Odisha — a divided land and disintegrated brotherhood, in the multi-dimensional administration of the British Raj, was united and reappeared as a linguistic – nation state on April 1, 1936, 82 years ago.
During that period, the political struggle of India under the Congress, couldn’t gain momentum in this part as the Odia nationalist movement prioritized its demand for a unified Odia-speaking track under one administration. Both movements, during their struggle came face-to-face many a times.
When Congress gave a call to boycott Simon Commission, Utkala Samilani, the Odia nationalist movement, welcomed it. Though Congress entered the land through three different routes — Madras, Nagapur and Calcutta Bihar — none of these gained momentum until Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi visit the erstwhile Kalinga in 1921.
In addition to Odia nationalist movement, Praja Andolan against the rulers of Gadajat states, the tributaries under the British Raj, surfaced at different places. Praja Andolana was much stronger than the Congress movement in Gadajat areas of Odisha till Congress leader Pattavi Sitaramaya was directed by Mahatma Gandhi, to take advantage of it through participation. Local Congress leaders were associated with this movement.
In Gadajat areas, Congress reached out to the masses through Praja Andolana. Besides, Congress gained people’ support through Laban Satyagraha (salt march), more particularly in the coastal districts. The strength of Congress was not so distinct prior to it. In the election to the newly-constituted legislative body under 1935 Government of India Act, Congress won majority. Because of its decision to abstain from the power, non-Congress leaders under the leadership of Parala Maharaja Gajapati Krushna Ch. Dev formed the government.
Pre-independent political situation was something different. The Congress movement leaders despite differences and in-fighting could muster the strength to form government in 1946. Dr H. K. Mohatab became the Prime minister of Odisha. But in the first general election of post-independent India, Congress faced a setback in Odisha, though it managed to retain power under the Chief Ministership of Nabakrushna Choudury.
Because of his personal relations with socialist and communists, former members of Congress with whom he had long and close association, Choudhury formed the government and could continue till he resigned. He was forced to resign and Dr. Harekrushna Mohtab took the reins ahead of the second general election.
After the merger of tributary states, the Gadajats, Odisha witnessed a new political outfit Ganatantra Parishad, mainly the party of Raja Maharajas and their people belonging to non-Congress structure. Besides, Congress also faced a lot of upheaval in the coastal belt due to emerging socialist and communist forces. These two forces, though were part of Congress movement prior to independence, formed new political platforms because of ideological conflicts.
Dr. Mohtab’s induction in the Central Government in 1950 also created crisis in the state Congress. Naba Krushna Choudhury was a man of character and integrity, but he lacked political prudence. He was forced to resign because of intra-party indiscipline.
The awards of the SRC put the Congress leadership on the defensive and further weakened its position in 1957 polls. After the second general election in 1957, Congress was forced to go for a coalition government. Initially, Congress with 51 members formed the Government with the help of five Jharkhand MLAs, nine communist MLAs and independents.
Due to unacceptable demands by Jharkhand MLAs, the Congress decided to form alliance with Ganatantra Parishad. Again Raja-Maharajas came to power with strength of 51 members and Congress’ image was further eroded for accepting ‘Rajatantra’ under the garb of ‘Gantantra’. This coalition continued from May 22, 1959 to February 25, 1961.
Dr. Mahtab lost at this stage a sizable chunk of the capital of his personality, patriotism, dedication and the cultivated charisma, and probably the integrity of his character. His attempt to muster a majority to run the Government by any means, his reliance on corrupt business community of Kendu leaves traders, and unscrupulous party followers degraded him, demoralized him and tainted his image.
His attempts to restore his previous image exposed him as a power-hungry politician rather than a dedicated political leader.
Biju Patnaik and Biren Mitra, put Congress back in the reckoning and inspired new hopes and aspirations. Congress under their dynamic leadership for the first time after independence got an absolute majority in the 1961 election with 82 members in the House of 140 members. People, who reposed faith, in the pie-crust promises of Biju Patnaik were soon disillusioned and developed distrust in the Congress leadership.
Odisha saw three Chief Ministers from 1961 to 1967. It was also dubbed as the most corrupt party during this period and its strength in the House was reduced to 31 from 82 in 1967.
A new coalition Government under the Chief Ministership of Rajendra Narayan Singh Deo – the leader of Ganatantra Party, renamed Swatantra Party, was formed. Dr. Harekrushna Mahtab and his associated deserted Congress and formed a new political outfit Jana Congress and made pre-election alliance with Swatantra Party.
This coalition Government too was a victim of inherent contradictions and aspirations of the leaders for absolute power. Rampant corruption destabilized the administrative functioning. On the other hand, Indian National Congress under the dynamic leadership of Indira Gandhi revamped the party in Odisha. Biju Patnaik was forced to quit Congress. He and his friends formed a new political outfit – Utkal Congress.
This party along with Swatantra and Jharkhand formed one front with a 17-point common programme and came to power under the Chief Ministership of veteran Congress leader Biswanath Das. This coalition lacked ideological cohesion and suffered from internal fights. Under the leadership of Nilamani Routray, most of the Utkal Congress elected members deserted Biju Patnaik and joined Congress.
The grand old party came to power under the leadership of Nandini Satapathy on June 14, 1972. Again political turmoil started and the Government lost its majority. Utkal Congress was reorganized on November 12, 1972. Another untimely election was forced upon the people of Odisha in 1974. Though Congress got the majority, but not an absolute majority to form the Government.
Nandini Satapathy could manage to get the support of communist party members. The political stability in Odisha was almost nil till 1977. Congress for the first time lost power at the Centre in 1977. The declaration of emergency in June 25, 1975, brought the debacle for Congress and its leader Indira Gandhi. The 1977 anti-Congress euphoria did not last long. Odisha got a very stable Government in 1980 with Janaki Ballava Pattanaik as the Chief Minister.
The opposition spread thin. But the inherent quality of the Odisha Congress to fight each other again surfaced. In the second term of his tenure, he was replaced by Hemananda Biswal. But the party lost the next election and Biju Patnaik and his party Janata Dal came to power with a thumping majority. During those years, the Government could not deliver despite a week opposition due to lack of collective responsibility.
People’s dissatisfaction grew and was the cause of government change with J B Patnaik coming to power for the third time in 1995. However, there was change in leadership with Giridhari Gamango being imposed on the state as the Chief Minister and removed after Super Cyclone of 1999, with Hemananda Biswal replacing him. From 1995 to 2000, Odisha saw three Chief Ministers and an ugly scenario of fight for power.
To everyone’s surprise a new political outfit Biju Janata Dal under the leadership of Navin Patnaik formed a coalition with BJP and came to power in 2000. The state outfit was formed after the demise of Biju Patnaik. The new leader Naveen Patnaik, the youngest son of late Biju Babu, having no experience in politics could successfully manage the coalition government till 2009.
Under the plea of taking a secular stand, BJD severed ties with the saffron party before the 2009 election and gathered more strength than the previous tenures by making seat arrangements with smaller parties. And again in 2014, BJD under the leadership of Naveen Patnaik fought the election alone and got more support from the people. For the last 18 years, Odisha has not witnessed any instability on the political front.
The Government’s performance in relation to development, either human development or economic growth, leaves a lot to be desired. Poverty is still on the higher side in comparison to other states and so are inequality and regional imbalances. Odisha is till dependent on other states for food and other essential items. Colonial exploitation can still be seen, weakening the state economy. Money drain, brain drain and migration of labourers are on an all-time rise.
The past 82 years reeks of political jealousy, inconsistent economic approach, increasing corruption, inefficiency at all levels and mudslinging in the political circle, absence of strong political will blaming the past and the nature to cover up own faults. All these are distinctly visible.
There are another 18 years to cross hundred springs of reborn Odisha – a nation state. The younger generations hope to remove all anomalies created and not responded by the politicians and the ruling class. To get a positive and upward trend in all fields, the present is expected to appreciate nature’s gift and take up the unfinished works with strong political will.
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This article first appeared in Odishabytes.com