Merger of the Princely States of Odisha

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In the Post-war scenario elections were held for the Odisha Provincial Legislative Assembly in which the congress got a majority. Harekrushna Mahatab was appointed Prime Minister on 3rd April 1946. It was during that year the Cabinet Mission visited India and Mahatab gave assurance that he would place before it the issue of the merger of the ‘garajat’ states with the new Odisha province. After India’s independence Nilgiri was the first Garajat state in Odisha from where sounds of revolt were heard. The authorities were forced to merge Nilgiri with the Odisha administration. Hereafter Iron man Sardar Patel and Harekrushna Mahatab made persistent effort to end the separate existence of the native princely states. These states were subsequently merged with Odisha.

Beginning of the merger

In this connection, Harekrushna Mahatab took the initiative of merging all the native states with the Odisha administration by putting forth this demand before the Cabinet Mission. On 16 October 1947 he convened a meeting of all the kings of the princely states at Sambalpur. He tried to convince them that for maintenance of peace, discipline, law and order, it was extremely essential that all these native states should merge with Odisha. But this meeting did not yield very positive results. The kings of the native provinces put forth a counter arguement that yielding to Mahatab’s demand implied their losing all privileges they had been enjoying for generations. They conveniently tried to overlook the implications of the Prajamandal movements in the recent past and tended to ignore the possibility of what shape it could take in future. For the time being, however, Mahatab felt thoroughly discouraged.

Prajamandal conference at Cuttack

A conference of the Prajamandal was convened on the eve of independence on 10 August 1947. The people of Chhatisgarh and the other native states of Odisha participated in this meeting. In the context of India’s attainment of independence, the role of this conference was significant. The people unequivocally expressed their desire to merge with Odisha and the proposal was formally accepted in this conference. But the decision of the people in this conference fell on deaf ears of the concerned kings of the native states. In future, however, the kings had to bear the consequences. The king of Patna Rajendra Narayan Singh Deo tried to foil Mahatab’s efforts for the merger of the native states with Odisha. R. N. Singh Deo took the leadership in forming the Eastern Zone Native States Association comprising of the Garajat regions of Chhatisgarh and Odisha. It was inaugurated on 1 August 1947. This new body had its own police force and incase there was any sign of disturbance in any native state its police force was prepared to crush it. Hence at this juncture any possibility of the merger of the Garajat states with Odisha seemed remote. This was a rude shock to Mahatab.

Merger of Nilgiri

Immediately after the independence of India the situation in Nilgiri became very tense. The king of Nilgiri in order to strengthen his position tried to befriend the tribal people. He even directed the adivasis to fight against the non-adivasis with bows, arrows and spears and to burn and destroy their houses. By such actions the king believed he could terrorise the ‘prajas’ or people and compel them to seek his protection. He could then impose his will on them as he had been doing. But matters turned out contrary to his expectations. The people could see through the king’s game and regrouped again to revolt against him. This was a rare opportunity for the then Prime Minister of Odisha Harekrushna Mahatab. He promptly dashed to Delhi and sought permission of the Home Minister Sardar Patel for the merger of Nilgiri with Odisha. The permission was granted immediately. On his return from Delhi on 14 November he despatched the Magistrate of Balasore and the Revenue Minister of Odisha, Naba Krushna Chowdhury with an armed police force to take over the administration of the Nilgiri state. The king of Nilgiri was undone and having no alternative surrendered the administration of his state to the Province of Odisha. Thus, taking advantage of the rapidly spreading discontent and the consequent misrule, Harekrushna Mahatab acted swiftly and with great alacrity to bring about the merger of Nilgiri with Odisha.

Political Development

Hereafter on 20 November 1947, a meeting was arranged in the chamber of Mahatab, C. C. Desai, B.D.S. Bedi. They unanimously supported the merger of the Garajat states with Odisha. It was decided that in the near future, the kings of all the Gadajat states would be summoned together and advised for the merger of their respective states with Odisha. At Delhi, almost simultaneously, Sardar Patel proposed to break up the Eastern Region Native States Association (Purbanchal Desiya Rajya Sangha). This indeed was a shot in the arm for Harekrushna Mahatab. On his return he became active to give shape to the discussions held at Delhi.

Cuttack Conference

On 24 December 1947, Mahatab convened a meeting at Cuttack for the purpose of the merger of the Garajat States. He personally had discussions with the kings of the A. B, and C categories Gadajat States. Initiating the discussions with the B & C category states, he later on invited the kings of the ‘A’ category states. While he advised the kings there was also a subtle note of warning that in independent India there was no scope left for the native princely states. Hence their merger with Odisha was not only essential, it was inevitable. Sardar Patel‟s proposals were opposed by the kings of the A category states. Before leaving Cuttack for Bhubaneswar, Sardar Patel again advised the kings that signing the agreement on merger of their respective states would demonstrate their sign of maturity. Sardar Patel was wise and he knew the art of diplomacy. He patiently waited at the Cuttack railway station for an hour. In the meanwhile V. P. Menon had returned after collecting the signatures of all the kings. The king of Mayurbhanj, however, put forth the argument that he had installed a constitutional government but later on it merged with Odisha. Hereafter the process of merger of the Garajat states with Odisha took a final shape.

Merger of the Garajat States

The efforts of Sardar Patel, Harekrushna Mahatab and V. P. Menon had made possible the merger of the Garajat states with Odisha. On 23 December 1947, as per the ‘Extra Provincial Jurisdiction Act,’ the administration of the Garajat states was transferred to the hands of Government of Odisha. It became operational on 1 January 1948. However, it is to be borne in mind that when the Garajat states merger conference was summoned in Cuttack, the leaders of the Prajamandal movement were not invited. Apprehending trouble and confusion, Mahatab deliberately did not call them. After the merger of the Garajat states Mahatab appointed Kapileswar Nanda of Bolangir, Kailash Chandra Mohanty of Nilgiri and Pabitra Mohan Pradhan of Talcher as ‘advisors’ with the rank of Ministers. Indeed, largely through the efforts of Harekrushna Mahatab 24, A B, and C category Garajat states merged with Odisha. Mayurbhanj was the only Garajat state that merged with India on 16 October 1948 but in 1949 the central Government handed the state to the Government of Odisha. Tragically though, Sareikela and Kharasuna remained detached from Odisha forever.

Rebellion in Sareikela Kharasuan

Though Mayurbhanj merged with Odisha, the twin Garajat states of Sareikela and Kharasuan were merged with Bihar. This resulted in the outbreak of rebellion in these two states. Brutalforce was used to crush the rebellion. For ever, these two states had to stay away from Odisha. The people’s desire of merging with Odisha remained a distant dream due to Sardar Patel’s policy of ‘blood and iron’. He wanted these two states to remain in Bihar.

Results of Garajat merger

The consequences of the merger of the Garajat states were many. Primarily, by merging with Odisha, the kings and people the Garajat states could feel the sweet taste of independence.

Second, by becoming a part of democracy, the people and the kings of native states gradually got acquainted with a new form of government and its working’ process.

Third, the fire of the accumulated anger of the people of these areas was finally extinguished after the total merger of the Garajat states with Odisha.

Finally, with the intervention of the Government of Odisha, the huge deposit of mineral resources in these Garajat area, were now beneficially utilised by the state.

Final Line to Say

A new chapter was opened in the history of Modern Odisha after the merger of the native princely states with Odisha. After being oppressed by monarchical tyranny for generations, the ‘Prajas’ or people could get happiness and independence. The barrier between the ruler and the ruled was broken forever into pieces. The merger of the Princely staes with Odisha became possible due to the earnest effort of Harekrushna Mahatab and the help provided by Sardar Patel and V.P. Menon from the Central Government of India.