In doing so he has gone beyond self, family and narrow frontiers. It has set a new benchmark of transformational leadership.
On December 19, 2018 the Puri district administration in Odisha removed Biju Patnaik’s Samadhi (memorial) from cremation ground popularly known as Swarga Dwar pursuant to the exemplary decision of Odisha Chief Minister Shri Naveen Patnaik to do so for building a modern crematorium and serving the larger common cause of people. It was the same memorial which Naveen Patnaik used to visit and pay his tributes to his father on his birth and death anniversaries. His decision to remove his father’s own memorial raised his own esteem among people and stands in refreshing contrast to the plea of progeny of the so called high and mighty for construction of memorials in prime locations to perpetuate their memories.
In doing so he has gone beyond self, family and narrow frontiers. It has set a new benchmark of transformational leadership. It underlines the noble vision that a memorial dedicated to the much loved and cherished legacy of Biju Patnaik, a highly adored personality in India and abroad, can be sacrificed for the cause of people.
Naveen Patnaik’s decision is reminiscent of the vision of Mahatma Gandhi who while reflecting about Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar on September 16, 1905 wrote in Indian Opinion, “.... had Ishwarchandra been born among a European people, an imposing column, like the one raised by the British for Nelson, would have been erected as a memorial to him”. He then insightfully observed, “However, a column to honour Ishwarchandra already stands in the hearts of the great and the small, the rich and the poor of Bengal”.
The essence of what Gandhi wrote in the context of Vidyasagar is of abiding significance in the context of Biju Patnaik who lives in popular imagination and is integral to the folk lore of Odisha. The removal of his memorial from Swarga Dwara by his son Naveen Patnaik who has been getting massive mandate of people as Chief Minister for two decades, constitutes an extraordinary decision further deepening the legacy of Biju Patnaik and reinforcing the nobility of the Chief Minister for his action based on higher vision and purpose.
This decision makes us mindful of the vision of some of the outstanding personalities of our freedom struggle. Gopal Krishna Gokhle, political guru of Mahatma Gandhi, famously said while in the last phase of his life, “Do not occupy yourselves with writing my biography or spend your time in putting up my statues. If you are true servants of India, dedicate your lives to the fulfillment of our aims, to the service of India.” In 1917 Mahatma Gandhi quoted his words in several meetings to mobilise public opinion to educate people about the necessity of looking beyond statues and memorials and concentrate on substantive dimensions of building country and serving people. Naveen Patnaik’s exceptional decision to remove his father’s memorial resonates in the hearts of people and the wider realm of public life.
In fact, it is educative to recall Gandhiji’s noble thoughts expressed in a speech in Shantiniketan on December 18, 1945 to underline the colossal significance of Gurudev Ravindranath Tagore beyond time and space and the indispensable necessity of remaining tuned to his worldview which he said constituted true memorial. He said, “True monuments to the great are not statues of marble, bronze or gold. The best monument is to adorn and enlarge their legacy. A son who buries underground his father’s legacy or wastes it will be adjudged unworthy of his inheritance”. Such a vision closely corresponds to the legacy based vision embodied in Naveen Patnaik’s decision to remove his father's memorial and thereby validating the point that he is the worthy son of Biju babu.
It is yet again worthwhile to draw a parallel between Mahatma Gandhi’s conception of a modern crematorium and Patnaik’s pronouncement that with the removal of his father’s memorial from Swarga Dwara it would be converted to a crematorium at the cost of `5 crore with modern and expanded provisions for enabling people to consign the mortal remains of their dear ones with dignity and respect. Gandhiji in an article, “Improvement in Method of Cremation,” written on October 5, 1919 in Navjivan sensitively stated, “Day by day the difficulties of disposing of dead bodies are increasing. Those of the poor are greater. Many lack even the facilities for carrying the bodies. Moreover, time is wasted in waiting for the body to be fully consumed. Sometimes the logs on the pyre are so arranged that the body is not even fully covered by them....... The crematorium should be constructed scientifically so that the body will be put into a furnace and be quickly reduced to ashes by a strong fire. This will save money and time without hurting religious sentiment in any way. All the same, it would be better for the present not to make it compulsory for dead bodies to be carried in vehicles and scientifically cremated, but to leave them to people’s choice. In such matters, it is necessary to educate the people. Customs, even when undesirable, can be reformed but slowly.....”
It is of extraordinary significance to discover the ideals of freedom struggle and Gandhi embodied in Odisha Chief Minister’s decision which constitutes an act of statesmanship endearing him to people on an enduring basis.