Remembering JB Patnaik On His 93rd Birthday

Bhubaneswar: Today is the 93rd birth anniversary of Janaki Ballav Patnaik popularly known as JB in the political circles was three-time Chief Minister of Odisha-for two consecutive terms from 1980 to 1989 and then again from 1995 to 1999. 

Born on January 3, 1927 at Rameswar village in Khordha district Patnaik was a shrewd politician, a litterateur, a competent journalist, an accomplished translator all in one.

Patnaik hailed from humble backgrounds. His father Gokulananda Patnaik was a school teacher and a writer. While Patnaik was a student at the Ravenshaw College in Cuttack in 1947 during the freedom struggle days he had pulled down the ‘Union Jack’ flying atop the hostel building and had hoisted the tricolour.

After completing his Masters in Political Science from the famed Banaras Hindu University at the age of 25 he veered towards journalism by joining as a sub-editor in The Eastern Times brought out by the former first Chief Minister of Odisha Harekrushna Mahtab.Later in 60’s he went on to edit Prajatantra, a leading Odia daily them brought out by the same publication house.

Between 1956 and 1960, Patnaik was a member of the Standing Committee of the All-India Newspaper Editors’ Conference and, between 1956 and 1967, of the Sahitya Akademi of Orissa.

While Patnaik is considered as a master politician for his craftiness by his detractors, his entry in State-level politics had ended in failure in 1967 after he lost as an Independent candidate from the Dharmashala seat in Jajpur district. The same year he joined the Congress which was then headed by Jagjivan Ram.

Patnaik is regarded as late Prime Minister’s Indira Gandhi’s loyalist and had chose to go with her (Congress-Requisitionists) when the Congress had split in 1969.   

In 1971, he had his first electoral victory, winning the Cuttack Lok Sabha seat and then becoming deputy minister of defence in Indira’s cabinet. He held the post from 1973 to 1975, and was then minister of state for defence until 1977.

In 1979, he again showed his loyalty to Indira and Sanjay Gandhi by choosing to remain with Congress (I) when the Congress again split. In 1980, he became a union cabinet minister. He was the Minister for Civil Aviation when he was chosen by Indira to become Chief Minister of Odisha in 1980.

Patnaik’s long stint in power was marked by a series of controversies.

During his first term from 1980 to 1985, he refused to take action against Congressmen allegedly involved in the gangrape and murder of the wife of a newspaper journalist on the banks of Biluakhai River in Jagatsinghpur district. The opposition accused Patnaik of siding with the rapists. The chief minister took no action until Indira reprimanded him, calling the incident a “ghastly murder”.

In May 1986, Patnaik’s image lay in tatters when The Illustrated Weekly of India published a cover story accusing the chief minister of sexually exploiting those who came to him for jobs. Patnaik sued the Weekly and banned it in Orissa. Though Patnaik won a public apology in 1997 after a protracted court battle, the image stuck.

The next big controversy arrived that same year, when former Advocate General Indrajit Ray, who had helped him fight the court battle against the Weekly, was accused of molestation by a housewife named Anjana Mishra. Mishra alleged the AG had molested her in his chamber where she had gone to discuss a case of dowry harassment that she had lodged against her husband. Patnaik took no action until the Orissa High Court ordered a CBI inquiry.

In 1997 again, a Congress politician and former associate of the chief minister, Jaydev Panda, alleged in a sworn affidavit that his wife, Babita, was being sexually exploited by Patnaik. As the outrage peaked, the Pandas disowned the affidavit and described Patnaik as a “father figure”.

In January 1999, Patnaik faced one of the biggest controversies of his career after Anjana Mishra alleged that three men had intercepted the car in which she was travelling and gangraped her at the chief minister’s behest.

After the Graham Staines burning incident that same month, Patnaik was asked to resign as chief minister, but his vice-like grip over the party remained intact.

Despite the controversies, Patnaik is remembered for starting Nalco, the biggest public sector aluminium maker in the country. During his tenure, Paradeep Phosphates, Birla Tyres, Nilachal Ispat Nigam Limited, Orissa Sponge Iron Limited and many small and medium sized industrial units in textiles and other sectors set up shop in the state. He also brought IT majors like Infosys and Satyam (now Tech Mahindra) to Bhubaneswar’s Software Technology Park.

After the 2004 elections, he was asked to step down as PCC chief. He, however, remained leader of opposition in the assembly until 2009, when he was sent on forced retirement as Governor of Assam.

He was among the few Governors appointed by the UPA government, who were allowed to complete their full term by the NDA government led by Narendra Modi.

Besides his political career, JB had won many literary awards. He won the Central Sahitya Akademi for his Odia translation of Bankim Chandra’s novels titled ‘Bankim Chandra Upanyasmala’ in 2001 and the Odisha Sahitya Akademi award for his book ‘Bairagya Shataka’, a translation of Bhartruhari’s celebrated Sanskrit work, in 1996.

He also translated the Mahabharata, the Ramayana and the Shrimad Bhagabat Gita into Odia, all fo which were highly acclaimed works. His other works were Sindhu Upatyaka and a biography of Gautam Buddha.


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