Letters from a Province: Harekrushna Mahtab to Jawaharlal Nehru, 1947–1949

DOI10.1177/23210230211043018
Publication Date01 December 2021
AuthorRakesh Ankit
Date01 December 2021
SubjectArticles
Studies in Indian Politics
9(2) 208–220, 2021
© 2021 Lokniti, Centre for the
Study of Developing Societies
Reprints and permissions:
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DOI: 10.1177/23210230211043018
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Article
Corresponding author:
Rakesh Ankit, IRPH, Loughborough University, Leicestershire LE11 3TU, England, United Kingdom.
E-mail: rakeshankit@outlook.com
Letters from a Province:
Harekrushna Mahtab to
Jawaharlal Nehru, 1947–1949
Rakesh Ankit1
Abstract
On 1 November 1947, Harekrushna Mahtab, premier of Orissa, British/independent India’s youngest
province, wrote a letter to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. This was in reply to the first of Nehru’s
famous letters to the provincial chiefs. In it, Nehru had expressed his wish to read similarly from them
and Mahtab responded in kind. For the next 2 years, Mahtab wrote to Nehru, before leaving Orissa
to become a union minister. These letters, present among the Mahtab Papers (NMML, New Delhi),
provide an often-downplayed vantage of the province, to view the concerns of the nation contained in
Nehru’s letters. Where the latter were meant ‘to educate and exhort’, the former comprised a return
catalogue of official information, societal caution, and the Congress Party’s particularities.
Keywords
Province, Harekrushna Mahtab, Orissa, Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel, nation, ‘Congress System’
Introduction
Professor Biswamoy Pati (1955–2017), the late-leading historian of Orissa, has left behind a corpus of
writing, recovering that young province from the margins of modern Indian history. This collection is
held together by three strands, namely, those of that region’s presence in the ‘anti-colonial’ movement,
its subsequent interactions with the ‘Nehruvian nation-state’, and its contribution to the post-colonial
development ‘order’ (2012, p. 21). Dr Harekrushna Mahtab (1899–1987), the then-leading Congressman
in Orissa, at the centre of these concentric circles, similarly recalled that ‘from 1946 to 1950’, he focused
on three things: ‘a new capital at Bhubaneswar, the [princely] states’ merger [and] the building of the
Hirakud dam’ (Oral History Transcript 306, Harekrushna Mahtab, NMML, pp. 200–201). This regional
satrap was also rather regular among his provincial counterparts to correspond with Prime Minister
Jawaharlal Nehru, in a manner mirroring the latter’s recently re-celebrated letters for a nation
(Khosla, 2014). Mahtab’s letters provide the matter under focus in this article that enable another viewing
1 IRPH, Loughborough University, Leicestershire, England, United Kingdom.

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