Dr. Harekrushna Mahatab fondly known as the ‘Lion of Orissa’, ‘Utkal Keshari’, by the people, was imbued with patriotism from his school days. A diplomat and a writer, the policies and decisions he made when he was serving as the Chief Minister of Odisha, directly contributed to creating Odisha as a self-sustaining and efficient state. Hence he is often credited to be the architect of modern Odisha.
Responding to call of Gandhi
Dr.Harekrushna Mahatab was born in small ‘vaishya’ family in Agarpada of Bhadrak district on November 21, 1899. When he was doing his BA in Ravenshaw College in 1921, he left college education halfway to participate in ‘Pada Yatra’, a freedom movement in Odisha, in response to a call from Mahatma Gandhi. Harekrushna then joined the Congress and was actively involved in politics, he soon became the President of Balasore district board in 1924 and remained in the post for a few years.
When Subhas Chandra Bose became the president of Congress, he was a member of working committee, the first person from Odisha. During this period, he was a part of multiple freedom struggle moments like Salt Satyagraha, but his participation in the “Quit India Movement” in 1942, led him being imprisoned from 1942 to 1945. Soon, after he was released from the prison, he became the first Chief minister of Odisha. He served from 1946 to 1950 and then from 1956-60 to stabilize the political unrest in the state. In 1950, he served as the cabinet minister of ‘Industry and Commerce’ under Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. He was later appointed to the prestigious post of Governor of Bombay in 1955, but he eventually left to become the Chief Minister of Orissa again.
Achievements as a Chief Minister
He orchestrated the amalgamation of the princely states of Odisha with the Indian Union. Nilgiri province in was the first one to get united, thereby showing a way for Vallabhai Patel to integrate the princely states. Major irrigation projects were constructed under his leadership, Hirakud dam came into reality because of his efforts. He even shifted the capital of Odisha from Cuttack to Bhubaneswar to help in completing the project. He was instrumental in the establishing the Utkal University in Bhubaneswar, High court of Orissa, Rourkela steel plant and Cuttack wireless station.
Literature and love of people
Harekrushna was a celebrated poet, writer and a philosopher. ‘Prajatantra,’ a weekly magazine was started by him in 1923, which is now one of most important daily newspapers in Odisha. He also started a magazine “Jhankar” in the Oriya language, and a children’s magazine called “Minabajar”. Harekrushna initiated the tradition of honoring the best in the field of literature, this is still continued today by Prajatantra.
Harekrushna Mahatab was an important figure in the Odisha’s political circuit for around five decades. For his contribution in the field of literature and politics, he was honored with doctorate degrees from the Andhra University, Utkal University and Sagar University. One would argue that, ‘perhaps the greatest of all his honors was the trust, recognition and the love he received from the people he served’.
Author: Sudharsan Vasudevan