Op-Ed: Having made his point, Sushant Singh unlikely to pursue his demand

By Sandeep Sahu

Labour minister Sushant Singh has set the cat among the pigeons. In seeking the replacement of the word ”Utkala’ with ‘Odisha’ in ‘Bande Utkala Janani’, the ‘unofficial’ state anthem, he has also embarrassed his own government. The (non) reaction of Culture minister Ashok Panda provided ample proof of how much discomfiture the minister’s uncalled for comment has caused to the government and the BJD.

Already under fire for its failure to accord formal status as state anthem to the song despite a decision in this regard since 2006, the state government and the ruling party could have done without the uproar over ”Utkala’ in the state anthem. The development came at a particularly inopportune time for the government: just when it thought it had put the controversy over its failure to ensure state anthem status for Banded Utkala Janani behind with the revelation that the Centre had rejected its plea on the ground that there was no provision for a state anthem in the Constitution. It will be a surprise if Singh doesn’t get reprimanded by the Chief Minister for his indiscretion. And the minister couldn’t have been so naive as not to know the consequences of such a demand. But he has obviously done his cost-benefit analysis and decided that it would, in the long term, enhance his political credentials as someone whose heart beats for western Odisha. He was clearly addressing his constituency – and not just Bhatli or even Bargarh district – rather than raising the demand with any conviction that it would be conceded.

The lawmaker from Bhatli has invoked ‘sentiments’ in western Odisha to justify his call for the replacement. But one fails to understand how ‘sentiments’ in western Odisha will accept Odisha, but not Utkala. He hasn’t bothered to explain what is it about ”Utkala’ that is so unwelcome for the people in western Odisha. But since he has made a reference to the demand for a separate Koshal state to make his point, here is a question for him. Where is the guarantee that the proponents of the demand for a separate state would give up their demand if ”Utkala’ is substituted with Odisha in the state anthem? To the best of my knowledge, the use of ”Utkala’ in Kantakabi’s immortal creation or, for that matter, its singing in the public is one of the grounds that have propelled the demand. If Koshal has to happen, it would happen irrespective of whether it’s ‘Utkala’ or ‘Odisha’ in the state anthem. Though the leading lights of the agitation for a separate Koshal state haven’t reacted to the minister’s comment till the time of writing this blog, it would be interesting to hear what they have to say on the issue.

Several people, including the President of the Utkala Sammilani, have rightly pointed out the grotesque nature of the minister’s demand by urging him to first ask the Union government to replace ‘Utkala’ in ‘Jana Gana Mana’, the national anthem penned by Rabindranath Tagore. But having earned his political brownie point, I doubt if the minister would pursue his demand any further.

As a responsible member of the council of ministers and a senior member of a mainstream political party committed to the territorial integrity of the state, it goes without saying that the minister should have refrained from making a comment that is designed to deepen the political, social and cultural fissures that already exist between coastal and western Odisha. But it seems it is too much to expect a politician to rise above petty and narrow political consideration in the larger interest of the state.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same).