Mahatma’s ‘Spirited’ Odisha Connect Yet To Translate Into Heritage Saga!

Gandhi knew the 'spirit' of Odisha. For which, within a year of taking reins of Congress, he visited Odisha. His Puri visit soon after launching Harijan movement, and asking Visvesvaraya to address flood ills, exemplify well his deep connection with this state of Kalinga and it’s people

Bhubaneswar: As a grateful nation celebrates the 150th birth anniversary of the ‘Mahatma’ Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi reverentially, the scintillating thought of the Father of the Nation – The soil of India has a spirit, which is responsible for synthesis of Indic culture- has immense relevance for Odisha.

The ‘spirit’ of Odisha soil had overwhelmed Gandhi, when at the call of the Mahatma to donate for Tilak Swaraj Fund, famine-hit people of Puri donated an anna (equivalent to 1 paisa then) in large numbers, and an over-awed Mahatma then said, “The famine-stricken skeletons of men and women of Odisha haunt me in my waking hours and in my dreams.”

The ‘spirit’ of Odisha soil that influenced the Mahatma in a big way during his epochal Harijan Padayatra from Puri in the summer of 1934 today lies in obscurity.

Despite having memorable associations with Gandhiji’s path-breaking movements, not a single place from this ‘spirited’ State Odisha has made it into Gandhi Heritage Sites.

At present Gandhi Heritage Mission has 39 core sites. And a master list of 2000 places was submitted to the Union Ministry of Culture in 2010 to be developed into a heritage site in future. But none of the places from the State found any mention in the 39 core sites. And it is for the Odisha government now to grab its historical
due or else the State will miss its slice of glory in the Indian Independence Movement.

Even as Mahatma Gandhi had visited Odisha as many as seven times during the period of 1921 -46, the Father of Nation’s Harijan Padayatra in 1934 and Cuttack tour in 1921 had been momentous ones.

A year after taking over leadership of Congress in 1920, Gandhiji visited Cuttack in 1921 which  reveals how much importance the Mahatma had for this land of Kalinga. The visit of Gandhi had been in the context of Khilafat movement, and he exhorted for the need of Hindu – Muslim unity at Kadam-e-Rasool Mosque here.

Also, the epochal slice of the visit was donating nearly 60-70 tolas of gold by women at a public meeting at Binod Behari in Cuttack on Mahatma’s appeal to sacrifice for the cause of Swaraj.

The tryst of Odisha with Mahatma’s historical movement happened in 1934, when post launching the movement against un-touchability from Wardha on November 1933, Gandhiji reached Puri in May 1934. This too-soon visit to Odisha again puts the glare on Odisha’s place of pride in Mahatma’s scheme of Swaraj or say Independent India.

The Father of the Nation launched a padayatra from Puri Singhdwar and trekked the historical Jagannath Sadak.  This slice of epochal chapter in country’s struggle for Independence and, also, against social evils lie in utter neglect. It seems the successive governments in the State had forgotten the gem of Gandhiji’s vision of Independent India. For which, none of these historical places could find mention in the mosaic of Gandhi Heritage sites.

Mahatma’s appeal to eminent engineer Bharat Ratna M Visvesvaraya to visit Odisha and suggest permanent flood control measures to State’s recurring flood woes tells about his connect with the state.

Years had elapsed. Pages of history had been turned over. The slogan of ‘Independent India’ has given way to ‘New India’. Alas, the age-old problems – floods and famine – still haunt the State.

Odisha’s real tribute to Mahatma on his 150th birth anniversary will be finding a solution to the ancient problems. After all, Gandhiji had said food is Swaraj for Odisha people!