Former IAF pilot shows direction to Kalahandi

Having clocked over 5,000 km flying air force and then Chhattisgarh govt flights, Capt Dibya Shankar Mishra now hopes to regain lost glory of a region stamped in national psyche for its backwardness


Dinesh Akula | October 3, 2013

On a different mission now: Capt Dibya Shankar Mishra addresses the crowd in Kalahandi.
On a different mission now: Capt Dibya Shankar Mishra addresses the crowd in Kalahandi.

Having long dominated the national conscience for poverty and backwardness, the southwestern part of Odisha is now getting politically vibrant. There’s a new buzz word in the air – “Jai Kalahandi” – and it is making politicians of all hues turn their heads to check the man responsible for popularising it.

At an obscure corner of the region, meanwhile, a man in his early forties, clad in a white shirt and blue denim and sporting black goggles, is speaking in chaste Odiya – working up the locals and creating a ripple in political circles. ‘Jai Kalandi’ is the slogan he is spreading, and it has become viral – both on social media as well as among the locals.

Capt Dibya Shankar Mishra, the man mouthing the slogan, has come a long way from his days in the Indian Air Force. The chief pilot in Chhattisgarh’s aviation department since the birth of the new state, Mishra frequently flies the chief minister. Having clocked over 5,000 hours of flying time, Mishra is now far removed from the cockpit – on ground, but certainly not grounded, for he now travels 180 kilometres, give or take a few, every week on his off days from Raipur in Chhattisgarh to various villages in Kalahandi. The aim: to be among the villagers and speak about their rights and social justice.

But why leave a cozy job to be among poor peasants and conduct padyatras for development of the region? Mishra says it’s a way to pay back, “with interest”, to the region where he was born and grew up. “My roots are here in Kalahandi,” he says, adding that his father, an ex-army man now into farming, taught him how to be devoted to the region where his family comes from.

Having worked on the Pakistan border in Jaisalmer as also on the China border, Mishra is still carrying on the fight – against internal enemies. As Chhattisgarh’s chief helicopter pilot, he has coordinated operations against the Maoists. Now he wants to see people fight for their rights from the ground.
According to Mishra, politicians have drained the region for their own benefits – once an area possessing the riches, Kalahandi is now known for its backwardness. Local politicians haven’t done enough to develop the region and it is time the youth comes forward to regain the lost glory of Kalahandi, says the pilot, now slowly metamorphosing into a politician.

Mishra says he has already registered an organisation called ‘Nirman Sramik’ which informs the locals how to take advantage of government schemes. He teaches the people how to hold local leaders and administrators accountable if the schemes do not reach those they are meant for – the needy.
While the Odisha government has many schemes for the poor and the chief minister, Navin Patnaik, is doing a good job, these schemes are not being executed at the ground level, he says. It is the responsibility of the people to take advantage of a pro poor government.

An ardent fan of the present chief minister’s father, and predecessor in the office, Biju Patnaik, Mishra is known to be close to the BJD. The first person to demand Bharat Ratna for the late Patnaik senior, he also publishes a local magazine highlighting the achievements of Biju Patnaik when he was the Odisha chief minister.

Asked whether he is eyeing for a BJD ticket from Kalahandi, Mishra plays the ball diplomatically, saying he would not backtrack if the people want him to contest the elections for development of the region. A regular visitor to Kalahandi over the last few years to apprise the locals of their rights, Mishra says, “I am targeting the youth and the students. A part of my salary is donated to poor students in many villages so that they can continue their education.”

He says the task to regain Kalahandi its lost glory is definitely tough but not impossible. Using all his leaves from his piloting job to work in Kalahandi, Mishra says he also depends a lot on a team of people working in the region who brief him about the issues and he works on them.

Having recently travelled to all villages of Kalampur block in Kalahandi, where the youth joined in his padyatra, Mishra says, “Real leadership is not about power or position; it is only about responsibility.”

And the locals, at least as of now, seem to find that in Mishra. “He speaks from heart,” says Rajendra Hota, a Kalampur resident who attended two of Capt Mishra’s workshops. Yogeshwari, a student who received the pilot's financial assistance, thinks Mishra is a person sent by the god.

Local political analyst Raju Patnaik, however, refuses to get swayed by the ground swell right away. It’s too early to give a green signal to the pilot since he has a long way to go, Patnaik says, “but it seems positive.”

With local leaders from the Congress and other political parties keeping a track on his movements, it may not be a distant day when Mishra officially takes the jump into the political fray. Whether he will succeed is a question too far to ask yet to be tracked but he is determined that his work in the villages will continue undeterred.



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