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Home > 2023 > Trilochan Kanungo’s style of politics: An Obituary Note | Radhakanta (...)

Mainstream, VOL 61 No 20, May 13, 2023

Trilochan Kanungo’s style of politics: An Obituary Note | Radhakanta Barik

Saturday 13 May 2023, by Radhakanta Barik


He had a long political career in Odisha politics. He created an image of intellectual politician. In reality he got involved with factionalism of local politics. He died recently at 83 age

Trilochan Kanungo is perhaps the most interesting and complex politician of Odisha politics. At state level politics he is an idealist and pursues value based politics. But at local level he is like any other politician who works through factions of the village. He works with the landlords and Maqdams of the Niali and Govindpur area. He plays his divisive politics to create schism among villages. He creates havoc against social peace of the region. In the period of sixties there had been violent politics of landed elite against the masses specifically Dalits and cultivating communities he sided with the landed elite. At any moment of his political career he stood with these people and created some big contractors from these families who worked for him at the election politics. Niali and Govindpur have the record of the largest of number of murders and crimes against the poor where he has not sided with the oppressed.

But with his moral authority in local society he could have settled problems of deep factionalism of the area and stood for some developmental activities of the locality which he shirked his responsibility towards the locality. This would have made him a creative politician but he remained the traditional one. This is a difficult geographical region as known as the islands of the river Devi which remained the most backward region till 2010. There was no road and no bridge over the rivers here and no hospitals. All these came recently. One used to go to the villages during the Monsoon by wearing lungi and crossing the rivers and streams and suffering from health problems which affected the people of the region As a police Inspector In Charge of the Govindpur police station told us that it was difficult to arrest the criminals as we could see them on the other side of river but we could not do anything. To remain here in office one has to collect money from both sides of the villages. The police officers plunder the people.

Trilochan Kanungo the most brilliant mind joined student movement of 1964 and became a student leader. This movement turned into All Odisha movement without any agenda, it is factional politics of the Congress Party led by Mahatab against Biju Patnaik caused the student movement. Many doubt he worked as conduit between students and Mahatab. He turned to be close friend of Mahatab in politics. His brilliance helped him to be close to Radhanatha Rath, Editor of the Samaj and produced some articles. Some opinion pieces helped him to be an intellectual in politics. He used to write one piece on budget of Odisha. Some leaders of Odisha used to give just statements in the press and got elected. He was one of them. He went to Parliament as the Loksabha MP from Jagatsinghpur Constituency. A Professor who worked for him Dr Samantray told us that they were sending a brilliant mind and who would influence the Parliament proceedings but he failed miserably. He used his tenure in Delhi to negotiate with UGC and Ministry of Education to get benefits for his college. Furthermore, MP’s developmental fund got used for the college which is a private affair. This brought conflict of interests as MP fund to be used for various welfare activities of the region and he used it for the college. It is a sad commentary on his value-based politics.

There are only fifty families belonging to Karan caste in Govindpur and Niali who control political power of the region for more than fifty years. They got rooted in the city culture and control rural politics. All of them belong to a single clan but no one got involved in factional politics of the rural hinterland except Trilochan Kanungo. Around 1940s there were a large number of local leaders belonging to cultivating caste under the leadership of Nilamani Pradhan who became a prominent kisan leader during the national movement, but he was cornered by the Karan caste leaders. Karan went well with the Halia Brahmins who control land and enjoy the factional politics against the Dalits and the poor. They sided with them. Mostly rich landed families having Maqdam or Zamindari interest had control over land and politics of the region. In 1960s he came into politics of the region turned into darling of these rich landed families. They started exchanging gifts among themselves and when they moved to the cities got hosted by them. Their legal and police help came from them. It is interesting to note here that his younger brother turned into a politician and turned into an important minister of Naveen Patnaik government but never got involved deeply in factional politics of the rural hinterland.

To understand the conflict one has to locate the topography of these islands. There are three islands within the river Devi belonging to old constituency of Govindpur. The first island of 66 villages where Kanungo himself belonged. There are two to three villages where Karans live in. They used to work as gumasthas of the zamindars of colonial period. They had a close affinity with the cities specifically Cuttack. They have acquaintances with the lawyers and judges and police men as they belong to their caste. Karan being a small caste one is related to other. This is a social proverb to tell the kinship network spread to whole caste. As they need the help of the state to get work done and this fictive kinship works wonder. They are scared of the rural Govindpur as they have their homes but mostly stay in the cities.These villages are highly conflict ridden over land and power. As there are no towns in the island and people are confined to the villages. A face to face society creates bitterness with each other and turns into conflict. Specifically in the rainy season nobody goes out and nobody gets in. Only when someone suffers from disease one goes to the hospital located in the city of Cuttack. According to the private doctor who practices there for last fifty years find him in awkward position to collect money from child infected diarrhea; he charges ten rupees from each but at least in rainy season he sees hundred children over the same disease, as this area suffers from chronic adulterated drinking water. Drinking water gets infected with excreta of people as there are no toilets. All visit public spaces for doing toilet. All visit the small town where two sweet shops and one private doctor and medical shop and cloth merchant. This town draws Kanungo sometimes and he returns back to the city in evening. He does not dare to enter into his area during the rainy season. He built the college in this town over the river bed and which he managed till his death. This area turns into crime prone where murders are a regular phenomenon. During the night one feels scared to visit the area. Most of the criminals have a close association with Kanungo and some of them belonged to his Karan caste. Most of them are in jail. Some of them get used by the politicians of outside Govindpur region to get involved in murders and violent activities. Some of them are involved in grabbing land in the cities.

The next group of villages can be called that each village is separate from the other. It is known as Pahanga- Pokharinga region. As the river and Nala moves through the villages. During the rainy season these villages get covered with flood and the Kharip crop gets washed away every year. They depend on rabi crop as during winter there is no flood water. People used to migrate to cities specifically Calcutta and other towns to have some work in the jute factories to earn their livelihoods.

Next island of twenty two villages suffer the similar problems. As recorded in District Gazetteer, one finds that majority of people have never crossed their own villages except going to their relatives which mostly exist in the same island. These areas are scary which the other side of the river, people feel scared to offer their daughters for marriage in the island as these villages suffer chronic hunger and lack of communication. Parents of daughters feel worried that after giving marriage to the men in the island one may not see them before death.

Only benefit the young get from community schools built by the villagers where no contribution came from Kanungo. Young work hard to pass out of these schools and move out of the islands. Villagers felt so desperate of the land with covered with sand during flood; they all combined together in late 1960s to construct the embankment around of their islands to save their land. That turns out to be only road available for walking or cycling to the local markets which are located across the rivers. Kanugo turned to be a popular politician he visited the areas during flood and spends some time with the villagers which made him more popular.

All these islands faced the problems when embankments got built which resulted in making rive lets got dried up. The patch of land turned into a part of political game which we have discussed below.

Two examples are the best: One in Pahanga the biggest village of the whole region where he got involved in parceling dead river bed to the Dalits and elite at the same time. They fought over the piece of land for more than ten years running to the court and police station. He collected votes from both. Another conflict came up in nearby villages of Kanpur with their neighboring village Kharihar over the community river bed and both fought over the land and one got killed. Many were in jail. After a decade of the incident I visited the village and found nobody in these two villages had Lungi as their money got siphoned to the court cases. Both supported him and he collected their votes. Politics of the region got vitiated by murder and arson for years. He enjoyed power over the devastation caused by his action in the region. Yes he remains as the most popular and idealist politician of Odisha.

Kanungo was elected to the assembly in 1971, 1974 and 1985 from Govindpur constituency. In 1999, he was elected from Jagatsinghpur Lok Sabha seat on a BJD ticket. He gained popularity for his unflinching work as Cuttack municipality chairperson in 1979-80 and 1992-95. He was basically man with urban tastes and enjoyed his whole life in the city of Cuttack. As a student of Ravenshaw college and student leader he became known person in the city of Cuttack. He got elected as the Chairman of the corporation and did some work as he had nothing to get involved in factional politics as he did in Govindpur Constituency. He handed over the constituency to his younger brother to do his politics. Both of them kept it as pocket borough till the constituency turned into reserved constituency. This got bifurcated and reserved for SC. They lost their fiefdom. Real infrastructural development came during the newly elected MLA belong to Dalit community who was the Professor of Medicine of the Medical College.

Trilochan babu controls the politics of Niali and Govindpur region by creating factionalism or siding with the existing factions. Murder and violence have blended into fabric of local society.Fear haunts here as going alone is a fearsome activity. He did not do anything for the region but he is branded as the intellectual leader of the region. The College he controlled where most of the teachers got payment of Rs 5000 per month over according to retired Professor Kharvel Mohanty of History. It is like fiefdom of Kanungo. The college got built by a Trust but it has been privatized. Kanungo’s son has started looking after the college.

Kanungo took politics his profession and started as a Congress man and then during emergency he opposed Nandini the chief minister and went to the jail. He came back joined Janata Party and then he lived as a member of the BJD. He was a democrat and a well-articulated person both in Odiya and English. His contribution to his old constituency of Govindpur was so negligible that one can quote the anthropologist F G Bailey who did work in Phulbani and Cuttack district during 1950s and came back as an invite to History Congress of 1977 held at Bhubaneswar and presented a small paper on contribution of local politicians who got elected to the assembly or Parliament. He expected them that one could contribute to his or her self interest and he had more capacity then he would contribute to community and more capacity then he would contribute to state but he had not done anything for state nor to his community but all for himself. This is correct in the case of Trilochan Kanungo who died recently in eighty three years old.

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