He was the tallest and the mightiest in his state. Carrying his stature and grandeur, his fame crossed the barriers of his homeland. For people outside, Odisha was his state. And for people inside, he was the undisputed captain.
By A U Singh Deo
When the tall man walked on the narrow streets of Odisha, everyone else followed him. When he spoke, everyone listened. He was here to lead us-in life and in death too. His shoulders were broad enough to carry the weight of his state’s destiny. He loved to go places, travel far and wide, and trade in unknown territories. He was the tallest and the mightiest in his state. Carrying his stature and grandeur, his fame crossed the barriers of his homeland. For people outside, Odisha was his state. And for people inside, he was the undisputed captain.
On this March 5, we are celebrating his centenary years. It has been nineteen years since Biju Babu passed away. But he continues to be the principal driving force in Odisha politics. Biju Babu may be no more, but his aura is on the move. He is the proverbial phoenix. During his long stint in politics, Biju Babu occasionally came to power. But never was there a time when he did not dominate the socio-political scene of the state. His opponents dwarfed into the oblivion with time. And, his stature continued to grow and growing still after his passing away.
Biju Babu has set innumerable milestones in his life. Anybody, who had a chance meeting with him, went home with a tale to tell. Any experience with him is a lifetime experience. I am fortunate to have a few memorable moments which I would like to share here.
Once I asked what keeps him going when he loses elections. Recalling his moments with Indonesian president Sukarno, Biju Babu quoted him saying, “Politics is only a process. Nobody ever loses, nobody ever wins.” This philosophical understanding of politics kept him going, said he. Then he advised we all should follow this inherent truth in politics and take the loss in our stride.
Biju Babu loved adventure. His cycle journey to Peshawar and air rescue operation in Indonesia is part of his legends. But there are many lesser known dare devil actions like taking the Indian forces to Kashmir in 1947, air dropping of leaflets during Gandhi’s ‘Quit India’ movement and many such incidents. He was the greatest Brand Ambassador of adventure Tourism.
In 1992 when I was the Tourism Minister of Odisha, I asked him ‘what should I do to promote tourism in the state.’ He asked me to sail a boat to the Bali island of Indonesia to celebrate the glory of our ancient mariners. I contacted Admiral K. Das. He agreed and said this could be made possible with the support of Ministry of Defence. I spoke to the then Defence Minister Shri Sharad Pawar. With his support, the navy team trained two Odia youth to sail on a boat to Bali Island. The team started its journey and took two and half a month to reach Bali. Chief Minister Biju Patnaik flew to Bali with a cultural team. As many as 100 artistes performed there at different events. His personal bond with Indonesia transformed into a deep cultural relationship between the two lands. Biju Babu presented two tiger cubs to the then President of Indonesia. Later he invited top Indonesian authorities to Odisha and the relationship grew stronger. The girl who sailed to Bali on a boat became an icon in the state. Biju Babu was this magic stone. Everything that came in to contact with him turned gold.
It is a great injustice to Odisha that Biju Babu has yet not been awarded with Bharat Ratna. I have raised this issue several times in Rajya Sabha. The whole house also agreed to my proposal. But still I don’t know why the Government of India is not considering this yet. Here is an excerpt from my Rajya Sabha speech on this issue. “Biju Babu defines the fusion of courage, patriotism and vision in a single individual. Biju Patnaik loved his Odisha immensely and always endeavored to bring back the glory of Kalinga. But his love for the Nation was even greater. The Economist magazine in its April 24, 1997 issue wrote, “While flying over Indian soldiers under British command, he dropped bags of Gandhi’s ‘Quit India’ leaflets to them. While on leave, he ferried independence leaders to secret meetings with their supporters. Mr Patnaik’s scarcely concealed double life could not last. In 1943, he was arrested and jailed until 1945.”
The present generations see such dare devil actions only on the silver screen of Bollywood or Hollywood. But Biju Patnaik has done it all in real life. He was a real life hero. The present generation has much to learn from his life and works.”
M P, Rajya Sabha