The statesman’s life is nothing short of a full bodied feature film, could have been a blockbuster. Perhaps the only superman, who ever lived. Many have started working on such a project already. “He can do anything”, that’s what once our first Prime Minister remarked about him.
By Charudutta Panigrahi
Everything about him is lore, is extraordinary and is perennially futuristic. The politician with unthinkable candour, the tycoon entrepreneur who abhors hoarding, the kingmaker without self-interest, the doer who shuns publicity and the action hero with no rhetoric. From Bhanjanagar to New York Times, he straddled both the worlds with glorious ease and uncompromising esteem, purely on the strength of Odia identity, which was then not as established as it is now. The brand identity of Odisha, Biju Patnaik in many ways continues to be the “first” name of Odisha, an icon who is not only remembered as a politician but a figure who could dream mega and achieve super mega. That is why he is the architect of modern Odisha. It is not only about ports, infrastructure or steel plants; it is about being the spiritual Pegasus. He ushered in hope, entrepreneurial drive, and new international consciousness without a trace of pettiness and lifted the spirits of Odias.
The statesman’s life is nothing short of a full bodied feature film, could have been a blockbuster. Perhaps the only superman, who ever lived. Many have started working on such a project already. “He can do anything”, that’s what once our first Prime Minister remarked about him. Rescue high profile heads of states from daring roof-top lifts, air-drop food in unchartered terrains during wars, cycle rides to far away, unfriendly countries, much before there were proper roads. “Superhero” prowess in terms of doing the impossible. “Impossible is nothing” as it says in a famous sportswear logo, was his lexicon.
Though he was chained in “kalaa pani” during the freedom struggle, he never carried any bitterness towards anyone. No chains have ever tied him down. He was the Houdini in the boondocks land. Full of life, he never ever neither grudged anyone nor was vindictive. In one life he was a freedom fighter, a known skilled pilot, an ace industrialist, a national politician with international standing and a philanthropist of rare selflessness. Once he had mentioned in an official file about granting pardon to a hardcore criminal (after much debate on prison reforms) ““only thing we have to fear is fear itself” and he had helped the convict get pardon and lead a normal life. His noting alone could easily compile to be a book of wisdom. Such was his depth and fearlessness of expression.
The national flags of 3 countries – India, Indonesia and Russia were wrapped on his body in his last journey. Heads of countries, Premiers often do not have such privilege. Biju Patnaik is not to be contained and cannot be contained in a state or a country. He was meant for the globe and he lived global. Conferred the highest civilian honour of Indonesia ‘Bhumi Putra’ for his heroic contribution for that country, Biju babu, the man who was not given to overt expression of emotions always leaves you emotional and chocked.
In the fifties, immediately after independence, Biju babu built an industrial empire in Odisha that included textile mills, iron ore and manganese mines, a steel mill and plants manufacturing domestic appliances. Always ahead of his times, he had set up his own carrier Kalinga Airlines at a time when such enterprises were the preserve of a few (not more than a couple of business families in India, in Delhi & Bombay). Dare devilry in all walks of life. Nothing could stop him. His continued relevance amongst the generations of Odias and Indians till date is unlimited. Because he himself was expansive with legendary magnanimity. Always fresh and vigorous, he can drop political leaflets to Indian soldiers fighting under British command in Burma, flow supplies to China and the Soviet Union, undertake risky operations across the Himalayas to help the Chinese revolutionaries in Chiang Kai Shek’s China, undertake mission to Stalingrad, fly clandestine operations that carried leaders from safe houses across India to secret meetings that charted the independence struggle, jailed by the British in 1942 and imprisoned until 1946, a year before self rule, pro bono defense advisor to Nehru, the Prime Minister, innovative entrepreneur, sports enthusiast, and a real life hero. Sir Julian Huxley, UNESCO’S First Director General and also a Kalinga Prize Winner, had described Biju Patnaik as a “remarkable Indian whose adventures would fill a book”. Biju Patnaik set up the Kalinga Tubes, the first modern Textiles Mills in Odisha, the first Refrigerator factory and a low shaft Furnace at Barbil. In 1951 he established the Kalinga Prize for the Popularisation of Science and entrusted the responsibility to the UNESCO. He could dream and do anything.
The towering figure that was instrumental in installing Indian national government under Mr. V.P.Singh, was a known patron of Science & Technology. In the sixties, he influenced internationally known Biologist, Scientist and Philosopher Prof. J.B.S Haldane to come to Odisha as Director of the Biometry and Genetics Laboratory at Bhubaneswar, which was set up by the Government. Prof. Haldane became an Indian citizen in 1960 and devoted himself to the development of science in the country. He was candid in mentioning that he accepted Biju babu’s offer because Biju babu was ‘capable of displaying great respect towards individuals whom he considered to be performing worthwhile work’.
Biju babu had visited the United States as an Advisory to the Ministry of External Affairs and had taken up sensitive defense issues with the U.S administration. During his stay in Washington, Biju Patnaik gave interviews to ‘Baltimore Sun’ and ‘Washington Post’, in which he had said that he had come to seek both ground to ground and air to air missiles along with radars, which could conceivably be tied to a network of the South East Asian Treaty Organisation (SEATO). US newspapers also portrayed the Odisha Chief Minister as the probable successor to the then defense Minister of India.
He had once told me” life is a game, keep playing”. Equanimity in defeat and win, nothing could affect him, probably because he was much beyond. He had seen everything before it’s time had come. Pelf, power, beauty, punishment, reversals, betrayals and never ever was there an iota of self-pity in him.
Biju Patnaik had once reflected “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 brain, intelligence and capacity, they will recapture the history of Kalinga. I would like my Orissa of the 21st century to have excellent artisans, Superb Craftsmen and sculptors, greatest musicians and poets”.
Biju babu advocated for fiscal autonomy to Odisha & full convertibility of the rupee. Not one for red tapism, his dynamism has given Odisha industries, strong women development policies, Panchayati Raj movement, formations of districts and above all a sense of pride and self esteem.
He had the courage to run a government with autonomy (self-financing mode) because he always believed in “currency which flows”. Never ever stagnant, not to hoard. The only man who could give away everything in an impulse. A “Babu” in true sense, the “non-publicity seeking” benefactor. The rare magnanimous.
I am fortunate to be from the same soil where such a Man ever walked….local to global.
I have not seen Kharvela, but I have seen you and you are the Complete Man, the Colossus and the Emperor of Hearts who never played to the gallery.
(The writer is a Public Policy expert & a Writer, who was fortunate to have spent some unforgettable moments with Biju babu)