My great-great grandfather, Rendo Majhi fought the British in 1853 before being imprisoned deceitfully in 1855. Few were aware about the legend of bravery exhibited by Rendo Majhi 160 years ago. The recognition brought his sacrifice back to prominence again,” Jogeswar Majhi, great-grandson of Odisha’s freedom fighter Rendo Majhi from Lubengarh, Kalahandi said today at Bhubaneswar at an event where his ancestor was felicitated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Majhi’s native Kalahandi, in modern India, has been infamous for ranking among the most backward and underdeveloped districts in the country, wracked by poverty and hunger, as part of the KBK (Koraput, Bolangir, Kalahandi) trio. Not anymore. As part of the Modi government’s larger plan, his ancestor and other marginalized and forgotten heroes who fought off British oppression, and their struggles, will be showcased prominently in virtual museums countrywide during the nation’s 75th year of freedom in 2022.
In an arched but scathing attack on the mainstream narrative celebrating mostly Nehruvian history and the contributions of that so called First Family of the Independence struggle, Mr Modi said: “Unfortunately, narratives of our great freedom struggle were restricted to a few families, few dynasties and few events in our country.” At Bhubaneswar’s Raj Bhawan, the PM was felicitating the descendants of 16 such fighters from Odisha associated with armed rebellions against British colonialism (the Paika rebellion of 1817), some of them drawn from tribal communities.
The freedom struggle, he emphasized, was in truth the untold and less told story of dozens of people’s movements countrywide against the British, outlining the resolve and the sacrifices of men, women and communities over 700-800-year period.
In tribal-rich Odisha, the BJP is preparing to make big inroads in the coming assembly elections, taking on many-term Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, son of veteran Biju Patnaik, and his BJD. Stating that tribals in several states had fought against British for over 100-200 years ago, Modi said their contribution was unparalleled. “The contribution of the tribals to Indian freedom struggle will therefore be showcased through a virtual museum in 50 prominent places.”
Ironically, modern Odisha’s own integration into Independent India and its growth story subsequently has been dominated by legends surrounding Biju Patnaik, often referred to as the father of modern Odisha, and his family. The PM’s scorching criticism, therefore, pertained as much to the Nehru family as it did to Biju Patnaik. “The new generation should know the sacrifices made by all sections society. In Odisha, many were hanged and hundreds spent their life in prison,” Modi pointed out.
This could be read as the BJP’s own version of subaltern studies in the narration of history (commonly seen as the history from below) which records the lesser known struggles and battles of ordinary people as opposed to the elitist narrative of history.
Dayananda Mohapatra, descendant of Jayee Rajguru, who led the Paika rebellion, Subhalaxmi Dei Mohapatra and Baxi Lalatendu Bidyadhar Mohapatra, successors of Baxi Jagabandhu, Lal Birendra Sai, descendant of Veer Surendra Sai, Mukunda Nayak, descendant of Saheed Laxman Nayak, Hajuri Bhimsen Khuntia, descendant of Chakhi Khuntia and Jageswar Majhi of Rendo Majhi were among those felicitated by Modi.