President Ram Nath Kovind will visit Odisha’s Khordha district on September 27-28 to lay the foundation stone of a memorial dedicated to the 1817 Paika Rebellion against the British.
The BJP had been demanding that the state government identify land for the Paika memorial — a project planned and proposed by the central government. Earlier this month, the state government identified 10 acres for the memorial in Khordha.
Thanking the state government, Union minister Dharmendra Pradhan had said the memorial would be a “pilgrimage centre” for Odias.
Over the last two years, top BJP leaders have been paying homage to Paika Rebellion leader Bakshi Jagabandhu. “History is living inspiration,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said during an event to honour descendants of the Paika Rebellion in Bhubaneswar in 2017. “This capability, valour, sacrifice and meditation (of figures like Bakshi) should be learnt, understood and lived by future generations.”
Bakshi (Commander) Jagabandhu Bidyadhar Mahapatra Bhramaraber Ray was the military chief of the then Khordha Raja, who roused and led Paikas (peasant militia) and Kandhs (tribals) in a military attack on the British in 1817. He had lost his Rorang Garh estate due to procedural errors in revenue payment to the British. After seven years of evading arrest, in May 1825, he surrendered in Cuttack and was granted a pension till he died in 1829.
Historians since the nineteenth century have presented the Rebellion and its leader Jagabandhu through different lenses. Assigning Paika Rebellion the status of a “freedom movement”, historian B C Ray wrote in 1959 that “nowhere in India on the regional level, in the pre-nationalist age, a freedom movement was so carefully planned and so vigorously launched”.
Professor Chandi Nanda, who in 2017 co-edited a compendium on Paika Rebellion, explained the roots of this “valorising” narrative on Jagabandhu. “After independence, nationalist historians initially ignored Bakshi along with many regional rebels against the British. Regional sentiment and pride was thought to be retrograde at a time when a newly formed nation was to be united,” he said.”When history became a state sponsored project, another group of historians revived Bakshi Jagabandhu by emphasising his martial prowess and ability to lead a coalition of groups.”
However, Yamini Mubayi, in a 1998 research paper on the Rebellion, surmised Jagabandhu carried an “acknowledgement of British overlordship. (His protest was an) appeal to their sense of justice. (as) he was deprived of possessions and status.”
Regional historians such as Harekrushna Mahtab and S C De, writing in 1957, argued that Jagabandhu was a pragmatist who “knew that it was futile to try to dislodge the British. He took up arms to direct the attention of authorities to gross injustices they had perpetrated on a peaceful population”.
Colonial historians, like G Toynbee and W W Hunter, had tried to cast the Rebellion as a backlash against “foreigners” (Bengalis), who benefitted from the existing rules on land sales and litigation system changed after the Maratha conquest of ‘Orissa’.
Contesting that 1817 was more anti-Bengali than anti-colonial, Nanda said, “Bakshi also rose against the colonial power, attacking colonial symbols like government offices at Banpur, killing reportedly 100 people and looting (Rs 15,000) from the government treasury.”
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