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Biju Patnaik: The flying ace who helped Indian and foreign freedom movements 

On the birth anniversary of Biju Patnaik, recalling how he bravely lent his flying skills for freedom fighters like Ram Manohar Lohia and to Indonesia's independence movement for which he was conferred the title "Bhoomiputra".

Written by Sampad Patnaik , Edited by Explained Desk | Bhubaneswar |
Updated: March 6, 2020 11:50:35 am
Biju Patnaik in New Delhi. . Express Archive Photo, 1977

On the occasion of the 104th birth anniversary of former Odisha chief minister Biju Patnaik, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted an Intelligence Bureau document from 1945 to show how Patnaik bravely lent his flying skills for freedom fighters like Ram Manohar Lohia.

The Intelligence Bureau note claims that while in the employment of Indian National Airways, Patnaik “misused” his position as pilot by “surreptitiously flying Lohia (then underground) from Delhi to Calcutta”.  In 1933, the Indian National Airways Limited was set up by Delhi-based industrialist Raymond Eustace Grant Govan.

Debating whether Patnaik could be allowed to fly again, the IB note, reaches the conclusion that flying is his “normal way of making a living” and therefore the IB preferred he remained employed. Also, stating that Patnaik was an “excellent pilot”, the IB concludes that even if they prevailed on the Indian National Airways to not re-employ him, the Tatas would probably employ him.

It is well known that Biju Patnaik actively helped freedom fighters in the 1940s. Then Vice-President Hamid Ansari had in 2016 said his “daring was evident as he actively joined the Quit India movement in 1942 and collaborated with the underground leaders like Jayaprakash Narayan, Aruna Asif Ali and Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia, even while in the British service”. Patnaik was imprisoned by the British Government for three years later.

An aircraft of the now defunct Indian National Airways

In an obit after he died in 1997, The Independent narrates Patnaik’s journey as a pilot from colonial days to after Independence. “As an officer in the Royal Indian Air Force in the early 1940s, Patnaik flew innumerable sorties to rescue British families fleeing the Japanese advance on Rangoon, the capital of Burma. He also dropped arms and supplies to Chinese troops fighting the Japanese and later to the Soviet army struggling against Hitler’s onslaught near Stalingrad. On the 50th anniversary of the end of the war, Patnaik was honoured by the Russians for his help,” the obit noted.

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Biju Patnaik addressing a press conference in 1992. Express Archive Photo by RK Dayal

Interestingly, Nehru entrusted Patnaik with rescuing Indonesian resistance fighters who were fighting their Dutch colonisers. Accompanied by wife Gyanwati, “the lanky pilot flew an old Dakota aircraft to Singapore en route to Jakarta where the rebels were entrenched” in 1948. Dodging the Dutch guns, he entered Indonesian airspace and landed on an improvised airstrip near Jakarta. Using left-over fuel from abandoned Japanese military dumps, Patnaik took off with prominent rebels, including Sultan Shariyar and Achmad Sukarno, for a secret meeting with Nehru at New Delhi.

Also Read: Biju Patnaik and his importance to modern day Odisha

For his services to the cause of Indonesia’s independence, Sukarno, who went on to become president of the archipelago, conferred the title “Bhoomiputra” or son of the soil on Patnaik and gave him an honorary citizenship. The Independent’s obituary recounts how  it was Patnaik who suggested that Sukarno’s daughter be named Meghavati or “goddess of the clouds”. Diah Permata Megawati Setiawati Sukarnoputri later became Indonesia’s first female president, serving from 2001 to 2004.

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