Friday, July 02, 2021

When Jawaharlal Nehru asked 'ace pilot' Biju Patnaik to rescue Indonesian PM - Story of a daring mission

New Delhi: That former Odisha Chief Minister Biju Patnaik was an ace pilot is no secret. But not many would be aware about one the most daring rescue missions that Patnaik undertook.

Patnaik, who served as Odisha CM twice (1961-1963 and 1990-1995) trained as a pilot at the Delhi Flying Club in 1930. He later went on to join the Royal Indian Air Force in 1936. During India's freedom fight, Patnaik played an important role flying leaders, freedom fighters across the country. Patnaik's active role in the Independence struggle saw him develop a good rapport to Jawaharlal Nehru. 

After gaining freedom from the Dutch rule in 1945, Indonesia's first President Sukarno and Prime Minister Sultan Sjahrir established an independent government in their country. However, things changed soon and by 1946, the Dutch started invasion of Indonesia again. The island nation was under full-grown attack by the Dutch by July, 1947. PM Sjahrir was forcibly sent into house arrest by the Dutch forces in Jakarta. 

Jawaharlal Nehru, who was keeping a close watch on the developments in Indonesia, summoned Biju Patnaik and gave him the responsibility of rescuing the then Indonesian PM Sjahrir and vice-president Mohammad Hatta from the clutches of the Dutch forces and flow them back to India. Biju Patnaik was quick to accept the mission.

Nehru viewed the freedom struggle of Indonesia from the Dutch colonial powers as parallel to that of India, history research scholar Anil Dhir told news agency PTI.

Flying his Dakota aircraft along with his wife Gyana Devi, who was also a trained pilot, Patnaik landed in Jakarta on July 21, 1947. The daring couple then flew Hatta and Sjahrir from a jungle hideout in Indonesia back to India via Singapore despite the Dutch warning to shoot the aircraft. 

A grateful Indonesia had twice decorated Biju Patnaik with its highest civilian honour 'Bhumiputra' for his bravery.

Biju Patnaik later established Kalinga Airlines which had as many as 18 Dakota VT-AVI aircraft. Kalinga Airlines later merged with Indian Airlines in 1953.

Out of Kalinga Airways' 18 Dakotas, 12 suffered irreparable damage. One is at Kolkata airport, another at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport in Mumbai and the third is in Indonesia. There is no information about the remaining three aircraft.

Now, the Odisha government is in the process of bringing back the Dakota parked at Kolkata airport to Bhubaneswar. The state government, headed by Biju Patnaik's son Naveen,  has already written a letter to the Centre seeking permission for the aircraft to be displayed near Biju Patnaik's statue at Bhubaneswar International Airport. 

02/07/21 Shashank Shantanu/India TV

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