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Mainstream, VOL 62 No 16-17, April 20, April 27, 2024

Enduring Significance of Utkal Gaurab Madhusudan Das | S N Sahu

Saturday 20 April 2024, by S N Sahu


On 28th April this year the birth anniversary of Utkal Gourab Madhusudan Das is being celebrated. On that day in 1848 he was born and his many splendoured legacy which, among others, encapsulated his pioneering initiative to launch a movement for establishment of Orissa (now Odisha) as separate British province on the basis of language constituted a significant step not just for Odisha but the whole of India. That movement led by him brought together Odia speaking areas forming part of Bengal, Bihar, Central and Madras provinces to the single province of Orissa on 1st April 1936 and heralded a new era for the Odias who led an arduous struggle to have a territorial entity of their own on the basis of their language.

Formation of Odisha in 1936 and its National Significance

The formation of separate province of Odisha preceded fructification of the vision of our leaders of freedom struggle to linguistically reorganise States of India during post-independence period. Such linguistic reorganisation of States celebrated diversities of languages of India and contributed immensely for making our independence more resilient, robust and buoyant. It stood in sharp contrast to Pakistan whose founder Mohammad Ali Jinha declared, six months after the creation of Pakistan following the division of India on the basis of religion, that the only official language of whole of Pakistan would be Urdu. In doing so he completely disregarded the Bengali language of East Pakistan which eventually became Bangladesh in 1971. Therefore, Madhubabu’s historic effort to create Odisha as a separate province on the strength of Odia language was as much a step to uphold Odia pride as it was a thoughtful decision to create conditions for safeguarding the idea of India. one of the defining features of which is linguistic pluralism.

Madhusudan Das is remembered for his pan -Indian vision and it was amply manifested in many of his pronouncements while speaking as a Member of the the Bihar Orissa Assembly and Central Legislative Assembly.

Demand for Direct Rail Connectivity Between Cuttack and Sambalpur

Now we have direct rail connectivity between Cuttack and Sambalpur. But there was a time when no such connectivity there and demands were made by several public personalities for linking those two places. It is illuminating to note that Madhubabu moved a resolution on 8th March 1913 regarding construction of a new railway line connecting Orissa, Chotanagpur and Patna and while speaking on the issue regretted that in spite of the survey conducted for laying a rail way line connecting Sambalpur with Cuttack, or some place in the vicinity, nothing was done on the matter.

It is remarkable that as a role model of a legislator he was taking up the issue of rail connectivity between Sambalpur and Cuttack as early as 1913 and flagging the point that rail ways could, apart from linking up different parts of the country, could open up resources of the country and be used as an instrument for general progress and advancement of trade and finance of India.

Madhubabu Stated about Population Growth in India in 1913

It is quite enlightening that he could presciently understand the problem of population growth of India as early as 1913, eight years before the population started increasing from the year 1921, described as the year of demographic divide. He did so while speaking on the resolution on Loss of Opium Revenue on 17th March 1913 in Bihar-Orissa Legislative Assembly. He very sensitively observed that with the advent of British rule in India whatever industrial units were there suffered from, what he described as “sleeping sickness”. It is worthwhile to quote his exact words. He said, “But here, with the contact of England with India, there was actually a sleeping sickness overtaking industrial India.” “England and other foreign countries”, he stated, “exported articles which contributed to the comforts of life, which recommended themselves on account of their cheapness and better finish; a new light dazzled the Indian eye and foreign articles poured in.” Then he proceeded to add, “A sleeping sickness, if I may say so overtook industrial India, and now that she rises from this sleeping sickness, she finds her industrial hands paralysed, and the artisan cannot compete with the iron hand of Europe and other countries.”

His Vision of Industrialising India

The above remark was prefaced by Madhubabu by his statement in the aforementioned speech when he said, “Too much stress cannot be laid upon the importance of industrial development in this country. There is already too much pressure on land;. population is growing, but lands are not growing, and it is not possible for any Government on earth to make the yield of agriculture less precarious than it has always been and will ever be. Government cannot command the heavens, nor can it provide a system of irrigation which will make every acre of land in this vast country irrigable. Consequently, the only salvation of India lies in the development of her industries”.

It is amply clear that right from the beginning of the second decade of twentieth century Madhubabu earmarked the issue of industrialisation because agricultural yield was declining and he firmly believed that the remedy lies in shifting the growing population of India from agriculture to industry so that they are liberated from the cycles of poverty. That far sighted vision resonates in India of twenty first century when farmers are confronting a situation marked by decline of their income from the agricultural sector and agitating in several parts of the country to seek a legal regime for minimum support price (MSP) for some of their harvests.

His Understanding of Caste System as a Retarding Factor

It is indeed extraordinary that he saw caste system as stumbling block for industrialisation of India. He explained in 1913 that division of labour as the organising principle of industry could not come up in India because of caste system. In doing so he preceded B R Ambedkar who apart from describing caste system as an “ascending order of reverence and descending order of contempt” wrote in his much celebrated essay on Hinduism, published in 1940, that caste as a structural form of inequality instead of creating division of labour divided labour.

Madhubabu and Ambedkar

Ambedkar read Madhu Babu’s speech on depressed classes delivered in the Central Legislative Assembly in 1917. Some ideas of that speech to fight the scourge of untouchability by declaring untouchability an offence and making the depressed classes respectable found their way into the historic document “Pax Britannica and Untouchables” that Babasaheb Ambedkar went on to submit at the famed Round Table Conference in 1931.

Today when so much talk is going on in the country to save Baba Saheb Ambedkar’s Constitution and defend his vision it is worthwhile to recall Madhubabu’s utterances on caste in 1913 when Ambedkar had not arrived in the landscape of Indian public life.

Madhubabu’s Struggle for Access of Women Law Graduates to Legal Practice

Because of his painstaking struggle women law graduates in India barred by Legal Practitioners’ Act to do legal practice in courts till 1922 were allowed to do so in 1923 along with their men colleagues after the amendment of that legislation. Last year i.e. 2023, was the centenary of women law graduates entering legal practice in India.

On the occasion of his birth anniversary the above points form part of his rich and remarkable legacy which need to recalled to understand his enduring significance.

(Author: S N Sahu served as Officer on Special Duty to President of India K R Narayanan)

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