Bijayananda Pattanaik, affectionately named as ‘Biju Babu’ has left behind an impression of a front ranking freedom fighter, a daring pilot, a dedicated industrialist, a towering politician and the architect of a modern Odisha. But many are unaware of his pivotal ‘arriving moment’ in the history of Indian politics and international relations: His instrumental role in Indonesia’s freedom movement.
- During the Indian freedom struggle, Jawaharlal Nehru and Biju Patnaik became trusted friends. Since ancient times, Indonesia and India had cultural links that had made Nehru sympathetic towards Indonesia’s freedom struggle.
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- It was on August 17, 1945 that Indonesian freedom fighters declared their independence from the Dutch rule. Indonesia was under Dutch occupation from 1816-1941. Dr. Sukarno was thereafter made the President of a newly independent Indonesia.
- Sukarno appointed Dr. Sjahrir as Prime-minister and formed Indonesia’s new government. Sjahrir, a trusted lieutenant of Dr. Sukarno became friendly with Nehru who was at that time the Foreign Minister and leader of the interim Government of India.
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- Eventually, the Dutch tried to regain control over territories of Indonesia and started fermenting trouble for the new government. The Dutch launched a large scale attack on Indonesia on July 21, 1947.
- President Sukarno consulted Prime Minister Sjahrir and ordered him to leave the country to create international public opinion against the Dutch. But, Sjahrir couldn’t succeed as Dutch had attained absolute control over Indonesian sea and air routes. It was in this critical moment, that Jawaharlal Nehru asked Biju Patnaik to fly to Jakarta and bring the Indonesian leader safely to India. And Biju, the dashing young pilot did just that, no questions asked!
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- Braving all hazards, he flew to Java and brought Sultan Sjahrir aboard from Java islands on 22 July 1947 by his own Dacota and reached India via Singapore on 24 July. For this act of bravery, Patnaik was given honorary citizenship in Indonesia and awarded the ‘Bhoomi Putra’, the highest Indonesian award, rarely granted to a foreigner. In 1996, when Indonesia was celebrating its 50th Independence Day, Biju Patnaik was awarded the highest national award, the ‘Bintang Jasa Utama’
Truly the ‘Son of the Soil’ had a vision of a true patriot!