One of India's last surviving links to the Indonesian freedom struggle in the late 1940s was snapped on Tuesday as Gyan Patnaik, widow of Biju Patnaik and mother of present CM Naveen Patnaik, passed away in New Delhi. She was 89. Gyan was ailing for more than a month and finally, her end came at a hospital in New Delhi at around 1.15am.
If Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru affectionately called Biju Patnaik "India's buccaneer" for his valiant deeds during World War II and in fighting colonialism in other countries, then Gyan Patnaik was the force behind Biju's heroics.
It was Jawaharlal Nehru who sent Biju Patnaik to help the Indonesian freedom fighters. Gyan willingly went to Indonesia to support her husband. During 1946-49, Biju was frequently flying to Indonesia along with his wife with planeloads of medicines and other humanitarian assistance for the Indonesian freedom fighters. Later the Patnaiks built up excellent ties with Sukarno, who later became the first President of Indonesia. Biju Patnaik rescued Muhammad Hatta, the then vice president of Indonesia and premier Sutan Sjahrir from the Dutch imperialists in a Dakota aircraft and brought them to India. The Indonesian government later conferred the country's highest civilian award, the Bhumi Putra (son of the soil) Award, on Biju.
When Megawati visited Bhubaneswar in 2007, one of her aides told HT "It was Biju and Gyan Patnaik who gave the name Megawati to the newly born daughter of Sukarno in 1947. When Megawati was the President of Indonesia, she was on an official visit to New Delhi. At that time she wanted to meet Gyan Patnaik at Naveen's New Delhi residence. The diplomats politely told Megawati to call Gyan to Rashtrapati Bhavan. She told the diplomats that a daughter has to go to see her mother and it cannot be the other way round". When President Megawati visited Delhi in 2004 and met Gyan, she was ranked number 8 on Forbes Magazine's list of the World's 11 Most Powerful Women. In February 2007, Megawati again paid a personal visit to Bhubaneswar to meet Gyan.
Gyan Patnaik along with her husband also worked closely with the Nepalese democratic movement in the early 1950s. Gyan also supported her husband in flying innumerable sorties to evacuate British families from Rangoon as the Japanese forces advanced during the Second World War. Biju also opened supply lines to the Chinese forces fighting the Japanese and the Soviet army resisting Hitler's aggression. All through, Gyan Patnaik stood behind Biju like a rock, a family friend in Cuttack said.
Gyan Patnaik is survived by daughter Gita Mehta (author of Karma Cola, Raj, Snakes & Ladders etc) and two sons-Prem and Naveen Patnaik.
Gyan Patnaik's mortal remains would be consigned to the flames at Puri on Wednesday.