By Swaraj Mishra*
Democracy basically means Power to People and this is best demonstrated when a penniless poor defeats a King, the symbol of the high and mighty, in a General Election. We, in Odisha, had one such great occasion when Pabitra Mohan Pradhan defeated two mighty kings of Dhenkanal and Talcher in the General Elections to Odisha State Assembly in 1961.
The teeming millions of Gadajat Odisha (ex princely state) had long suffered in the hands of oppressive rulers of the princely states in an atmosphere of fear. Even after independence, it took some time for the Princely States to merge with the Odisha. People of these area, who did not have the opportunity to participate in 1937 and 1946 elections, got their first opportunity in 1952 to elect their leaders during the first general elections after the merger of princely states. But they were afraid and many erstwhile kings and zamindars got elected very easily, riding on the credentials of having done some good work in their respective areas and the voter’s general unwillingness to go against their rulers. But the story was different in regions where there had been some organised struggle against the misrule of the erstwhile kings and where the oppressed masses had a leader to rally around, who symbolised their hopes and aspirations.
The constituencies in Dhenkanal and Angul region fit into this category. And the hero of the oppressed masses of this region was Pabitra Mohan Pradhan, who defeated two mighty kings in 1961 elections to the State Assembly.
Pabitra Mohan Pradhan, born on 8th February 1908 in the village Poipala in Talcher sub division, belonged to a very poor family. He lost both his parents Bharat Pradhan and Shanti Dei in early childhood. Struggling to make both ends meet and exposed to the tyranny of the rulers of erstwhile princely state of Talcher, he grew up as a rebel fighting under the Praja Mandal movement against these rulers. By the time he turned 30, he had already become the President of the Praja Mandal movement, which touched its peak in 1938-39. Jailed several times by the rulers, he caught the imagination of the people when he escaped Talcher jail and worked undercover against these rulers. After the country got its independence, he worked closely with Harekrushna Mahatab for merger of the Princely States and his dream was realised when all the princely states finally merged with Odisha by 1st Jan 1949. He won from Talcher constituency both in 1952 and 1957. But he made history in 1961 Vidhan Sabha elections when he fought from two different constituencies Talcher and Pallahara against erstwhile kings and won from both the constituencies with handsome margins.
In Talcher he defeated Allhada Chandra Routaray and in Pallahara, Mahindra Bahadur Pratap Singhdeo, both fighting with Ganatantra Parishad ticket and earned a sobriquet ‘Nirbachan Veer’ for accomplishing such a rare feat. In his own words- “I had to contest in two seats as per the directives of central leadership against two erstwhile rulers of Talcher and Dhenkanal princely states. I defeated both of them. They called me Nirvachan Veer because I defeated two kings in one election”.
In 1961, Congress Party for the first time got a clear majority on its own, and formed the Government under the leadership of Biju Patnaik. Pabitra Mohan became a Cabinet Minister in charge of Education, Agriculture, Tribal and Rural Development in his Council of Ministers.
The writer is the secretary of Aama Odisha.