Biju Pattnaik is a popular name at home as well as internationally. More than a politician he is remembered for his daredevil acts as a professional pilot. Fondly called “Bijubabu’, he is considered a stalwart and pride of Odisha.
Born in 1916 in Odisha, Bijubabu was fascinated by airplanes from school days. So he discontinued his graduation studies in Ravenshaw and joined for training as a pilot in the aeronautic Training institute of India of Delhi flying club. Maharaja Krushna Chandra Dev of Paralakhemundi provided him financial assistance for his study.
Career as a professional Pilot
After completion of his training, he joined Royal Indian National Airways to become an ace pilot. As the second World War started, Bijubabu joined the Royal Indian Air Force as a fighter pilot. Due to his excellent performance during the World War, he served as the head of the ‘Air Transport Command’ during the years of 1940-42. During his tenure as a pilot, Bijubabu began an interest in national politics and decided to join Quit India movement. He played paramount role in delivering subversive literature to Indian troops and became a leader of underground Congress Movement with Jaya Prakash Narain and Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia. Bijubabu underwent imprisonment during 1942-45.
Bijubabu met with Jawaharlal Nehru during his participation in Indian freedom struggle and became one of his trusted friends. While India was fighting for her freedom from the British, the Indonesians were also fighting for freedom from the Dutch. Indonesia was a potential ally for Nehru. When the Dutch attempted to quell Indonesian independence on 21 July 1947, President Sukarno ordered his then Prime Minister Sjahrir to leave country. Sjahrir was asked to attend the first Inter-Asia conference organized by Nehru in order to garner public opinion against the Dutch. However Sjahrir was unable to leave the country as the Dutch controlled the Indonesian sea and air routes. At the behest of Jawaharlal Nerhu, Bijubabu startled the world by braving a perilous air voyage to Indonesia in his Vantage Dacota airplane to rescue Sjaharir and flew him back to Delhi. For this unique adventure and commitment to Indonesia’s independence (from the Dutch Occupation), Bijubabu 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, Bijubabu was awarded the highest national award, the ‘Bintang Jasa Utama’.
Hardly six weeks after India got its Independence from the British, there was a situation. Maharaja of Kashmir had already signed the instrument of Accession with India. But by that time Pakistan had forcibly occupied a major chunk of Kashmir and was advancing towards Srinagar. Even one hours delay would have lost India heavily. Bijubabu was summoned by the Prime Minister Nehru to thwart Pakistan’s sinister design of occupying Kashmir. At this critical juncture, braving all possible hazards Bijubau ferried the first platoon of troop and landed in Srinagar Air Port on 27.10.1947 at 10 a.m. Pakistan was forced to recede.
The political career of Buijubabu started in the year 1946 when he was elected uncontested to the Odisha Legislative Assembly from North Cuttack Constituency. In 1952 and 1957 he won from Bhanjanager and Jagannath Prasad and Sorada respectively. On 13th February 1961 Biju Babu assumed the Presidentship of the State Congress. The Congres party won 82 out of 140 seats, securing 45% of the total votes polled and he won from Choudwar constituency. The poll verdict was astounding and Biju Babu took over as the Chief Minister of Odisha on 23rd June, 1961. On 7th May 1971 he was nominated to the Rajya Sabha. Bijubabu was elected to Odisha Legislative Assembly in 1971 in a by-election from Rajanagar again and became the leader of the opposition. In 1977 he won from the Kendrapara Lok Sabha Constituency and became the Union Minister for Steel and Mines from 1977 to 1979 and Union Minister for Steel and Mines and Coal from July 1979 to January 1980. He was the member of the Lok Sabha from 1980-85. In 1985 he resigned his Lok Sabha seat to contest from Bhubaneswar Assembly Constituency and became the Leader of the Opposition in Odisha Legislative Assembly.
Achievements as Chief Minister
In 1990 Assembly polls he steered his Party Janata Dal into victory and became the Chief Minister of Odisha for the second time. His party could secure 123 seats out of 147 and reduced the main opposition party strength to 10 as against the required number of 15. Bijubabu contested the 11th Lok Sabha Election (1996) from Aska and Cuttack Constituencies and won both the seats. Later he resigned from Cuttack Parliamentary Seat. Bijubabu’s first spell of Chief Ministership lasted for only 15 months but during this short period he made a remarkable achievement in the history of Odisha by giving his people a powerful and efficient administration. The following were some of him outstanding contributions:
- Choudwar and Barbil Industrial Belt
- Cuttack-Jagatpur Mahanadi High way Bridge
- Bhubaneswar Airport
- Regional College of Education at Bhubaneswar
- The Odisha Aviation Centre
- Paradeep Port
- MIG factory at Sunabeda
- Thermal Power Plant at Talcher
- Hydroelectric Project at Balimela
- Odisha University of Agriculture and Technology
- Engineering and Medical College at Burla
- Odisha State Planning Board
- Reorganisation of districts
- Ferro Silcon complex at Theruvali
- Engineering College at Rourkela
- Express Highway linking Daitari with Paradeep
- Sainik School at Bhubaneswar
- Regional Research Laboratory of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research
- Three-tier Panchayati Raj system
Besides he was preoccupied with Odisha’s heroic tradition and heritage. He floated the Kalinga card the enthuse the youth. In 1951, the UNESCO instituted the Kalinga Prize for popularisation of science with a generous grant from Biju Patnaik and eventually he became the Founder President of the Kalinga Foundation Trust. He even wanted the Utkal University to be named as the University of Kalinga. In his Kalinga Industrial empire he had set up the Odisha Textile Mills, the Kalinga Tubes, Kalinga Tiles, Kalinga Iron Works, Kalinga Airlines, Kalinga Refractories etc. with a view to highlighting the State potential.
During the second phase of his Chief Ministership between 1990 and 1995, his concentration was centered on the upliftment of women, tribal development, participation of NRI’s in furthering the state economy. He increased the number of districts from 13 to 30. He also fixed the minimum labour charges at Rs.25/-. He took a revolutionary step to reserve 33 percent of seats for women in the three-tier of the Panchayati Raj system. A second Steel Plant in the State remained one of his unfulfilled dreams. As a mark of his profound love for Panchayati Raj institution, the people of Odisha observe his Birth Day (March 5) as Panchayati Raj Dibasa.
The Legendary man of Odisha passed away due to Cardio-respiratory failure in New Delhi on April 17, 1997. With his departure, an era has ended in Odisha Politics.