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The brave Indian soul whose coffin was wrapped in the national flag of 3 countries

By Saima Siddiqui 
Updated Date

Bhubaneswar: Known by names like ‘Kalinga Putra’ and the ‘Big Daddy of Indian Politics’, Biju Patnaik, dwells in the heart of every Odia even two decades after his demise. The former Chief Minister of Odisha is undoubtedly the most popular name in Odisha, who is the only Indian whose mortal remains were wrapped in the national flag of three countries. India, Russia and Indonesia. The glimpse of Biju’s stature could be understood by the fact that after the death of this great soldier, seven days of state mourning was observed in Indonesia and one day state mourning was observed in Russia and all flags were lowered.

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Born in Cuttack on March 5, 1916, to a Bengali mother, Ashalata Devi, and an Odia father, Lakshminarayan, Biju Patnaik or Bijayananda Patnaik was half-Odia and half-Bengali. With his daredevilry acts, Biju, left an inedible impression in every Indian’s life and went on to become a national hero not only in India but also in Indonesia and Russia.

Biju Patnaik loved sports and was an avid bridge player. While studying in Ravenshaw Collegiate School, Cuttack, he was known for his love for games, sports and adventure. He was the key player in his college football team that won the inter-school championship for straight three years.

To peruse his love for aviation Biju dropped out of Ravenshaw College and start training himself as a pilot at the Royal Air Force of British Empire and later became the head of air transport command. During World War II, Biju bombed Hitler’s forces by flying a fighter aircraft ‘Dakota’, which forced Hitler to retreat from the Soviet Union. For his bravery Biju was awarded with the highest national award and was also granted honorary citizenship by the Russians.

Biju was also fond of cycle and was often seen riding a bicycle to the State Secretariat. In 1932, the 16-year-old embarked on an adventurous journey on a bicycle with his two friends, Amar and Bhramarbar, and pedaled all the way from Cuttack in Odisha to Peshawar in Pakistan, covering a distance of 4500 miles, on a ‘Visit India Mission’- spreading the message of humanity.

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In 1938, he married Gyan, a Punjabi from Lahore and flew the groom’s party to Lahore for the wedding celebrations. Just like him his wife too was a pilot and in fact, was the first Indian lady to get a commercial pilot’s license. Their Biju younger son, Naveen Patnaik, is the current Chief Minister of Odisha and as of 2021, one of the longest-serving CM of any Indian state, holding the post for over two decades,. Their daughter, Gita Mehta, is an author, while elder son Prem Patnaik is a Delhi-based industrialist.

The iconic leader also took part in India’s freedom struggle and gave asylum to freedom fighters to evade arrest. In fact, his Delhi house was called as ‘Absconder’s Paradise.’ When the Kavalis attacked Kashmir, it was Biju Patnaik who made several trips a day from Delhi to Srinagar on Oct 27, 1947 by flying soldiers to the valley.

Biju also played crucial role in Indonesia’s freedom from the Dutch. The Dutch had occupied a large area of ​​the nation and kept the whole sea around Indonesia under their control and did not let any citizen out. Though the country got its freedom from Dutch in 1945, however, in July 1947 their PM Sutan Sjahrir was house arrested by the Dutch. In this desperate times, they sought India’s help and on the direction of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Biju and his wife Gyan, without caring for their life, flew to Jawa, landing on Dutch soil on a ‘Dakota’ plane to rescue PM Sjahrir to India. The incident instilled a tremendous energy in them and they attacked the Dutch soldiers and Indonesia became a completely independent country.

For their act of bravery, Biju Patnaik and his wife were honoured with ‘Bhoomi Putra’ – the highest Indonesian award rarely given to foreigners, in 1950. Also, in 1996, when the Island country celebrated its 50th Independence Day, Biju Patnaik was awarded the highest national award, ‘Bintang Jasa Utama’.

British rulers had also honoured Biju for his act of releasing some British families who were imprisoned by Japanese during World War II. However, he was put behind bars for two years in 1943 by the British for taking freedom fighters to secret places in his plane.

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Biju Patnaik was elected Chief Minister of Odisha for two terms and remained in office only for seven years in total. He was among the first opposition leaders to be arrested during the Emergency declared in 1975. He was released in 1977.

Recognizing his contribution, the Government of Odisha has named several institutions after the name of Biju Patanaik,  including the Biju Patnaik Airport at Bhubaneswar, the Biju Patnaik University of Technology, Biju Patnaik Stadium at Nalco Nagar, Angul etc. The Biju Patnaik 5 Rupee commemorative coin was released in 2016.

A die heart pilot, Biju, wished to die in a plane crash rather than prolonged illness. He had once said, “I would like to die instantly, just fall down and die. However, he breathed his last not in Naveen Niwas in Bhubaneswar, but at the Delhi home of the then Union Minister Dilip Ray.”

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