The song ‘Bande Utkala Janani’ describes the land of Odisha as the ‘mother’ of her inhabitants and envisages a state that maintains her self-respect and dignity.
The demand to accord the historic Odia song Bande Utkala Janani (Hail Mother Odisha) the status of state anthem is getting louder in Odisha, while the number of voices supporting it is increasing day by day. A consistent rise in Odia pride—a strong sense of belongingness or feeling proud of being an Odia, among the general populace—in the recent years has no doubt given a major impetus to this demand.
Vociferous demands are pouring in from across the state to make Bande Utkala Janani, penned by eminent poet “Kantakabi” Laxmikanta Mohapatra in 1912 eulogizing “Mother Odisha”, as the official song of the state. The demand has been supported by almost everybody in the state cutting across party lines and all sections of society.
Everybody knows that Naveen Patnaik, who has been the Chief Minister of Odisha for 19 years now, cannot speak Odia, even a word of it, independent of a phonetic script written in Roman alphabets. But, ironically, Odia pride has risen phenomenally during his rule. Nobody knows whether it is because of him or despite him, but one factor is sure behind it: proliferation of social media.
The poem describes the land of Utkala, the historical name of Odisha, as the “mother” of her inhabitants and envisages a state that maintains her self-respect and dignity from a position of confidence and strength. It goes on to depict her natural beauty and charming surroundings as well as speaks highly about the valour of the sons of the soil. It also portrays the state’s high tradition of arts and crafts in the temples, its culture and literature and the peaceful social living there.
Notably, Odisha is the first province in India to be constituted on linguistic basis as far back as in 1936 by the then British rulers—exactly 11 years, 4 months and 14 days before the country got Independence. For the preceding quarter century, the Kantakabi’s poem had worked wonders in uniting Odias, fighting against the dominance of other language communities surrounding them and finally getting a separate state carved out for them.
In 1990, it was made compulsory to sing the patriotic song in chorus at the end of any Odisha Legislative Assembly session and in the beginning of prayers in state government schools in Odisha. Also, as per a government order, one has to stand up in respect when the song is played. Though the song has acquired de facto status of a state anthem, it is yet to be officially declared as one, giving rise to the popular demand.
To top it all, Odia was accorded the status of a “classical language” by the Central government in February 2014, fulfilling a long-standing demand of Odias. It became the sixth Indian language to get the prestigious tag after Sanskrit, Telugu, Tamil, Kannada and Malayalam. Odia is also billed as the first language from the Indo-Aryan linguistic group to get the status. All these developments have boosted Odia pride over the years.
People of the state as well as the Odias residing outside the state and the country have found an easy way in social media platforms to raise their voice in unison on the issue. These virtual platforms have become handy in getting connected especially with Odias scattered all over the world. Use of various popular social media platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, Instagram, etc has given people an opportunity to air their opinion boisterously.
Similarly, the long-drawn “Bhasha Andolan”, an aggregation of mass movements spontaneously run by a large number of organisations in different corners of the state seeking effective enforcement of use of Odia in all official as well as public communications, has also played its role in giving a major push to state anthem demand. The ongoing movement to establish an Odia university in the state has too added fuel to the sub-nationalistic fire.
With opposition parties lending their voice to the demand, the issue has become a hot political debate in the state. The Bharatiya Janata Party has raised its pitch against delay by the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) government in the state in proclaiming an official order in this regard. The main opposition party has got a befitting issue to target the Chief Minister for not being able to speak Odia even after holding the most powerful post in the state for so long.
BJP spokesperson Golak Mohapatra told this newspaper that the state government should immediately bring a gazette notification in this regard. “Naveen is constantly in power for past more than 18 years leading a regional party. Despite that, it is surprising he has done nothing to notify the state anthem. It shows his commitment towards Odisha. It’s sad and unfortunate since there have been consistent demands from various quarters for it,” he said.
Taking a cue from the BJP, Congress MLA Tara Prasad Bahinipati too targeted Patnaik, sarcastically stating that “it is futile to expect respect for Odia culture and tradition from a person who himself doesn’t know the language”. Bahinipati said that the Chief Minister should take immediate steps in this regard as he himself holds the “home” portfolio, otherwise people will show him his due position in the next polls.
The issue is also not without any dispute with none other than a minister suggesting “Utkala” with “Odisha” in the song. “Government should consider the sentiments of western Odisha residents and change the ‘Bande Utkala Janani’ to ‘Bande Odisha Janani’,” Labour and Energy Minister Sushant Singh said last month. However, he has been slammed almost by every quarter for “making an issue out of nothing”.
Differences cropped up even in the ruling BJD over the dispute with two senior leaders from western Odisha—Sambalpur MP Nagendra Pradhan and former Speaker Kishore Chandra Mohanty—opposing the minister’s statement. Pradhan curtly said, “Except for the man who has composed the song, no one has the right to change a single word of the poem.”
Going a step ahead, Mohanty said that there is no demand in western Odisha for replacement of the word “Utkala”. He also said whatever the minister said on the issue is his personal opinion and final decision will be taken by the state government. Joining the issue, BJD’s Cuttack MP Bhartruhari Mahatab also said, “We are already united culturally. The controversy should end immediately.”
Union Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan was also critical of the minister as well as the state government. “There is an attempt to create a controversy on every issue. The latest is whether it should be Odisha or Utkal,” he lamented. Accusing the BJD government of “emotionally manipulating such a sensitive issue to entice the western Odisha people,” another party leader, Samir Mohanty said that such a tactic would backfire.
On its part, the ruling BJD is assessing the mood of the people and waiting for the movement to peak. Party strategists are trying to find an opportune time to fulfil the demand so as to reap full political benefit out of it. Simultaneous parliamentary and Assembly elections are scheduled to be held early next year in the state. Hence, they are contemplating to bring legislation in this regard in the winter session of the Assembly in December, just before going to the polls.