On 5th March 2020 India is celebrating 104th birth anniversary of Biju Patnaik. The country and the State of Odisha is familiar with the extraordinary narratives associated with his glorious legacy. Those narratives flow from his many splendoured roles including his roles as pilot patriot, dynamic entrepreneur, architect of modern Odisha, champion of science and as a pioneer in reserving 33 percent of seats in grassroots democratic bodies - Panchayats. He was a freedom fighter who suffered imprisonment during late 1940s. He also helped several countries struggling for freedom from colonial rule. His dare devil role to rescue Indonesian Prime Minister Sutan Sjahrir and his associates in 1947 in an air craft from a hideout in that country and their safe passage to India enraged colonialists. They were at their wit's end to see that an Indian pilot challenging their authority over Indonesia and taking their "enemies" to India. During second world war he flew his air craft to the erstwhile Soviet Union and aided them in the war effort against Hitler’s Germany. His fearless landing of his plane carrying Indian soldiers in Srinagar airport in 1947 enabled India to push back Pakistani raiders and defend and save Jammu and Kashmir which had joined Indian Union. He played a key role in helping the people of Nepal against the atrocious Rana regime of that country. He established Kalinga Airlines and during 1962 India -China war around 30 members of his crew sacrificed their lives while supplying material in the boarder areas during that war.
He was the architect of modern Odisha and played a key role in establishing several industrial units and leading enterprises which established his credentials as a forward looking and dynamic entrepreneur. All these familiar narratives affirm Biju babu's credentials as a colossus in the history of modern India. He was truly a international personality always nurturing sympathy for struggling humanity.
Biju Patnaik’s role in Saving Indian Naval Bases during 1965 Indo Pak War and Demanding Recognition of Bangladesh in May 1971
It is lesser known that when he rescued freedom fighter Sukarno from his own country Indonesia, he famously told, "Resurgent India does not recognize Dutch colonial sovereignty over the Indonesian population." His assertion in 1947 that sovereignty of Indonesian population assumed primacy over colonial rulers displayed his conviction for celebrating people centric rule and governance over plunder and loot caused by colonialism.
Twenty four years later on 25th May 1971 his conviction rooted in primacy of people over rulers was passionately articulated in the Rajya Sabha where a Short Duration Discussion on immediate recognition of Bangladesh by Indian Government was initiated. Shri Patnaik while delivering his maiden speech in the House supported the immediate recognition of Bangladesh which people of the erstwhile East Pakistan wanted to establish and in the process faced brutally and repression by Pakistani rulers and their army. He did so seven months before Bangladesh became an independent country and received recognition of Indian Government after India decisively defeated Pakistan in war in 1972. The reasoning he gave for recognition of Bangladesh was based on the reasoning based on which India reached out to Indonesia during 1947 not only to recognize that country but also to rescue its recognised and well acclaimed people's leader, Sukarno. When Prime Minister Indira Gandhi took a stand in the early 1971 that the struggle of people in the erstwhile East Pakistan was an internal matter of Pakistan, Biju Patnaik exhorted her on the floor of the Rajya Sabha to recall struggle of Indonesian people and Nehru's role in it. Shri Patnaik reminded her that India even when technically not free from British rule had a leader like Nehru who never considered the struggle of people of Indonesia as an internal matter of Dutch colonialists and thundered by saying that "India shall not tolerate domination of the Dutch over the people of Indonesia". He then said "I am pained to say that this country had greater power of perception or greater sense of adventure when it came to human rights twenty five years ago". That "sense of adventure" for human rights which guided him in 1947 to rescue Sukarno and uphold supremacy of Indonesian people over Duth colonialism guided him in May 1971 to demand immediate recognition of Bangladesh by Government of India. He also reminded Prime Minister Indira Gandhi that she being a freedom fighter should not take long time to give recognition to the Government of Bangladesh and uphold India's legacy in defending human rights in any part of the world. Shri Joachim Alva, a nominated Member of the House in his speech described Shri Biju Patnaik as valiant fighter and said, "I bow before Shri Biju Patnaik. He has also been a fighter in Indonesia having flown planes with big Indonesian leaders during their freedom struggle".
Another unknown and undiscussed aspect of Shri Biju Patnaik's heroic and adventurous life dedicated to the nation was that he saved Indian naval bases from the lethal submarine launched attack from Pakistan during 1965 war. At that time Indonesian leader Shri Sukarno as part of his mutual defence agreement with China's Chou En-Lai and Pakistan's Ayub Khan was to supply three submarines to Pakistan which had already militarily attacked India and was at war with our country. On 23rd July 1971 Shri Patnaik while participating in the Rajya Sabha on the discussion, , on calling attention notice regarding reported Intrusion of two Pakistani Mirage Aircraft into Kashmir, revealed that in 1965 when Pakistan attacked India, the then Prime Minister Shri Lalbahadur Shastri asked him to rush to Indonesia and our Foreign Minister of that period Shri Swarna Singh arranged everything for facilitating Shri Patnaik's visit to that country. The purpose of Prime Minister Shastri's decision to send Shri Patnaik on an urgent mission to Indonesia was to persuade Sukarni not to send the submarines. He succeeded in the mission to save India and shared information with the nation, through the august House of Rajya Sabha, that Sukarno paid heed to his persuasion and stopped sending three submarines to Pakistan. He also said " We had no defence in our ports at that time, no defence at all. Imagine the situation, if the three submarines had bombed simultaneously Vizag, Madras and Cochin, what would have been the position?"
The then Defence Minister Shri Jagjivan Ram while responding to the calling attention notice stated that he could not claim that much of adventure and knowledge to his credit as Biju Patnaik could claim. He accepted it by saying that Shri Patnaik had given first hand information from first hand knowledge to the happenings of the last war and assured the House that India was better prepared than 1965 to face any misadventure from Pakistan.
Biju Patnaik’s Vision of Nationalism Rooted in Secularism
He thus played a significant role in saving India during 1965 war with Pakistan and without his mission to Indonesia and his success in persuading Shri Sukarno not to supply submarines to Pakistan the unity and integrity of our country would have been
gravely jeopardized. Such extraordinary roles played by Biju Patnaik bring out his credentials as a role model of an ardent nationalist who upheld nationalism based on secularism. No wonder that Biju babu while participating in the discussion on motion of confidence moved by Prime Minister Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee on 27th May 1996 told him on the floor of the House that when he talked about secularism and pseudo secularism he got inclined more towards pseudo secularism than secularism. Biju babu urged him to get rooted in secularism and shun pseudo secularism. His words assume currency and significance for twenty first century India marked by people’s struggle to defend the Constitution and secularism.
It is educative to note that Biju babu while participating in the discussion on motion of confidence moved by Prime Minister Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee on 27th May 1996 told him on the floor of the House that when he talked about secularism and pseudo secularism he got inclined more towards pseudo secularism than secularism. The import of what Biju babu said was that secularism should be the foundation of nationalism.
For Biju Patnaik Nationalism had nothing to do with religion
In twenty first century India when quite often the narrative of nationalism is conflated with Hindutva robbing it of its creative and inclusive dimensions it would be instructive to understand nationalism as understood by Biju babu and expounded by him on 3rd March 1997, one and half months before his sad demise. It is illuminating to note that he fought against divisive nationalism right till his last breath and it was evident from his articulations in the Lok Sabha on 3rd March 1997 while participating in the Motion of Thanks on President’s Address in the Lok Sabha,
When on the same day BJP leader and Lok Sabha MP Shri Sundarlal Patwa in his speech on Motion of Thanks on President’s Address in Lok Sabha was defending that his party stood for nationalism and denying the charges slapped on BJP that it was communal and not secular, Shri Biju Patnaik told him that he did not know any thing about nationalism. On his grateful acknowledgement on the floor of the House that because of Shri Biju Patnaik he was made Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh and so he considered Biju Babu as his leader, Shri Biju Patnaik just nonchalantly said “Yes, I know it”. But Biju Patnaik told him point blank and informed the House that “You people talk of nationalism. Do you know what is the nationalism? You can not know it.
His Rashtrawad is breaking-up the nation into twenty pieces,” He also asserted that for last five decades people were fighting for Kashmir and many of them laid down lives in defending Kashmir. He reminded Shri Patwa that “In 1947 I flew down in a.plane. None of you came. I contained the Pakistan Army there.” Biju Patnaik then urged him not to look at Kashmir issue from the prism of Hinduism and boldly stated “You are continuously discussing the Kashmir issue. You are trying to make it an issue of Hinduism. Please talk about the country and not Hinduism.” He in fact he asked BJP leaders to go beyond Hinduism and join hands for the sake of the country and said “you call yourself nationalists but this nation has already divided into three parts. Do not try to further divide it in ten parts. I cannot bear that.”
Such observations of of Shri Biju Patnaik in Parliament a year before his passing away brought out his vision of nationalism and secularism and above all his stature as a statesman meriting recognition of highest civilian honour. If Indonesia could do it by conferring on him its highest civilian honour why not India.
.The author served as Officer on Special Duty and Press Secretary to President of India late Shri K R Narayanan and had a tenure in Prime Minister’s Office and Joint Secretary in Rajya Sabha Secretariat. Views expressed in the article are in his personal capacity.