Odisha Owes Gratitude To Madhu Babu For Its Statehood


When we were in London attending the Roundtable Conference, advocating for a separate Odisha state, our mentor and guide, Madhu Babu was fighting ill health. I remember spending considerable time with him, often educating myself with his progressive outlook towards state-nation building. He taught us to resist adopting ideologies that starkly divided the world into “we versus them” terms or choosing leaders who do so. 

His fight for Odisha’s statehood was based on rightful demands, befitting and well-prepared advocacy, mass outreach and movements, provision of alternative skills and ideas to the general population. If it was entrepreneurship, he led by example and so was his unique approach of utilising a leader’s skills to counter a foreign rule through fact-based arguments. 

As my revered senior in legal counsel, Madhu Babu remains a bright star, a sharp legal brain of India, never diluting meritocracy, even if he faced setbacks in any brief.

He was never a narrow provincialist and rather backed an administrative rehaul of India on the basis of language and culture. That was his pioneering contribution to the Indian political thought of the era. I recollect reading his column in The Oriya in 1918 under the caption ‘Orissa Inrridenta’. Madhusudan wrote.

“If the history of British administration of the Oriya speaking tracts comes to be written at any time by an American, his reflections on the dismemberment of a nation, of the pleasant associations of their mother tongue, the attempt to dry up the spring of national consciousness, which a nation’s mother tongue is, would be a valuable exposition of the extent to which the divide et impera policy dominated British administration in Orissa. The persistent refusal by the government to place Oriya-speaking tracts under one administration, and thus give the people opportunities for national growth under the impelling force of a national consciousness, at a time when Britain was fighting to secure small nations the right to shape their destiny and in the face of an admission in the report on constitutional reforms that ‘linguistic or racial units of the government afford additional facilities for the success of the reforms proposed,’ would furnish to the foreign historians material between truth taught and truth practiced.”

The magnanimous Madhu Babu could neither fathom nor accept the chicanery and duplicity of the rule swinging between the principles and practices of the British Government. All of us in Utkal Sammilani and otherwise, were inspired by the fearlessness of Madhu Babu and his  unassailable moral courage to relinquish personal fortunes in the quest of a separate state and the people’s welfare.

Madhu Babu was global in his outlook and in the late 19th and early 20th century, he rooted for industrial revolution in Orissa and India. Leading by example, he started his Orissa Art Wares and the Utkal Tannery on modern Western ideas. Here was the great nationalist, fighting for a separate state and at the same time planning for a complete socio-economic revival and movement for the state. He was a statesman without any weakness for self or position. A multi-faceted personality, he was a champion of all – the peasants, journalists, humanists and entrepreneurs and his brand of politics was ‘developmental’.

Another example of his deep seated propensity for public welfare through efficient statecraft is evinced in this move. Soon after taking the oath of office as a member of the Lieutenant Governor’s Council in Bengal, Madhu Babu embraced the cause of Orissa. He argued that while appointing Munsifs for Orissa, the Government should take into consideration the superior claims of candidates who had obtained their B.L. degrees from the Ravenshaw College, Cuttack and knew Oriya language. 

His nationalism was based on rational policy drives followed by real implementations. Madhu Babu himself being an extraordinary student, he always laid emphasis on education as the means to national character development. As an example, he argued in favour of imparting agricultural training to the students of primary schools by introducing Agriculture Primers. He championed for each school to have a small farm of its own where the children could make their experiments upon what they read about agriculture. Since a majority of the pupils came from farming families and became cultivators themselves afterwards, Madhu Babu’s suggestion appeared practical and convincing. The prevalent system of primary education was considered impractical and outdated by Madhu Babu. He wanted it to improve the conditions of the artisan and agricultural classes. “To attain this aim, the hand and the head must be trained together,” he had famously quipped.

It was not only about carving a new territory but empowering the state with all round capabilities is what he had already stood for. Madhu Babu was a visionary, a nationalist ahead of his times and a pragmatic reformer.

I would forever treasure my time and learning from him. He will continue to inspire generations as the father of Oriya Nationalism.

(Article curated by Charudutta Panigrahi)





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