By Late Banka Bihari Das


Biju Babu is a very brave person. He never shirks to face any difficult situation nor does he escape from it like a coward. Whatever he thinks right, he speaks it, be it right or wrong from other’s point of view.

Seeing this trait in his nature, many call him adventurous. In an underdeveloped and static state like Orissa, I have heard people say that he is brave and adventurous not only in economic matters but also at the mental level. So there is a clear line of demarcation between the brave and the adventurous. But what I appreciate most in his personality is the quality of being adventurous; but I do this not by praising him on his face but by firmly believing that the brave alone can do something positive and constructive for the society and conversely the coward is incapable of it.

For this reason Biju Babu is a controversial figure in Orissa politics. Anyone who wants to create something cannot but come into the ambit of controversy. Some may support by flattering a man and some may oppose him out of ignorance. But only a few gifted with far sight may support or oppose a person for valid reasons. Very few belong to the latter category. A person or leader who does administration or politics with a view to being appreciated by all creates nothing, nor does he contribute anything to society. Hence the growth and development of personality takes place in the midst of criticism and controversy. The same thing happened in the life of Biju Patnaik. So those who maligned Biju Babu’s personality when he was living had to change their opinions towards the end of his life or after his death.

Very often we have been in rival political parties in Orissa politics. In the legislative assembly also we were rivals. But only for a short period, we were together in one party. Therefore many think that we are trenchant critics of each other and others still believe that we are enemies of each other. I might be his critic, but was never his enemy; nor for that was matter he my enemy. Till the end, the bond of friendship and affection between both of us remained unchanged, like the ever- flowing (perennial stream) water of the river Saraswati. When in the opposition party he at times comes running to me or calls me to him by messengers, being confronted with a crisis of thought. At times we correspond through exchange of letters and this is the proof of our being intimate to each other.

The purpose of writing all this is to inspire Oriyas to evaluate aright one of their own leaders. The just and fair evaluation of a personality cannot be done in the midst of flatterers and blind supporters. This worthy son will be really honored and worshipped, if the people of Orissa evaluate him properly and in a just manner. In appearance he is as tall, handsome, calm and serene as he is great and noble in his qualities.

In comparison with those who are currently very active in the politics and social affairs of Orissa, my relation with Biju Babu is pretty old. I became intimate with Biju Babu in the early part of 1945-46. He and I were imprisoned for August agitation and both got released from prison simultaneously and then I took up the responsibility of the State Congress party as its Assistant Secretary. At that time Biju Babu had no motor car of his own. He came to the Congress office, in those days, riding a green model Raleigh bicycle, to meet and talk to Mahatab Babu and Naba Krushna Choudhury and on those occasions he spent some time talking to me. I still remember how Biju Babu became the primary member of the Congress on payment of four annas and registered his name in a Khata; and I was the person who used to write the names of persons who became Congress members on payment of four anna subscriptions. Though older in age, yet our friendship grew more and more intimate with the passage of time. But we have also quarreled on many occasions and that was because of our stay in rival political parties and from that time I have got the real picture of his personality. How can I forget all these?

It will certainly be a book, if one writes the entire story of Biju Babu. How is it possible to incorporate all this information in such a small article like this? My health does not permit me to record all those reminiscences that crop up from the abysmal depth of memory like the various sequences of action that roll on one after another on the silver screen of a cinema. After all how can an endless story have an end? After all the voluminous life story of Biju Babu admits no end.

Life is ever mobile. With the flow of events various new experiences come up. These conceptual changes influence a man’s activities. How can Biju Babu be an exception to this truth? When he became the Chief Minister of Orissa for the first time in 1961, he then visualized to bring up an underdeveloped and backward state like Orissa to the forefront as a developed and progressive state by rapid industrialization with the proper and optimum utilization of its natural resources. That was his dream of Orissa’s future. Being enthused by this dream, Biju Babu marched ahead. And the rest was left behind.But when he became Chief Minister for the second time in the nineties, a fundamental change in his attitude was perceptible. He laid emphasis on the development of the poor and the Adivasi communities and upliftment, especially the women community so that they could participate in the affairs of the contemporary society which is progressive as well as industrialized.

Basing on this line of thinking, he laid greater stress on one third women members to be elected as representatives from the Gram Panchayat to the Zilla Parisad level and provisions were made for reservation of seats for women. Along with this, provisions were also made to appoint elected women representatives as Chairperson or Vice Chairperson of those institutions.

During meetings, held before elections in the Adivasi dominated districts like Koraput, he used to listen seriously to the complaints and difficulties narrated by the Adivasi women and assured them to redress those difficulties by instructing the local and district administration to take steps immediately to solve their problems. After listening to their sorrows and difficulties, he was deeply touched at heart to realize how liquor has been the primary cause not only of their economic disaster but also for the loss of domestic peace and harmony. He made a novel arrangement when he assumed power as Chief Minister in 1991.

Biju Patnaik: a Legendary Hero

In the light of this new arrangement he appointed an illiterate though experienced Adivasi woman of Rayagada district as his private secretary. And whenever a problem arose he called them to Bhubaneswar and took their suggestions and opinions. Keeping in view the basic lowest wage of a labourer starting from the farm labourer to various other categories of workers, he suddenly announced that the basic minimum wage of a labourer will be fixed at Rs.25 per day. I still remember that the lowest minimum wage of a daily labourer then was Rs.10 or Rs.12 in the Adivasi dominated areas of Koraput district and Rs.15 to Rs.20 per day in the coastal belt of Orissa. Though the above mentioned rates were the market rates of that time, the official rate then was Rs.12 per day.

This sudden double hike in the minimum wage of a daily labourer led to sharp criticism and strong resistance both within and outside the ministry. But Biju Babu in spite of strong opposition did not reverse his decision. As a result, it was implemented in all construction works of the government, although not in the private sector; but gradually under its impact, the minimum wage of a labourer outside was also revised.

The plight and suffering of Adivasi women affected and worried him very much. On their suggestion he banned traffic of country liquor in many areas. He advised Adivasi women to attack and demolish country liquor shops wherever they existed. Since this clandestine country liquor trafficking was going on with the connivance of the police and excise department, the Adivasi women who resisted it on the advice of Biju Babu had to suffer at the hands of the officials of local administration, yet at the same time Adivasi women resisting these illegal activities were also openly helped by local administration and thus it paid off good results. It is a matter of regret that in the plea of higher revenue collection, changes were introduced to reserve this policy of Biju Babu. What can be expected of those who are callous to the suffering and plight of the weaker section of the society!

From all these experiences, he realized that the entire machinery of the government is not able to run according to his instructions. The vested interest of the officers and outsiders together did not allow his dreams to transform into reality. As such restless by temperament, he became more so, of power for the benefit and progress of the poor, he being in power himself.

Being the Chief Minister himself, he encouraged the public to fight against corruption and vested interests. During emergency he, being a friend of Sri Jayaprakash Narayan, was imprisoned several times, but he always believed that the might of people should be encouraged against the political might. Therefore, during his own government, if the machinery of administration went corrupt he called upon the people very openly, to strongly resist it and later justified his declaration. Everywhere, in different meetings and public gatherings, he very openly encouraged people to be strongly united and to attack corrupt officials and even beat them if need be. He advised people to just inform him over the telephone, after beating a corrupt officer. He assured the public that he would then see what happened. This was criticized in the newspapers and other media under the caption Theory of Thrashing. But he is not a person to easily withdraw what he has decided; he says that he has come to power for the people and if the administration does not run on right lines he pleads, what can we expect from people? Though such pronouncements, on the part of a Chief Minister, are not tenable from the legal point of view, yet he was obdurate enough, not to realize his mistake, such was his restlessness and discomfiture at the rampant corruption prevailing in society.

It is only possible in case of a person of towering personality like Biju Babu to erect permanent memorial by setting up Paradeep Port and Nilachal Highway on the one hand, and devise programmes for the welfare of the poor Adivasis on the other. He who was a man of exceptional talent has taken permanent leave of us. On the occasion of his death the massive crowd that had gathered at his residence cannot be easily believed unless seen with one s own eyes. At least during my life-time I haven t seen a greater tribute being paid by Odiyas to a departing Oriya. The noble and elevated honor that people of Orissa had given to Biju Babu on his death is a burning example of their affection, love and esteem for him. I take this opportunity to offer the wreath of my sincere, heartfelt and loving tributes to this great honorable soul of Orissa of whom we feel truly proud.