Why does the late Biju Patnaik deserve a Bharat Ratna? Opinion – analysis
Among the revered scientists, social activists, lawyers and officials who have contributed to the construction of the nation of India in the twentieth century, a striking name is that of the daring aviator, Biju Patnaik.
Over the years, there has been a constant flow of demands to confer the largest civil award in India, the Bharat Ratna. His 104th anniversary of birth today offers the perfect occasion to reiterate this demand to honor the former prime minister of Odisha.
It was Patnaik, as prime minister, who recognized the value of the 400 km of coastline and the maritime traditions of Odisha by establishing, against all odds, the deep water port of Paradip. This allowed the state to take advantage of large reserves of iron ore and manganese and boost industrial development. He founded the Industrial Development Corporation of Odisha in 1962 to create the necessary industrial infrastructure for the state. It also accelerated the completion of emblematic projects such as the Rourkela steel plant and the Hirakud dam, which continue to significantly impact Odisha’s economy. His vision for a new Odisha is the cornerstone of the state government model to this day.
Disillusioned with the leaders of Congress, especially with the autocratic forms of Indira Gandhi, he left the party to follow his own path in 1969. He was one of the first leaders arrested during the Emergency in 1975. He resurfaced from those dark days. becoming prime minister for the second time in 1990. This time, he made social development and women’s empowerment his focal points. He played a decisive role in creating a large number of schools and universities for women, with special emphasis on science, skills development and vocational training. Subsequently, it announced a 30% reserve for women in all government jobs. He also announced a 33% reserve in the panchayati raj institutions. This came true through the Odisha Zilla Parishad Act of 1991.
However, Patnaik’s legacy extends far beyond the scope of politics and governance. He played an important role in World War II and the 1948 Kashmir War as a pilot of the Indian Air Force. In his versatile DC-3 Dakota transport aircraft, an iconic workhorse from the prewar period, he participated in vital outings for troops in Kashmir and oversaw the mass evacuation of civilians from the area when hostilities broke out. Since most of the roads were blocked by invading forces, securing Srinagar airport and using it to supply troops and ammunition proved to be the decisive factor in the takeover of Kashmir by India. He also served as an advisor to the prime minister during the 1962 conflict, the only civilian in that position.
Previously, Patnaik had put his technical skills as a pilot in the service of India’s freedom struggle. He boldly undertook covert missions, transporting freedom fighters to secret meetings with his supporters, and even threw leaflets in support of the Netaji Subhas Indian National Army Chandra Bose. He was eventually punished by the British for their subversive activities, and imprisoned from 1942 to 1946.
After Independence, he founded Kalinga Airlines in 1947, and became its main pilot, taking the first steps towards air connectivity in independent India. The airline then merged with what would become the national airline, Air India.
He voluntarily undertook a risky mission, at the request of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, to take former Indonesian Prime Minister Sultan Sjahrir from a remote hiding place to a safe place, away from Dutch colonial rulers. For his contributions to the independence of Indonesia, the Indonesian government, in 1996, honored him with the title of Bintang Jasu Utama for showing exemplary courage in times of adversity. Russia also honored him for flight missions to resupply the Soviet Red Army in World War II during the fundamental battle with Germany in Stalingrad.
But the Bharat Ratna cannot be discussed without addressing the associated controversies. In the absence of a formal nomination process, the Union government has a lot of discretion to grant this honor. This has led to a loss of objectivity. As a result, people who deserve it have not received due recognition. Janata Dal (secular) leader Danish Ali recently raised this issue and asked why mass leaders like Patnaik and Kanshi Ram had been denied honor until now.
Patnaik had a significant impact on contemporary Indian history. He was, and still is, an impressive figure. It was due to his own humility that the breadth of his achievements is no longer widely known. However, its influence on the formation of Odisha and India cannot be denied. It would be appropriate to confer a posthumous Bharat Ratna to this legendary leader. For this generation to be better informed about his life and his achievements, the government must commission an official biography of Patnaik. This would be to do true justice to one of the best children in India.
Amar Patnaik is a member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha, Biju Janata Dal and national party spokesman.
The opinions expressed are personal.