Nilakantha Das was a member of The Central Assembly from 1924-45 along with C.R. Das of Bengal. He was a part of pro-Changers among the revolutionaries who wanted to fight for freedom by joining the political process and taking route of legislature. Gandhiji was a no-changer, who boycotted the Central Assembly.
However, Nilakantha not the least bit abhorred Gandhi; the disagreement between them was healthy. He also participated in Gandhi’s famous Dandi March in 1930.In 1932; Pandit Nilakantha became President of the Odisha Congress. He was in jail for 18 months before getting elected for Central Assembly again and continued until India’s independence in 1947.
Gopabandhu and Nilakantha Das made themselves a formidable duo. When Gopabandhu was alive, no one could touch them. But After Utkalamani’s death, Nilakantha ‘s adversaries were creating persistent roadblocks on his political course, mainly the wily politician and ex Chief Minister of Odisha Dr. Harekrushna Mahatab. Not long before his death in January 1948, Mahatma Gandhi proposed Nilakantha’s name as a member of All India Congress Working Committee, a rare honor for an Odia.
But a cunning Harekrushna Mahatab scuttled it. The Crabby character of (KANKADA PRAKRUTI) of Odias is legendary. Like crabs they are the world champions in pulling legs of their own people who are perceived to be leading from the front. (The narrative goes thus: once a truck carrying baskets of crabs from different states of India overturned. All the crabs escaped from baskets sans one, the basket from Odisha which was found intact. No sooner an Odia crab tried to move out of the basket than the others pulled him down).
Another emotive incident was the death of UTKALA GAURABA (Pride of Odisha) Madhusudan Das vividly described by Pandit Nilakantha. Couple of days before he died KULA BRUDDHA (The Grand old man) inquired Braja Sundar Das sitting next to him ‘NILAKANTHA KAHIN (Where is Nilakantha) ?’ Braja Babu took a horse -driven carriage maneuvering fast inside Cuttack (the city wasn’t congested yet) and traced Nilakantha at his friend Chandra Sekhar Mishra’s place.
Nilakantha rushed to Madhu babu’s house and was saddened by the grand old man’s plight. The Pride of Odisha was in a pitiful state, suffering from Irritable bowel syndrome. Yet Madhubabu gathered enough strength to utter, ” I am passing the baton to Nilakantha. He is going to be the savior of Odisha. You gentleman should cooperate with him”. (Both Pandits – Gopabandhu Das and Nilakantha Das – were like the left and right hand of Madhu Babu. As Gopabandhu was already dead, it was but natural for Madhu Barrister to pass his baton to Nilakantha).
“Don’t worry. It won’t be needed. You are going to recover” – responded all present inside the room in chorus. “I don’t think so,” said Madhu babu, as he covered his head and went to sleep.
The next day Madhu babu was seen speaking in a feeble voice – “I am so delighted that the far flung territories of Paralakhemundi (now Gajapati district) and Jeypore (Koraput) are going to be part of Odisha. I am so glad it is happening”.
Madhubabu passed away the following day. To Nilakantha, it was like another shining star above Odisha’s sky grounded forever.
(This is the 13th in series of recapitulation in the writer’s own words portions of Pandit Nilakantha Das’s Biography in Odia.)
Sambeet Dash is an Odia technocrat living in Georgia US.