Tracing The Political Journey Of Odisha’s ‘Tall Leader’ Biju Patnaik With Some Rare Pictures

Bhubaneswar: Odisha on Monday paid tributes to Biju Patnaik, the intellectual legislator, political leader and reformer of Odisha, on his 26th death anniversary (April 17).

Biju Patnaik became the chief minister only twice in his long career with a gap of nearly 30 years between his two terms in office (05-03-1990 to 15-03-1995 and 23-06-1961 to 02-10-1963). BJD or Biju Janata Dal, was named after Biju, and founded on December 26, 1997, the very year he passed away.

In an open letter to his party members, BJD president Naveen Patnaik urged them to take an oath on April 17 to work towards a prosperous and new Odisha. “I draw inspiration from Biju babu’s ideology, sacrifice, service, struggle and self-esteem and take the pledge to work for building a prosperous, empowered and self-respecting new Odisha,” he wrote.

Encyclopedia Britannica rightly describes him as, “Indian politician who parlayed his fame as a World War II aviator, anti-British freedom fighter, and commercial airline entrepreneur into a political career…”

He was elected to the Odisha assembly seven times between 1952 and 1990 and also served as member of both Houses of the Parliament – Rajya Sabha in 1971 and Lok Sabha in 1977, 1980, 1984 and 1996.

Biju Patnaik was elected to the Odisha Legislative Assembly in 1952, 1957, 1961 from Jagannath Prasad, Sorada (Ganjam) and Choudwar (Cuttack) respectively; again elected in 1971 and 1974 from Rajnagar (Cuttack); and was the Chairman of Planning Board from 1971 to 1972 June.

He won unprecedented absolute majority for Congress  in 1961 elections. He became Chief Minister during the period from 1961 to 63 and resigned under “Kamraj plan”, which proposed that all senior politicians should resign from their posts to revitalise the Congress.


In 1969, he had an unceremonious exit from Congress following differences with then prime minister Indira Gandhi. He also went to jail when Indira declared ‘Emergency’ six years later. He formed his own regional outfit, Utkal Congress and later merged it with Janata Party.

He was elected to Parliament in 1977 and was a Cabinet Minister (Steel) from 1977 to 1979. He made it to Lok Sabha from Kendrapada Constituency in 1980 and again in 1984. On being elected from Bhubaneswar Assembly Constituency in 1985, he resigned from Kendrapada Parliamentary Constituency and became the Opposition Leader in Odisha Legislative Assembly. In 1990, Janata Dal  under his leadership secured more than three fourth majority in the Assembly, which was quite unprecedented and was sworn in as the Chief Minister on March 5, his birth date.

He was elected from Bhubaneswar Assembly Constituency in March 1995 and became Leader of Opposition. Later he contested the 1996 Lok Sabha election from Aska and Cuttack constituencies. He won both the seats and later vacated Cuttack.

Biju Patnaik was married to Gyan Patnaik. While his younger son Naveen Patnaik is the present Chief Minister of Odisha, his daughter, Gita Mehta is a writer. His elder son Prem Patnaik is a Delhi-based industrialist.

In post-Independence years, Biju Patnaik started building an industrial empire and also helped in establishing textile mills, iron ore as well as manganese mines to help Odisha grow. He used his political clout to build Paradip port, and played a key role in the construction of India’s first integrated steel plant in the public sector, Rourkela Steel Plant.

He breathed his last on April 17, 1997 at Escort Hospital, New Delhi, at the age of 81 due to pneumonia and other respiratory problems.

The New York Times in its obituary of Patnaik wrote, “…his reputation in India rested less on his performance as state government leader, or on his brief tenure as a Cabinet minister in the late 1970’s in the Government in New Delhi, than on his daring exploits as a pilot in the years before and soon after India’s independence in 1947.”

Pictures Source: Prashant Sahu/Twitter

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