Royal Dynasties, Political Representation and Positive Discrimination: A Comparison of Two Constituencies in Northwestern Odisha

Date01 December 2018
AuthorMinaketan Bag,Uwe Skoda
Published date01 December 2018
Subject MatterSpecial Section on Dynasticism in Politics
Royal Dynasties, Political
Representation and Positive
Discrimination: A Comparison
of Two Constituencies in
Northwestern Odisha
Uwe Skoda1
Minaketan Bag2
The article based on longterm anthropological fieldwork in the area does not only look at Bamra as a
rather successful dynasty in Odishan politics but compares it with a neighbouring former princely state
of Bonai. While the former is now a general seat, the latter is a reserved constituency for Scheduled
Tribes (STs) effectively depriving the royal family of its passive voting rights. It is argued that positive
discrimination significantly shaped their electoral fortunes. It led in one case to a dynasty of princely
politicians, though they are increasingly competing with rising Other Backward Classes (OBCs) forming
their own, though still relatively shallow dynasties. However, a few kilometers away, arguably through
the shifting support of former royals in Bonai for several MLAs, no other, potentially competing
political dynasty has emerged, while relatively lower STs are also claiming political representation in a
competitive field, in which royal influence is still relevant.
Royalty, dynasty, Odisha, positive discrimination, elections, political representation
In November 2016, a statue of Raja Basudeb Sudhal Deb (1851–1903), rajasahib of the former princely
state of Bamra (now Deogarh District), standing in royal attire, including achgang and turban, was
unveiled in Odisha’s capital, Bhubaneswar. The event brought together former royal families from all
over Odisha, locals from Bamra and the press—clearly a matter of prestige and a photo op for those
assembled, since an illustrious ancestor and somebody from Bamra, or more broadly western Odisha,
Studies in Indian Politics
6(2) 225–246
© 2018 Lokniti, Centre for the
Study of Developing Societies
SAGE Publications
DOI: 10.1177/2321023018797454
1 Department of Global Studies, Aarhus University, Denmark.
2 Model Degree College, Sonepur, Odisha, India.
Corresponding author:
Uwe Skoda, Department of Global Studies, Aarhus University, 8000 Aarhus C, Denmark.
226 Studies in Indian Politics 6(2)
was being honoured in this way. It was remarkable for several reasons. First, Bhubaneswar’s busy A. G.
Square had been selected as a prime location at the centre of the planned city. Situated here, the statue
could hardly be overlooked in the capital, though it had to share this space with other dignitaries,
especially the national icon Bhimrao Ambedkar, which was placed even more prominently, right in the
middle of the square. Secondly, it was the first statue of a former ruler or ‘prince’ from the colonial era
in the capital, which otherwise has a wide range of statues of national and regional leaders.3
To explain this special memorialization, two leaflets were circulated showering praise on Basudeb
Sudhal Deb as the first raja to be given this honour. One, entitled ‘Raja Sir Basudeb Sudhaldeb, the
Valuable Wealth of Odias’, highlighted his role in the Odia nationalist movement, which led to the
creation of a separate province in 1936 (though without the princely states). Firmly locating Basudeb
Sudhal Deb in the mainstream Odia political tradition, he was eulogized for contributing to the unification
of Odia-speaking areas, especially before the historic ‘Utkal Conference’.4 Another leaflet presented the
raja as ‘an excellent architect of Odia literature’, not only as a poet himself—a common skill of the ideal
raja—but as somebody preserving and expanding a brahmanical legacy.5 Moreover, he was praised for
introducing various innovations, such as funding newspapers, establishing a press, constructing railways
and supporting social issues like widow-remarriage or the abolition of child marriage. This characterization
of a progressive, future-oriented ruler—quite the opposite of the cliché of the decadent and extravagant
‘prince’—echoed the words of his own son, who saw him as ‘the great improvement-maker king of
Bamra’, because ‘[a]ll the improvements of Bamra have been made by his directives’.6 He was portrayed
as a liberal and tolerant ruler combining the old and new, as also expressed by his two titles used in the
text, namely the traditional ‘Raja’ and the supposedly more modern ‘Sir’, the latter a title conferred on
him by the British. Summing up, the text declared: ‘[h]is life was the mixture of conservativeness of
old and development of new’—an ideal raja.7
3 To our knowledge, two other ‘royals’ have been honoured in this way, namely Maharaja Krishna Chandra Gajapathi Narayana
Deo as the first prime minister of Orissa (classified as a zamindar under colonial rule), just opposite the new statue, and R. N. Singh
Deo, Maharaja of Patna and chief minister (CM) of Orissa from 1967 to 1971.
4 Written by Durga Prasad Dwivedi, the leaflet describes Raja Basudeb Sudhal Deb’s contribution to this conference. Organized in
1903 by famous Odia nationalists like Madhusudan Das, the ‘Utkal Conference’ is considered a crucial milestone in the emergence
of the province. It was supposed to be presided over by Basudeb Sudhal Deb, the ‘invaluable national treasure’, who, however,
passed away suddenly just a few days before the conference was held. Basudeb Sudhal Deb was also linked to Nilamani Bidyaratna,
who worked for the influential journal Sambalpur Hiteisini, published under the raja’s patronage. Moreover, upon leaving the
journal, Nilamani organized the Ganjam Conference to ‘liberate’ the Odia-speaking Ganjam region from the Madras Presidency.
This conference in turn served as a blueprint or mother of the historic ‘Utkal Conference’ that was organized in 1903. Later, in a
telegram, as the leaflet states, Madhusudan Das lamented the irretrievable loss of the ‘invaluable national treasure’ that was the
raja. Thus, the latter is firmly tied to the history of a predominantly coastal Odia nationalism and is still lauded for his decisive
contributions, cut short only by his early demise.
5 For example, he is also credited with the first rhetorical book in the Odia language and with broadly dedicating his life to the
cause of the Odia language and literature. Thanks to his personal efforts, various texts were translated into Odia, including the first
Upanisad translation into the language.
6 Quotes from Sachidananda Granthabali 1955 (3rd ed.) by Royal Poet Sachidananda Tribhubana Deb. (Sachidananda Vansabali),
Published by Srimati Queen Dambrudhar Priya Devi Rajapitamahi, Manmohan Press, Cuttack. The full passage reads: Basudeb
Sudhal Deb ‘may be called the great king of Bamra who had made such improvements. He may be called as the great improvement
maker king of Bamra. … All the improvements of Bamra have been made by his directives and it is his own works.’
7 In terms of religion, he is believed to have read sacred books across religions, while not hesitating to stress their weaker points.
Subsequently, another great Odia writer, Fakirmohan, is quoted as lamenting:
Oh Sudhal Maharaja, I respect you; Hiteisini is propagating your fame
Mugalbandi and Chhattisgarh are far different; you have made both of them one.

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