asked “why will I make you works secretary and not your successor who has 4 years 6 months”. My dad replied that as CM it is his prerogative but for three reasons he staked his claim; firstly the officer who has 4 years 6 months can also achieve whatever he wants in 4 years 5 months but in 30 days I too can contribute, secondly as an honest person he will gain by 150 rupees pension per month (in 92) and finally for a non ias secretary to state government is the highest post a state government engineer can aspire for and he will remember Biju babu to help him realise his dream. Biju babu looked at my dad for a few seconds , picked up the phone and said “I had asked 2 draft orders , put up Misra’s order and make him secretary “.

Like nowadays those days too there were lot of complaints about doctors that they used to do operations in nursing homes and not in government hospitals. My father in law was due for promotion as Professor Surgery. So Biju Babu who was CM sent his driver to check and his driver asked my father in law that he doesn’t mind being operated in nursing home. The reply was “why not in SCB Medical college, why do u want to waste money”. The next day promotion order was out

Before joining IRS, I was working with NALCO and attached with the CMD. Once Biju Babu called up the Chairman and recommended someone for a MT ( Management Trainee) job. That chap unfortunately could not clear the written. The CMD was perplexed how to say No to Biju Babu. After 2 days the he decided to personally go and tell him. Biju Babu said that he was very happy and would have been furious if the written exam conducted by a national agency would have been manipulated. He then added, “of course if he would have got through the written, then it would have had to be done and I would not have taken no for an answer”

I still remember that day 17th April 1997. I was in office and my boss suddenly said “I got the news Biju babu is no more, we are not working today ,lets leave office to pay our respects to him”. The spontaneous procession of  lakhs will always be in my memory.  Today is the 100th birth anniversary of this remarkable trailblazer and trendsetter, a straight talking and decisive leader on a mission.  He is Immortal.


7 thoughts on “Personal Insights on Immortal Biju Patnaik

    1. thanks bhai. ironically all these comments of mine were on your fb post. which was a good thread, delightful one. i thought since these are personal insights why not share with my friends


  1. Emotions are aplenty and deservedly so in this write up.

    Long long years back I had read about him in the Independent, which had covered this fascinating persona in almost all his facet. Tried unearthing it and luckily could find it. Thanks Google!

    Here it is what it had said all about. Yes, I don’t know how many would know what was “Biju” in the name. It was Bijoynanda.

    Besides being a powerful and influential politician and businessman in India, Biju Patnaik was also a buccaneering pilot, whose feats during and after the Second World War were legendary.
    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. Two years ago, on the 50th anniversary of the end of the war, Patnaik was honoured by the Russians for his help.

    After the war, Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of independent India, who was committed to decolonisation, entrusted Patnaik with the seemingly impossible task of rescuing Indonesian resistance fighters struggling with Dutch colonisers for control of Indonesia. Assisted by his wife Gyanwati, in 1948 the lanky pilot flew an old Dakota aircraft to Singapore en route to Jakarta where the rebels were entrenched.

    Despite attempts by the Dutch forces to shoot him down after he entered Indonesian airspace, Patnaik landed on an improvised airstrip near Jakarta. Using left-over fuel from abandoned Japanese military dumps, he flew out several prominent rebels including Sultan Shariyar and Achmad Sukarno for a secret meeting with Nehru at New Delhi which greatly helped their cause.

    After independence, when Sukarno became president, the Indonesian government conferred the title “Bhoomiputra” or “son of the soil” on Patnaik and gave him honorary citizenship. He remained close to Indonesian leaders and Sukarno’s daughter was named Meghavati or “goddess of the clouds” on Patnaik’s suggestion.

    Soon afterwards Patnaik took to the skies once again, flying Indian troops into Kashmir to fight Pathan guerrilla fighters from Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province who had raided Kashmir and forcibly occupied a third of the principality. He also carried out scores of civilians from Kashmir’s summer capital Srinagar, including his infant son and his daughter Gita Nehta (now an internationally renowned author, of Karma Cola and Snakes and Ladders).

    Patnaik also tried to establish an airlink between India and Tibet, shortly before it was occupied by the Chinese in 1951. And, though unsuccessful, he was able to persuade the Indian government to provide arms and logistical support to Tibetan Khampa fighters waging terrorist attacks against the occupying Chinese.

    Patnaik was born in Cuttack in the eastern state of Orissa in 1916, into an aristocratic family. He began flying shortly after graduating from Ravenshaw College, Cuttack. In 1939 he married, with his customary flamboyance, Gyanwati Sethi. His marriage party arrived with a fleet of Tiger Moth planes which flew in formation over the train which carried the young couple to their honeymoon.

    Influenced by Mahatma Gandhi’s freedom struggles against colonial rule, Patnaik joined the independence movement and often sheltered prominent revolutionaries in his house. He was commissoned into the Royal Indian Air Force in the early 1940s, rising to head its Air Transport Wing before becoming a commercial pilot.

    Penniless after Independence, Patnaik set about establishing an industrial empire, which eventually comprised iron ore and manganese mines, steel and textile mills and an airline, most of which he sold later in order to enter politics full-time. He had joined the Congress Party during the independence movement and, after winning state elections in 1961, became Orissa’s chief minister. However, he quit two years later after an upheaval within the party.

    Thereafter he became a close confidant of prime minister Indira Gandhi but fell foul of her and was imprisoned when he opposed the internal extergency she declared in 1975, in which civil liberties were suspended and press censorship imposed. Patnaik spent two years in gaol before being released, elected as an MP and made a federal minister. The collapse of the government in 1979 pushed Patnaik into political oblivion, but he bounced back in 1991, becoming Orissa’s chief minister and going on to complete a five- year term.

    Patnaik increasingly lost popularity in recent years through his arrogant and unseemly behaviour. In 1993, for instance, he celebrated his 78th birthday with a party which cost the bankrupt state of Orissa 20 million rupees (some pounds 360,000) at a time when thousands in the state were dying of starvation and government employees had not been paid their salaries. Patnaik’s political party was voted out of office two years ago and, though he retained his parliamentary seat, he was considered a political liability and left out of the federal government.

    An avid bridge player, Patnaik was also a ladies’ man, known for his many conquests and irreverence towards authority.

    Bijoynanda (Biju) Patnaik, aviator, businessman and politician: born Cuttack, Orissa 5 March 1916; married 1939 Gyanwati Sethi (two sons, one daughter); died New Delhi 17 April 1997.

    Liked by 1 person

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