Centre’s Refusal to Declare “Paika Bidroha” as First War of Independence a Betrayal to Odias

Bhubaneswar: The Union Government’s refusal to accord Paika Bidroha or Paika Rebellion as the country’s first War of Independence is an insult to Odia ethos and history. Union Culture Minister G Kishan Reddy’s reply in the Rajya Sabha that the rebellion led by freedom fighter Bakshi Jagabandhu against the British Raj cannot be called the first War of Independence, has shattered the hopes of millions of Odias across the globe. While the issue has hurt the people of Odisha, it has also uncovered the Bharatiya Janata Party’s betrayal of Odia aspirations. In the run up to the 2019 elections, Bharatiya Janata Party and its leaders used the sensitive issue to garner political mileage and today when the people of the state are asking the Union Government about the promises made, the red faced BJP has no answers. Like many issues, the Paika Rebellion was also a lollypop from the BJP towards the people of Odisha. Dharmendra Pradhan, the then Union Petroleum Minister walked an extra mile to woo the voters of the state. When it came to officially recognizing the Paika Rebellion as the first War of Independence of the country, the government backtracks and Dharmendra keeps silence over the matter. It’s a grave insult to Odia asmita.

Dharmendra stage managed a number of events before the 2019 elections such as felicitating the relatives of the freedom fighters, allocating a token amount in the Union Budget for celebration of 200 years of the rebellion, writing a letter to Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik for allocation of land for Paika Memorial etc. After elections, there has been a lull in its activities and the Center totally dashed off the hopes by totally denying recognizing the rebellion. This is another instance of the Bharatiya Janata Party when it betrayed the people of the state. It must answer to the people whom it cheated for voters.

When the then Finance Minister late Arun Jaitley in his budget speech in 2017, announced to commemorate the Paika Rebellion, it brought cheers among the people of Odisha. Further, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s felicitation of descendents of Paika Rebellion at the Raj Bhawan in Bhubaneswar in April 2017 had brought renewed hopes that the armed rebellion against the British would get its due recognition in the country’s history books.
Modi had said during the occasion, “It is my honour to see the descendants of martyrs. Unfortunately, the long years of freedom movement was confined in few persons and specific period. We should recall the events and contribution of everyone who participated in the freedom struggle”.

In the same year, the then Union Minister of Human Resource Development Prakash Javadekar also announced that Paika Bidroha will find a place as the “First War of Independence” against the British Rule in the history books. This brought great happiness to the people of Odisha that after long years of struggle, the Centre had agreed to the proposal of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik to declare the Paika Bidroha as the First War of Independence.
Paika Bidroha took place in 1817, which was India’s first organized armed rebellion against the British colonialism. This was the First War of Independence for India which was 40 years before the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny. This battle was fought under the leadership of Baxi Jagabandhu of Odisha. The legend of the heroics of Baxi Jagabandhu as well as the valiant Paikas of Odisha continues to inspire the four and half crore Odias since the last two centuries. It is time, that this struggle and sacrifice by a generation of Odia people got its due place in the annals of history. The Paika Bidroha led the path in energizing and mobilizing the people of India and created strong resistance against the British Raj, which ultimately led to the British having to leave India and India gaining its independence from foreign rule.

Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik-led Odisha Government had passed a resolution to declare Paika Bidroha as the First War of Independence. The Chief Minister requested the Centre to declare Paika Bidroha as the first War of Independence. The people of Odisha wholeheartedly supported this proposal and were overjoyed that finally the rich heritage and culture of the land of Paikas would be rightly recognised which it richly deserves.

The Odisha Government has also provided land for a ‘Paika Bidroha’ memorial on Barunei foothills on the outskirts of Khurda town. The Chief Minister had also raised the demand at the foundation stone laying ceremony for the Paika Rebellion memorial at Barunei by President Ram Nath Kovind on December 8, 2019.

Before that, on 20th July, 2017, a massive Bicentenary Celebration of the heroic Paika Bidroha was held at New Delhi which was inaugurated by the then President of India Pranab Mukherjee in the presence of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik. There also the demand for declaring the Paika Bidroha reverberated and echoed. People of Odisha across all walks of life were ecstatic and hopeful that Paika Bidroha would be declared as the first war of independence.

However, people of Odisha were anguished and pained when they recently came to know that the Centre had refused to declare Paika Bidroha also known as Paika Rebellion as the First War of Independence. While the Center needs to reconsider its decision not to recognize the Rebellion as the First one in India, the State Bharatiya Janata Party along its leaders also need to seek apologies from the people of Odisha.

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