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DEMAND FOR KOSHAL STATE GAINS MOMENTUM IN ORISSA
By Dr Bhabani Dikshit
 

Cutting across political barriers leaders of all political hues are seen lending their wholehearted support to the formation of a new Koshal state comprising of backward districts of western Orissa. Since independence, the tribal – dominated hinterland of Orissa has remained neglected, inspite of its vast mineral and forest resources.
The first hydel project of independent India, the Hirakud Dam was constructed near Sambalpur as a model of multi-purpose development project, but the manner in which the dam was built has caused widespread resentment among the local inhabitants as it entailed large scale evacuation affecting thousands of families. The people who were uprooted were treated as animals and were forcibly evacuated without paying them their rightful compensation.
The construction of the dam was meant to generate electricity, supply water for irrigation, and control floods. Though irrigation and electricity are two main benefits that flowed from the dam, it was perceived by the people of western Orissa that the project was aimed mainly at controlling floods in the coastal areas of Orissa. Hence, the seed of discontent between the people of western Orissa and the leaders of Orissa who mainly belonged to the eastern part, grew day by day. The belief that the dam is not in the interest of the people of west Orissa, keeps simmering all along in their minds even today. It is known to everybody that thousands of acres of fertile land was drowned during the construction of the dam in the western part of the state.
The people of western Orissa, due to economic exploitation and injustice meted out to them, are forcing their leaders to plead for bifurcation of the state and formation of a new tribal-dominated state like Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. In almost all the districts of west Orissa, one finds popular upsurge among the people towards formation of Koshal under the banner of Koshali Ekta Manch, Koshal Party, Orissa Sanskrutika Samaj, Koshal Rajya Sangharsha Samiti, Hirakhanda Mukti Morcha, Koshal Mukti Morcha, Veer Surendra Sai Manch and All Koshal Students Union.
Sensing the mood of the people, former Prime Minister P.V.Narasimha Rao had announced during an election meeting in 1995 at Bargarh that a Western Orissa Development Council (WODC) would be formed which did not take shape for a long time. During J. B. Patnaik's tenure as Chief Minister, the government officially announced the formation of the WODC. But it was Giridhar Gamang's government that constituted the long-awaited WODC under the chairmanship of Narasingha Mishra.
But when Naveen Patnaik became the Chief Minister, he dismantled the WODC at the first instance and took a very long time in its reconstitution. To the surprise of all, he discovered virtue in Ainthu Sahoo, who was in political wilderness for the last so many years, by making him the chairman of the council while keeping out many of his close and potential confidants from the race. Announcement of the new chairman's name for the WODC has also caused expected heartburning and bickering among the BJD and BJP hopefuls belonging to west Orissa. Though revised, the WODC document, by and large has been rejected by the people of the region on the ground that it was not an autonomous body and lacked a true representative character.
As the WODC is a nominated body, it is bound to remain a wing of the government machinery like a puppet at its command. Hence, the leaders of a separate Koshal movement have rejected the WODC outright. On the other, they prefer to concentrate more on mass movements involving participation of more people for the creation of the new state of Koshal.
Sandwiched between the two newly created states of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, this proposed Koshal region craves for liberation from the clutches of exploitation and injustice within the framework of the Constitution of India, so that its vast tribal populace no longer faces discrimination and step-motherly treatment at the hands of the so-called political lords of coastal Orissa. Poverty, backwardness unemployment, migration and discrimination are the main grounds for demanding statehood.
Though major industries are located in this region, the benefits arising out of these are snatched away. The youths do not find any opportunity in terms of employment in these projects. The frustration among youth in these regions is coming to the forefront. They are much more assertive today, to the extent of calling vehemently for bifurcation of the state original for the last one decade and more, Orissa Day, which is the ceremonial day to observe formation of Orissa as a state, is boycotted in most part of west Orissa on April 1 and observed as a Black Day a as mark of protest.
It is significant that the Sambalpur Municipal Council and the District Bar Association, Sambalpur, have passed unanimous resolutions for the formation of Koshal state a few months ago. The recent bandhs observed in Sambalpur, Jharsuguda, Brajarajnagar, Kuchinda and many other places are eye-opening events that symbolize public support for the cause of Koshal.
As it seems there is growing solidarity among different factions in the Koshal movement. A large number of municipalities, panchayats, and gram sabhas of west Orissa have passed unanimous resolutions by demanding a Koshal state, thereby lending legitimacy to the ongoing movement. But it is unfortunate that the media at the national level is not taking cognizance of such a popular upsurge, as the mainstream news-flow originates from Bhubaneswar – the bastion of coastal Orissa. Suppression of news not only strangulates free flow of information but also lowers the standards and ethics of journalism.
Bhagabata Nanda, a leading intellectual spearheading the movement, while talking to this writer, said that as the movement was a product of the people, its outcome was bound to be successful as it happened in the case of Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand and Jharkhand. Whenever there has been a struggle against oppression and exploitation, the sufferers have won in the end. This is the lesson of history that we have learnt, he says.
It is remarkable that a large number of people of western Orissa have enlisted their mother tongue as Koshali-speaking or Sambalpuri-speaking in the last census enumeration to the utter shock of many pan-Oriya nationalists of Orissa.
Last month during the Assembly session, due to utterances of a west Orissa BJP legislator, Balgopal Mishra, there was an uproar inside the House. Minister for Finance Ramakrushna Patnaik snubbed his BJP ally-member Mishra by branding him as a traitor and a mad person, which sparked off huge protests in the whole of western Orissa. On the Balgopal issue, there has been conflicting opinions. Many important leaders belonging to both the BJP and the BJD disapprove of his stand on Koshal, but interestingly the state leadership of BJP is unable to take any action against him as the party has many stakes in western Orissa in terms of vote bank that it does not want to sacrifice at any cost.
Presently, the BJP leaders of Sambalpur region are openly challenging their state leadership on the question of Koshal. There is a clear-cut division in the Orissa unit of BJP on this question of. The ruling BJD also is in a quandary on the ticklish issue of Koshal. The majority of rank and file of the Congress party of western Orissa also has come out openly in favour of a Koshal state by participating actively in the protest rallies and bandhs in various towns and rural pockets.
Many Congressmen are eagerly waiting for the report of the Pranab Mukherjee Committee on the sensitive issue of creation of smaller states. It would be better for the congress party to take stock of the situation prevailing all over the country and go for legitimizing popular movements in favour of smaller states that is going on in areas of Koshal, Telangana and Vidarbha. ––CNF
 

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