Elections for the Odisha Provincial Legislative Assembly were held in the post-war scenario, with the congress winning a majority. On 3 April 1946, Harekrushna Mahatab was appointed Prime Minister. That year, the Cabinet Mission visited India, and Mahatab assured them that he would bring the issue of the merger of the ‘garajat’ states with the new Odisha province to their attention. Following India’s independence, Nilgiri was the first Garajat state in Odisha to hear revolting sounds. The authorities were compelled to merge Nilgiri with Odisha. Following that, Iron Man Sardar Patel and Harekrushna Mahatab made a concerted effort to end the indigenous princely states’ autonomy. These states were later absorbed into Odisha.
Commencement of the merger
In this regard, Harekrushna Mahatab initiated the process of integrating all indigenous states into the Odisha administration by presenting this demand to the Cabinet Mission. On 16 October 1947, he convened a meeting in Sambalpur of all the princely states’ kings. He attempted to persuade them that it was critical for the maintenance of peace, discipline, law, and order that all these indigenous states merged with Odisha. However, this meeting did not produce very positive outcomes. The kings of the indigenous provinces countered that yielding to Mahatab’s demand meant relinquishing all privileges they had enjoyed for generations. They conveniently ignored the implications of recent Prajamandal movements and tended to ignore the possibility of its future shape. Mahatab, on the other hand, felt completely discouraged for the time being.
Conference on Prajamandal in Cuttack
On the eve of independence, 10 August 1947, the Prajamandal convened a conference. This meeting was attended by the people of Chhatisgarh and the other Odia native states. This conference played a significant role in India’s struggle for independence. The people expressed unequivocally their desire to join Odisha, and the proposal was formally accepted at this conference. However, the people’s decision at this conference fell on deaf ears with the concerned kings of the indigenous states. However, in the future, the kings were forced to bear the consequences. Rajendra Narayan Singh Deo, the king of Patna, attempted to sabotage Mahatab’s efforts to merge the native states with Odisha. R. N. Singh Deo was instrumental in establishing the Eastern Zone Native States Association, which encompassed the Garajat regions of Chhatisgarh and Odisha. It opened on 1 August 1947. This new body had its own police force, and if any sign of unrest occurred in any indigenous state, its police force was prepared to crush it. As a result, any possibility of the Garajat states merging with Odisha appeared remote at the time. This came as a rude awakening to Mahatab.
Merger of Nilgiri
Immediately following India’s independence, the situation in Nilgiri became extremely tense. To bolster his position, the king of Nilgiri attempted to befriend the tribal people. He even ordered the adivasis to fight non-adivasis with bows, arrows, and spears, as well as to burn and destroy their homes. The king believed that by committing such acts, he could terrorise the ‘prajas’ or people and compel them to seek his protection. He could then continue imposing his will on them as he had been. However, events transpired differently than he anticipated. The populace recognised the king’s deception and regrouped to revolt against him. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Odisha’s then-Prime Minister Harekrushna Mahatab. He immediately flew to Delhi and petitioned Home Minister Sardar Patel for permission to merge Nilgiri with Odisha. Permission was immediately granted. On 14 November, upon his return from Delhi, he dispatched the Magistrate of Balasore and Odisha’s Revenue Minister, Naba Krushna Chowdhury, with an armed police force to assume control of the Nilgiri state. The king of Nilgiri was defeated and, with no other option, surrendered his state to the Province of Odisha. Thus, Harekrushna Mahatab acted swiftly and with great alacrity to bring about the merger of Nilgiri and Odisha, capitalising on the rapidly spreading discontent and the resulting misrule.
Following that, a meeting was convened in the chambers of Mahatab, C. C. Desai, and B.D.S. Bedi on 20 November 1947. They unanimously supported the Garajat states being merged with Odisha. It was decided that the kings of all the Gadajat states would convene in the near future and advise on the merger of their respective states with Odisha. Sardar Patel proposed disbanding the Eastern Region Native States Association almost simultaneously in Delhi (Purbanchal Desiya Rajya Sangha). This was a significant boost for Harekrushna Mahatab. On his return, he became involved in shaping the Delhi discussions.
Conference in Cuttack
Mahatab convened a meeting at Cuttack on 24 December 1947 for the purpose of merging the Garajat States. He met personally with the kings of the Gadajat States classified as A, B, and C. He initiated discussions with the B and C category states and later invited the kings of the ‘A’ category states to participate. While advising the kings, there was also a subliminal warning that in an independent India, there would be no place for indigenous princely states. As a result, their union with Odisha was not only necessary, but also inevitable. The kings of the A category states opposed Sardar Patel’s proposals. Sardar Patel advised the kings once more before they left Cuttack for Bhubaneswar, that signing the agreement on the merger of their respective states would demonstrate their maturity. Sardar Patel was astute and well-versed in diplomacy. He waited patiently for an hour at the Cuttack railway station. Meanwhile, V. P. Menon had returned from collecting all the kings’ signatures. The king of Mayurbhanj, on the other hand, contended that he established a constitutional government that was later absorbed by Odisha. Following this, the process of merging the Garajat states with Odisha reached a conclusion.
Merger of the Garajat States
Sardar Patel, Harekrushna Mahatab, and V. P. Menon made it possible for the Garajat states to be merged with Odisha. On 23 December 1947, the Garajat states were transferred to the Government of Odisha under the ‘Extra Provincial Jurisdiction Act.’ It was commissioned on 1 January 1948. It is worth noting, however, that when the Garajat states merger conference was convened in Cuttack, the Prajamandal movement’s leaders were not invited. Mahatab purposefully avoided calling them, foreseeing trouble and confusion. Mahatab appointed Kapileswar Nanda of Bolangir, Kailash Chandra Mohanty of Nilgiri, and Pabitra Mohan Pradhan of Talcher as ‘advisors’ with the rank of Ministers following the merger of the Garajat states. Indeed, largely as a result of Harekrushna Mahatab’s efforts, Odisha absorbed 24 Garajat states classified as A, B, and C. Mayurbhanj was the only Garajat state to join India on 16 October 1948, but the central government transferred the state to Odisha in 1949. Unfortunately, Sareikela and Kharasuna remained permanently cut off from Odisha.
Sareikela Kharasuan Rebellion
While Mayurbhanj became a part of Odisha, the twin Garajat states of Sareikela and Kharasuan became part of Bihar. As a result, rebellion broke out in these two states. The rebellion was put down with brute force. These two states had to stay away from Odisha in perpetuity. Due to Sardar Patel’s policy of ‘blood and iron,’ the people’s desire to merge with Odisha remained a distant dream. He desired that these two states remain within Bihar.
Results of Garajat merger
The merger of the Garajat states had a slew of consequences. Primarily, by uniting with Odisha, the Garajat kings and people could taste the sweet taste of independence.
Second, by embracing democracy, the people and kings of indigenous states gradually became acquainted with a new form of government and its functioning.
Thirdly, the accumulated rage of the people of these areas was finally extinguished following the complete merger of the Garajat states with Odisha.
Finally, with the intervention of the Odisha government, the state was able to benefit from the vast deposit of mineral resources in the Garajat area.
The Last Line to Say
After the merger of the indigenous princely states with Odisha, a new chapter in the history of modern Odisha began. After generations of oppression at the hands of monarchical tyranny, the ‘Prajas’ or people could achieve happiness and independence. The barrier between ruler and ruled was irreversibly shattered. The merger of the Princely States with Odisha was made possible by Harekrushna Mahatab’s sincere efforts and the assistance of Sardar Patel and V.P. Menon of the Central Government of India.