The 1951-52 general elections were special in two ways. It was the first election in the State being conducted under universal adult suffrage where every adult could vote. More importantly, it was the first time that the voters belonging to the erstwhile Princely States that merged with the India Union after the independence, were participating in the elections. Understandably, there was a lot more enthusiasm and excitement in Western and Southern Odisha comprising of many erstwhile princely states. This is where Ganatantra Parishad made a big difference. The party was not simply composed of the erstwhile Rajas and Zamindars as it is generally made out to be. It had a number of intellectuals and renowned personalities who were opposed to Congress for various reasons. One such person was Shraddhakar Supakar from Sambalpur, leading the anti-Hirakud Dam agitation, who went on to become the Leader of Opposition in the State Assembly.
Ganatantra Parishad was expected to do well in Bolangir and Kalahandi districts because of the popularity of the erstwhile Rajas who were prominent leaders of the party. But the party did exceedingly well in districts like Koraput and Sambalpur also where Congress party had very strong organisational presence. While Congress party won 67 seats out of 135 seats that it fought, Ganatantra Parishad could win 31 seats out of 58. That was a very impressive score for a new Regional Party, which was possible because of leaders like Shraddhakar Supakar who were loved and respected as honest and committed leaders fighting for the people’s cause.
Shraddhakar born on 8th April 1915 at Jhaduapada in Sambalpur city was a multi-faceted personality. A post graduate in English from Patna University, he had also earned a ‘Sahityacharya’ degree in Sanskrit. He was a very successful lawyer, academician and a social worker fighting for just causes. He was very effective as the Leader of Opposition in the house. “People used to vote for Congress by dropping their ballots in the Yellow coloured Box earlier”, says Supakar in ‘Madhyam Purusha’, his autobiography. “But in the first General Elections they allotted the symbol of ‘Yoked Oxen’ to them. Ganatantra Parishad chose the ‘Bow and Arrow’, because the Adivasis can easily relate to it and it paid us dividends.” Elsewhere he writes, “My success as the Leader of opposition is not entirely mine. I had stalwarts like Maharaja P. K, Deo of Kalahandi, Nanda Kishor Mishra, Pandit Nilakantha Das, Godavarish Mishra and Dr. Pranakrushna Parija on the opposition benches with me and they were always armed with the Bows and Arrows ready to counter the Yoked Oxens of treasury benches with their sharp fact based questions and counters.”
That indeed was the beauty of the first assembly of Odisha in 1952 with an evenly matched Treasury and opposition benches.
*The author is a columnist.