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As BJP steals a march, Naveen wakes up to 200-yr-old Paika uprising against British

Odisha cabinet resolves to ask Centre to announce the uprising that took place 40 years before sepoy mutiny as India’s first war of independence.

india Updated: Jul 19, 2017 17:54 IST
Debabrata Mohanty
Debabrata Mohanty
Hindustan Times, Bhubaneswar
BJP,BJD,Narendra Modi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi felicitated descendants of Paika warriors from Odisha in Bhubaneswar on April 16.(PTI Photo)

Two hundred years after a group of farmer-warriors in Odisha known as Paikas fought the British, the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) is slugging it out with a resurgent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to appropriate the historic rebellion.

The BJP, which has put Odisha on its radar as one of the states on its must-win list in 2019, was the first off the blocks this year in acknowledging the rebellion. Prime Minister Narendra Modi felicitated descendants of the Paika warriors at Bhubaneswar in April.

A grander follow-up ceremony is scheduled at Vigyan Bhawan in Delhi on Thursday, where President Pranab Mukherjee will felicitate the descendants again.

Union minister of petroleum and natural gas, Dharmendra Pradhan, seen as the BJP’s chief minister aspirant in Odisha, is closely monitoring the Delhi event.

The Paika rebellion is a matter of pride for Odias and still resonates in the state. Realising its potential belatedly, chief minister Naveen Patnaik has jumped on the bandwagon and urged the Centre to declare the Paika uprising as India’s first war of independence.

The Odisha cabinet approved a proposal on Tuesday to petition the union culture ministry. Critics of the chief minister say it is a course correction on his part with electoral gains in mind. Till date, Patnaik’s ruling BJD focused largely on his father and former chief minister Biju Patnaik as the most iconic state personality.

The Paikas of Khurda district, around 25 km from Bhubaneswar, rebelled when the British snatched rent-free land the local king had given to their families. Led by Buxi Jagabandhu Bidyadhar Mahapatra in 1817, the Paikas burnt government buildings in the region.

The uprising lasting a year-and-a-half — and 40 years before the sepoy mutiny — remained a footnote in Indian history books till the BJP found a cause in the unsung rebellion.

By closely associating itself with the rebellion, the BJP plans to get a foothold in the perceived BJD fortresses of Khurda, Bhubaneswar and Puri, where the history of the rebellion is still a symbol of popular fight against oppressors.

Though historians say Patnaik’s move is a welcome step to grant the rebellion the place it deserves in history, BJP leaders allege that the state cabinet decision is a just ploy to hijack limelight from the felicitation programme in Delhi.

“The whole timing is suspicious. Why were they silent all these months? How many descendants of Paikas have they honoured? It’s very clear that Naveen Patnaik is only interested in playing politics over a symbol of pride of Odisha,” said BJP spokesperson Sajjan Sharma.

But BJD MP Pratap Deb said the cabinet resolution was “a natural follow-up” of Patnaik’s intent to give the Paika rebellion its true place in history. “He wants that the Paika rebellion should be there in all school textbooks as the first war of independence, as it predates the sepoy mutiny.”

The fight for the Paika pie ensued after Union finance minister Arun Jaitley announced, during his budget speech in February, Rs 600 crore funding for commemoration of the 200th year of the rebellion.

Soon after, Patnaik named the state’s rural and urban water supply scheme after Buxi Jagabandu Bidyadhar Mohapatra.

The latest fight over the Paika rebellion between the two parties comes barely weeks after BJP president Amit Shah’s whistle-stop tour through Odisha to build the party’s network of booth-level workers. Shah has promised that the BJP will win at least 120 of the 147 seats in the Odisha assembly polls in 2019.

First Published: Jul 19, 2017 17:50 IST