The Prajamandal Movement

During the British rule, the princely or the native states of Odisha enjoyed sovereign power. Gradually, the kings of these areas became repressive. Exploitation and repression became a characteristic feature of all native states. The people were exploited through several means of taxation like ‘Rasad’, ‘Magan’, ‘Bethi’ and ‘Begari’. Finally, when exploitation of the people became unbearable, they were captivated by a burning desire to revolt. Their accumulated hatred and anger against the ruling princes were manifested in the Prajamandal movement.

Appearance of Native states

During the Gajapati rule in Odisha, the hereditary feudatory kings ruling in the hilly tracts of Odisha had been enjoying internal sovereignty of power since the days of the Mughals. But in the areas occupied by the Mughals known as the Mughalbandi kingdom, the Mughal administrative system was in operation. The kings of these mountainous states or the ‘Garajat’ states paid taxes and homage to the Mughals. When the Maratthas occupied Odisha, the kings of these Garajat areas paid tribute to the Maratthas in exchange for retaining their internal sovereignty. The system was perpetuated when the British captured Odisha, that is the Garajat princes paid taxes to the British while retaining their sovereign internal power. In 1936 the new Odisha province was created and in the same year the Eastern States Agency was divided into three sections. In the Odisha State Agency, of the 26 Garajat regions under the Odisha division, 23 were retained in Odisha of the remaining 3, Mayurbhanj stayed in the Bengal Agency whereas Kalahandi and Patna were retained under the Chattisgarh Agency. In 1937, in accordance with the importance of these native states, they were divided into A, Band C sections.

In the ‘A’ category were states like Dhenkanal, Keonjhar, Mayurbhanj, Bamanda, Boudh, Gangapur, Patna, Kalahandi, Sonepur, Sareikala and Nayagarh- a total of 11 states. To the ‘B’ category were included states like Athagarh, Baramba, Narsinghpur, Athamallik, Hmdol, Daspalla, Khandapara, Kharasuan, Rairakhol, Talcher, Bolangir, and Nilgiri a total of 12 states. The ‘C’ category comprised of Pallahara, Ranpur and Tigiria a total of 3 states. Prior to the Prajamandal movement the whole lot of these Garajat states paid taxes to the British and were loyal to them. In return the British allowed them to enjoy internal sovereignty.

Causes of the Prajamandal Rebellion

The following causes were responsible for the rebellion in the Garjat states of Odisha:

1. Economic Exploitation of the Garajat rulers: The kings of these Garajat states led a life of extreme luxury and pomp. Hence huge amount of money was essential to cater to their needs. All the amount was extracted by the king’s officers from the people. The people’s condition gradually became more and more miserable When their economic backbone was broken and they could endure no more, the people took to revolt against such atrocities.

2. Oppression of the Kings: Apart from the regular taxes, the kings extracted money and services from the people through various dubious means. Among such taxes were Bethi, Begari, Magana, Rasad, Bheti and Karasamagri. ‘Bethi’ was applied for palace construction or garden beautification without paying any wages to the workers. To carry goods and domestic articles of royal officers from one place to another, free of cost, was known as ‘Begari’. When there was either a wedding or a death in the royal family or even when the king purchased a new car, the people had to pay either in cash or in kind and this was known as ‘Magana’, When the king’s officers toured village areas and put up camps at different places, their food and comforts were to be provided by the ‘Praja’ or the people and this was known as ‘Rasad’. ‘Bheti’ was the gift which was bound to be offered by the people to the king when the king gave them audience. The king was to be provided with rice, pulses, cereals and ghee at half the market price and this was known as Karasamagri. The people had to endure such tyrannical whims of the king. In future, however, they became the means to incite the people to revolt and thus paved the way for the Prajamandal movement .

3. Frequent tax increase: The other factor leading to the movement was frequent tax increase. Even after exploiting the people in various ways, the kings did not rescind from resorting to frequent tax increase. The people‟s life became a burden to them and they were forced to raise revolt against the feudatory chiefs.

First Phase of the Prajamandal Movement

Between 1908 and 1928, five peasant rebellions were witnessed in Bamanda. They resented the unjust tax increase. When a few leaders were imprisoned the rebellion subsided. In Dhenkanal a peoples rebellion broke out in 1922 under the leadership of Maheswar Subahu Singh, Purna Chandra Mohapatra and Benudhar Panda. Peoples movements were witnessed in Nilgiri in 1928, in Boudh in 1930 and in Talcher in 1932. All the rebellions were suppressed ruthlessly.

Conference of the People of Garajat states of Odisha

To give a proper direction to the Prajamandal movement, for the first time on 20 June 1931, the ‘Orissa Garajat state people’s Association’ was convened at Cuttack. Its first session was presided over by Bhubanananda Das. The conference gave a call to the subject people to establish their rights through rebellion. After this, on 23-24 June 1937, the second session of the conference was presided over by a senior leader of the Congress, Pattabhi Sitararnmayya. The conference adopted a resolution for the abolition of Begari, Magana, Rasad, Bheti. Hereafter, an enquiry committee was set up under Satish Chandra Bose, Balwantrai Mehta, Braja Sunder Das and Sarangadhar Das. The committee was sympathetic to the cause of the ‘Prajas’ and it supported their demands. This gave a new momentum to the Prajamandal movement.

Prajamandal Movement in different places of Odisha

Odisha witnessed a number of Prajamandal movements in different parts of the state which are given bellow.

Prajamandal movement at Nilgiri

The 1938 Prajamandal movement at Nilgiri is a very special event in the history of Odisha. Under the initiative of Harakrushna Mahtab and Sarangdhar Das a ‘Prajamandal’ as formed at Gariamal. Its president was Kailash Chandra Mohanty and the secretary was Banamali Das. On 11 July 1938, that is on the day of the Rath Yatra (car festival) they addressed a huge gathering and made pointed references to the misrule of the king. Their demands included the formulation of a new agricultural policy, to stop paying unjustified taxes and for evolving welfare administrative system. However, the people were advised to achieve their aims through nonviolent means. By the king’s order 120 people were arrested of whom 50 were fined Rs. 50 each and the rest were put in jail. When Banarnali Das was marching towards Machhuapatna leading 5000 people, to start peaceful satyagraha, the king sought help from the Odisha police. Finally, through the intervention of the Political Agent Major Bezelgate, Harekrushna Mahatab and the Balasore magistrate Sulaiman, the rebellion came to an end. The people’s demands were conceded by the king to a very large degree.

Dhenkanal Prajamandal movement

The ‘Praja of Dhenkanal started a rebellion against the payment of Bethi, Magana, Rasad and Sunia Bheti. The objectives of the Prajamandal were printed in pamphlets were circulated among the people. On 13 September 1938 despite police warning while Harekrushna Mahatab, Naba Krushna Chowdhury and Sarangdhar Das addressed a mammoth rally of more than 50,000 men,the state police and the British police resorted to lathi charge on the people. The Congress leadership nevertheless advised people not to get cowed down by such atrocities but to continue with the movement in a peaceful manner. Harmohan Patnaik was arrested and sent to Cuttack jail and houses of many of the Prajamandal leaders were burnt. A 12 year old boy Baji Rout was killed in police firing, but the people continued with the movement hoping to get justice. 29th October 1938 was celebrated as the ‘Garajat Day’. Finally in 1939, as per the report of the Central Police Bureau, the British government withdrew all powers of the king of Dhenkanal. The king’s powers were now vested in the hands of Khan Bahadur A. K. Khan. ‘Bethi’ was revoked, land tax was reduced from four annas to two annas and all arrested leaders were released.

Prajamandal movement in Talcher

The Prajamandal movement in Talcher assumed dangerous proportions. Extremely hateful and inhuman treatment like severe caning, spitting and urinating in peoples’ mouth, were meted out by the Talcher royal authorities. In 1939, under the leadership of the Talcher Prajamandal President Pabitra Mohan Pradhan, the people presented the king a petition of demands for stopping of such barbaric punishments and for the withdrawal of Magana, Rasad etc. The movement at Talcher was conducted by Krutibas Rath, Maguni Pradhan, Dasarathi Pani and others. The ‘Prajas’ or the people left Talcher and took refuge in the British ruled Anugul region. Many leaders of the Congress reached Anugul and the political agent Mr. Hessene and Harekrushna Mahatab signed a pact in 1939. This is famous as the Hessene-Mahatab Agreement. Gandhiji expressed his satisfaction over the agreement. The King had to accept most of the clauses of the agreement. Peace was restored at last and the people who fled Talcher returned home.

Prajamandal Movement in Gangapur

The Gangapur Prajamandal movement too assumed a terrified character. Upon the death of the king, the queen took charge of the administration into her hands. The ‘Praja’ of Gangapur mostly belonged to the Munda tribe and their leader was Nirmal Munda. He protested against tax increase, but his efforts were futile. Hence he incited the people not to pay taxes. The queen requested the assistant political agent Lt. Megar to arrest him. While having discussions with the people, the police misinterpreted the peoples’ language and their signs. It resulted in anunprovoked firing by the British on innocent people and many were killed and injured. Many denounced the British for having resorted to such barbaric acts. But even then the Queen of Gangapur showed no sympathy to the people.

Prajamandal Movement at Ranpur

The Ranpur Praarnandai movement was reflection of the all-Odisha peoples’ or ‘Praja’ dissatisfaction against their rules. The people demanded an end to misrule and tyranny and inaugurate an era of benevolent administration on 27 December 1939. The king imprisoned the rebels but there was a tremendous uproar for freeing the people. The king became panicky aid took shelter under the political agent Major Bezelgate. On 5 January 1939, a huge congregation moved towards the palace. Bezelgate too, moved with the police towards the palace. He was surounded by the people but he asked them to disperse and clear away from the path leading towards the palace. But the people paid no heed to his warning. Bezelgate opened fire and one ‘praja’ was killed in the firing. Suddenly the people became violent and Bezelgate was beaten mercilessly. Helpless, Bezelgate ran towards the house of a ‘praja’ to hide under a bullock cart. But under the direction of Raghunath Monanty and Dibakar Parida, he was dragged out and beaten severely. Bezelgate succumbed to his injuries. After this the British police started a ruthless repression and brought an end to the Ranpur Prajamandal movement. 26 people were tried. Raghunath Mohanty was hanged and Dibakar Parida was deported to the Andamans. Hereafter, the efforts of Harakrushna Mahatab and Professor N. G. Ranga were successful in finding a way to end the Prajamandal movements. The memories of the martyrs Raghu-Dibakar are still alive in the minds of Odias.

Prajamandal Movement in Nayagarh

Prajamandala was constituted in Nayagarh in June 1938 under the leadership of Narayan Nanda. A’ charter of demands was submitted to the ruling chief. It contained demands of civil liberties, abolition of feudal dues and people’s participation in a responsible government. The Prajamandal resolved to launch an agitation and carry it on till their demands were fulfilled. The Raja arrested the leaders. The people gathered in front of the palace demanding release of their leaders on December 30, 1938. The Raja had to release them. He further promised to fulfil their demands. In the meantime, he had sought the assistance of the Political Agent Major Bazelgette. The Agent came to his help but before he could deal with the situation he had to leave Nayagarh for Ranapur where the situation was more serious.

Prajamandal Movement Bonai

At Bonaigarh, the Prajamandal was formed in 1938. The praja raised voice against Bethi etc. and demanded withdrawal of such obnoxious taxes. They submitted a representation to the king. The king considered these demands and withdrew Bethi. But for the purpose of construction of roads and government buildings, he levied small taxes on the people. The people however, held a meeting and decided to disobey the orders of the king.

Prajamandal Movement Sonepur

The Sonepur State Prajamandal was formed in December 1938 under the presidentship of Bhimsen Bhoi. Its demands were almost the same as in the case of other States abolition of feudal dues, responsible government and agrarian legislation. The State Government arrested two leaders, namely Loknath Satpathy and Mohan Mishra while they presented the charter of demands. Bhimsen Bhoi and a few others were arrested when they made Satyagraha for release of the two leaders. Prajamandal was banned Dolamani Das was expelled from the State, his property was confiscated. In March 1939, Sri Mohan Mishra, Laxman Satpathy and Pitambar Bhoi wanted to meet the Resident who was coming to Sonepur. They were arrested on the way. There were strong protests against the arrest. People were detained in large number, trials were made, imprisonment and fines were imposed. The activities of the Prajamandal slowed down during the World War- 11. However, during the Quit India Movement, Rama Chandra Satpathy, Laxman Satpathy, Mohan Mishra, Chaturbhuja Mishra, Satyananda Hota, Dhanabanta Mallik, Nandalal Sethi, Damodar Rath and Dasrathi Rath etc. were detained for more than two years. A salient feature of the time was the participation of students in the activities of Prajamandala. Narasingha Prasad Nanda, a student of Ravenshaw College and Duryodhan Satpathy, Suresh Mishra, Satyanarayan Mishra etc. of Sonepur High School formed a Students’ Congress and organised a meeting under the Presidentship of Sri Laxman Satpathy. A mammoth meeting of Prajamandal was organised for three days in May 1946 at Bagchhera village under Sarangadhar Das. About forty thousand people participated in the meetings.

Prajamandal in Mayurbhanj

In 1940, the Prajamandal was formed in Mayurbhanj. Sarat Chandra Das was its president. To denigrate the Prajamandal in the eyes of the people, the king formed a parallel government organisation known as the Prajamangal and started delivering assistance to the people. But the Prajamandal slowly and steadily pursued the movement in a non-violent manner. On 16September 1947, it presented a charter of demands to the king Maharaja Pratap Chandra Bhanjadeo. The charter specifically demanded reforms in the administration. As a result, the king was forced to form a three-man cabinet which included Sarat Chandra Das. He became a constitutional monarch looking after the well being of the people. Though very late, the Mayurbhanj Prajamandal had achieved success beyond expectation.

Other places

The Prajamandal movement was witnessed in other parts of Odisha also. Notable among them were Khandapara, Patna, and Kalahandi. The people had become quite conscious about their rights. Through the Prajamandal by non-violent means they were successful in presenting their view point to their respective kings. Many leaders of congress addressed the ‘prajas’ and greatly helped them in activating their movement. It resulted in making the Prajamandal movement in Odisha successful to a very large degree.

Consequences of the Prajamandal movement

The results of the Prajamandal movement in Odisha were far-reaching.

1. It was successful in putting forth the demands of the people in a very forceful way. Killing of Bezelgate made the fact brutally clear. Hence the kings became tolerant towards the people to a certain degree.

2. In 1939 the Government of Odisha set up a State Enquiry Committee and came to know the reasons for the movement. It was evident that excessive oppression by the kings was the root cause of the movement.

3. The people realised that non-violence was the most effective weapon they possessed and they had a firm conviction that it was through this their demands could be fulfilled. Finally, the Prajamandal movement was a catalyst in accelerating the process of merger of the ‘garajat’ or The native, princely states.

4. The Prajamandal movement opened a new chapter in the history of Odisha. Tyrannised by the kings for generations, the people finally raised their voice against the institution of monarchy as a whole and were successful to a very large extent in achieving their deriands.

5. The Congress too rendered assistance to the people in this democratic campaign. The Prajamandal movement sounded the death-knell of monarchy in Odisha.