by Charudutta Panigrahi

A bit of the genesis:
16th century was crucial for Odisha when it was annexed to Akbar’s empire. Mansingh did this in 1592. By then many a turmoil had taken place. Suryavanshi rule had come to an end, Mukunda Deva was slained by his own chiefs, treacherously while fighting the Afghan intrusion. And in terms of geo-political administration, the then Odisha was divided into five Sarkars – Jaleswar, Bhadrak, Cuttack, Kalinga Dandapat and Raj Mahendri. These Sarkars, were known as Mughalbandi because the Mughal rulers from Bengal were controlling the revenue administration through them. From Akbar’s rule to the times of Aurangzeb’s death, Odisha has seen a few developments like Ganjam (south of Chilika area) coming under the muslim rulers of the South. And after the death of Aurangzeb, Odisha’s fate was run largely by the Bengal Nawabs, which actually was short lived. After Lord Clive’s advent, things changed rapidly and Odisha came under the British rule by 1766. And Ganjam, the southern part of Chilka, which was under the Nizam’s rule came under the British. But north Odisha was administered under the Bengal presidency and south Odisha by the Madras Presidency. It is important to note here that the British administrators from Lord Clive to Lord Cornwallis in spite of their many attempts failed to take possession of coastal Odisha from the Marathas till the second Maratha war in 1803 when Raghuji Bhonsla II ceded to the East India Company (Lord Wellesley) the province of Cuttack, including the port and district of Baleswar.

Quite akin to the manner in which the British fanged out in India, they took control of the 18 Gadjat states in Odisha too. So in the 19th century three districts of Balaswar, Cuttack and Puri in coastal area and 18 Gadjats (including Athgarh, Baramba, Dhenkanal, Hindol, Khandpara, Narsingpur, Nayagarh, Nilgiri, Ranpur, Talcher, Tigiria, Baud, Daspalla, Keonjhar, Mayurbhanj, Athmallik, Pal Lahara) in the hill tracts of Odisha constituted the British Odisha and these were under the Bengal Presidency. The rest of Odisha Gadjats including Sambalpur were placed under the Central Provinces. The division resulted in segregation of the state and its people. There was no unification in sight. Odisha was a divided house.

Towards the later part of the 19th century the progressive, intellectuals in Odisha huddled up, expressed their disenchantment with a “disintegrated” state and decided to give a proposal to the British government to bring together the scattered areas of Odisha, bind the state geographically which would ultimately result in a socio-economic bonding. The first proposal for the unification came from Raja Baikuntha Nath De of Baleswar and Bichitrananda Patnaik of Cuttack in 1875 (published in Utkal Dipika, 27 Feb 1875). They presented a memorandum to the Government and Sir S.C. Bayley,
the Lieutenant Governor of Bengal who visited Odisha in 1888. Bayley was presented with a Memorial by the ‘Utkal Sabha’ of Cuttack and was requested to consider uniting the Odia-speaking territories of Madras, Central Provinces and Bengal in one administrative unit. But Bayley rejected the proposal and to add to the woes, the Chief Commissioner of the Central Provinces in 1895 decided to abolish Odia language from official use in the district of Sambalpur, which had sowed the seeds of a deep running chasm. In 1896 Hindi was introduced in the Oriya speaking district of Sambalpur as a part of Chattisgarh Division of Central Province in place of Oriya as the court and administrative language. The Odia thinkers and leaders never wanted this to happen. The whole state was disturbed with the devious decision. Odisha was on the boil.

In 1882, a social organisation called ‘Utkal Sabha’, was established under the initiative of Gauri Sankar Roy and it took a major part in developing the political awareness among the Odias. On 20 June 1895, the ‘Utkal Sabha’ sent a Memorial to Lord Elgin, the Governor General, protesting against that unjust and arbitrary measure. But all fell on deaf ears. And to add insult to injury, by the end of 1895, Odia was abolished in the courts of Sambalpur. But Odisha found a friend in H.G. Cooke, the Commissioner of Odisha who supported the movement for amalgamation of the Odia speaking geographies in July 1895, almost a month after the petition to Lord Elgin. It was the first official endorsement of the voices of the people. In his annual administrative report, Cooke, though seemingly benign in his approach, suggested certain measures in his report to his seniors. And he thought that the areas which could be united with the Odisha Division were : (a) Sambalpur district of the Chatisgarh Division of the Central Provinces, (b) Tributary States of Patna, Sonepur, Rairakol, Bamra and Kalahandi and (c) the whole or part of the Ganjam district alongwith the States of Kimidi and Ghumsur1. His suggestions were completely ignored and the Sambalpur agitation continued, for the restoration of Odia as the court language.

Such was the fervour that in July 1901 some leading citizens of Sambalpur called on Sir Andrew Fraser, the Chief Commissioner of the Central Provinces and suggested that ‘if it was thought impossible to have Oriya as the language of one Central Provinces’ district, they would prefer to be transferred to Orissa’. The Chief Commissioner accepted the argumentand advocated with the Government of India to transfer Sambalpur to Orissa Division.

Madhusudan Das, a member of the Bengal Legislative Council by then, informed Lord Curzon, the Governor General about the huge mass movement to the effect and it was their demand that the Odia-speaking area should be placed under a Chief Commissioner. The Sambalpur delegation consisted of social leaders like Madan Mohan Misra, Balabhadra Suar, Braja Mohan Patnaik, Bihari Das Mahant and Sripati Misra. They even met the Governor General at Simla to acquaint him with the problems. As a result Odia language was accorded its rightful significance in Sambalpur district from 1st January 1903. But Sambalpur was not transferred to the Orissa Division or a Chief Commissioner post was not created for Orissa at that time.

Voices from all across the state were getting louder and more assertive. The Ganjam intellectuals petitioned Lord Curzon ” to bring together the scattered divisions inhabited by Oriya-speaking people, i.e., Ganjam in Madras, Sambalpur in the Central Provinces, and Orissa in Bengal under one government”. Raja Baikuntha Nath De of Balasore also advocated for a separate administrative unit for all Odia speaking territories or to keep them under one provincial administration. Since 16th century, Odisha has been traversing from one phase to another of externally administered governance and by the beginning of the 20th century, Odisha had realised the repercussions of “division of the state” and was become more and more united in it’s voice for one Odisha.

In 1903 a small group of ‘young turks’ gathered in Rambha on the idyllic shore of Chilka lake to set up Ganjam Jatiya Samiti. Before the formation of Utkal Sammilani, Ganjam Jatiya Sammilani was the only forum, where leaders from all sections came together. Both the forums were patronised by Harihara Mardaraj, king of Khallikote who was one of the founders of Utkal Sammilani or Utkal Union Conference & the Ganjam Jaitya Sammilani. Khallikote royalty supported the forums generously and were the pioneers in providing a veritable platform to take the unification of Odisha issue forward. They help set up and institutionalise the movement for a unified Odisha. Besides these forums, Harihara Mardaraj established a number of schools, the College of Fine Arts and colleges in Khallikote. He was a multifaceted personality, a freedom fighter, a writer, an editor, a journalist, an active political worker, a diplomat, an intellect and his life was an extraordinary tale of real life adventure and sacrifice and unimaginable drive in bringing Odisha together. Even the British administrators, in spite of the antagonism, were in praise of the selfless service of Harihara Mardaraj for his people. Below is a letter from the Governor of Madras to Harihara Mardaraj which highlights the magnanimity of the king of Khallikote.

July, 21st 1866
Sir, My Friend,
On my arrival in this district I was much gratified to learn from Mr Horbes that you had taken a most liberal part in relieving the wants of the people in your estate. This conduct was most worthy of a person of your high position and descent and inspires the Government with a particular esteem for your character. It is a matter of regret to me that your subsequent illness and the misfortunes which have occurred in your family have rendered it necessary for Government to suspend the measures of relief which you had undertaken. I trust this period has now passed and that you will feel yourself justified in cooperating with Government in providing means for the support of the people. Should this be the case it will give one great pleasure to assist you in any way which you may point out to the Collector of the District ? If the stores of rice in your possession are exhausted by the number of persons whom you have fed, Government would supply with rice at the cost price at Madras and take upon themselves the charge of transport or Government would be prepared to exhaust directly a certain share of the expenditure which you make on the distribution of food. It was very desirable that relief should be afforded at Khallikote or in its immediate vicinity, in order that the people may not crowd to other places where it is difficult to supply the wants of so great a number. I hope before leaving the country to visit Khallikote and thank you personally for your charitable exertions.
I remain Sir.
Your sincere friend and well-wisher
Napier, Governor of Madras
In 1903 major congregations of Odia nationalism were organised, one in Berhampur and another one at Cuttack. Utkal Sabha of Cuttack called for a public meeting under the leadership of Madhusudan Das. It was decided in the conference to send a petition to the Governor General (i) to transfer to the
Orissa Division the Oriya-speaking portions of the districts of Ganjam, Vizagpatnam, Sambalpur, Chhota Nagpur and Midnapur ii) retaining the judicial supervision of the High Court at Calcutta and maintaining the educational connection with the Calcutta University.

Odisha formation takes momentum:

On 30th & 31st December 1903 ‘Utkal Sammilani’ met at Cuttack amidst fanfare, unparalleled enthusiasm and steely determination. The conference was presided by Sriram Chandra Bhanja Deo, the Maharaja of Mayurbhanj, and was attended by a number of feudal chiefs, zamindars and royals besides other leaders. Rajendra Narayan Bhanj Deo, the Raja of Kanika was the Chairman of the Reception Committee and Madhusudan Das was the Secretary. Madhu babu was the driving force behind the Sammilani.

The Conference disseminated and discussed the socio-cultural and political problems of the Oriya-speaking people and adopted resolutions on taking cudgels on behalf of the entire state (Oriya speaking population spread all across). The first resolution of the conference welcomed the proposal of the Government of India in the famous Risley Circular regarding territorial adjustment. The Risley Circular issued by Lord Curzon on 3rd December 1903 contained a well conceived concrete proposal for the amalgamation of disjointed and fissured Oriya-speaking territories. As a part of implementation of this circular, the district of Sambalpur covering an area of 3724 sq. miles was merged with the Orissa Division and with this merger of Sambalpur the total geographic area of Orissa Division was increased by 13659 sq. miles with a population of nearly 12,25,593 as detailed on the historic day of 16th October. This brought a sigh of relief among the disgruntled Oriya people. The socio-political awakening of the people of Orissa was quite evident from such a Conference held at Cuttack.

The Oriya movement, which was snowballing and was formalised in 1903, was the first and pioneering attempt in India to create a province on linquistic basis. Without the drive and advocacy of Utkal Sammilani, probably Odisha won’t have remained an Odia state.

Message of K.R.Narayanan, Former President of India on the occasion of the Orissa day 2002
Orissa has had the distinction of many firsts to its credit. It was the first state in our country to have been created on the basis of language. It constituted the fruition of long cherished dream of our nationalist leaders for linguistic reorganization of states.
March 28, 2002 K.R. Narayanan New Delhi President of India.

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