By Swaraj Mishra*
If you are a film enthusiast in love with Odia classics of yesteryears, you would certainly remember Baraju of ‘Matira Manisha’ (1966), Manoj of ‘Arundhati’ (1967) or Prakash of ‘Kie Kahara’ (1968), the characters so beautifully portrayed by the one and only Sarat Pujari, the versatile actor from Sambalpur who has become a household name in Odisha. If one talks about his foray into electoral politics, it may sound a little strange. But it is a fact that he stepped into politics long back in 1971 and contested Assembly Elections from Odisha.
It was the time when the trend of top film stars and film personalities entering politics had just begun in the South. M.G.Ramachandran was elected to state Assembly in 1967. M.Karunanidhi became the Chief Minister for the first time in 1969. And two years later it was our own Biju Patnaik, known for his unconventional initiatives, fielded Sarat Pujari, the famous film actor in 1971 Assembly elections from Sambalpur on behalf of his newly formed Utkal Congress Party.
Born on 8th August 1934 as the eldest son of Satchidanand Pujari of Jhaduapada, Sambalpur, Sarat completed his school education from various schools across Odisha as his father was an Administrative Officer in a transferable job. He completed his graduation from Ravenshaw College and Post Graduation in Economics from Allahabad University to start his career as a lecturer at Panchayat College, Baragarh in 1960. He joined as the Acting Principal of Larambha College in 1968. And in 3 years time, came this historic opportunity for him, an invitation from the one and only Biju Patnaik to join his newly formed party ‘Utkal Congress’ and fight elections. That was a very very difficult decision to take for the shy young man Sarat, who had no experience of electoral politics. In his own words – “Not even 3 years had passed, came this bolt from the blue. The same tall man of 6 feet, who shook hands with me at Bargarh College function and complimented me saying ‘very good, very good’ had taken fancy on me. He had a mission of choosing 140 young and energetic persons to inject fresh blood into Odisha politics. After discussions with his people he zeroed in on this hapless 35 year old acting Principal from Sambalpur.”
It was clear that Sarat was completely new to electoral politics and a little unwilling too. But he couldn’t say ‘No’ to Biju babu. At the end of discussions with Biju babu at Anand Bhawan in Cuttack, when he finally agreed to contest the Assembly Elections from Sambalpur, the parting words from Biju babu were very motivating- “These old fools don’t want any young people to fight. But Sarat, how can this state move ahead? You give them a fight, Man.”
Congress party had fielded Sriballav Panigrahi from Sambalpur in that election. Bishnu Prasad Mishra was fighting from Swatantra Party and Dayanand Satpathy from CPI. Sarat Pujari worked hard with the help of his old students and friends. Biju babu also came to address his election meetings. But after Indira Gandhi addressed two election meetings at Sambalpur, the situation changed. And the result went in favour of Sriballav Panigrahi from Congress. Swatantra Party candidate was in second position and Sarat finished third. The result was not really bad for a complete novice from a newly formed party. But Sarat turned away from politics completely after that election. He focused on teaching and carried on with his passion, acting in films.
He recollects his experience with electoral politics in an article written in Sambalpuri language in the book ‘Nijaswa Chitranatya Smrutipatha’ and sums it up very poignantly.- “Elections ended and I got defeated. I felt greatly relieved. It was almost like watching a mega fantasy film…”
*The author is a columnist.