Utkalamani Gopabandhu – The Gandhian who was a champion of Hindutva

    October 9 marks the birth anniversary of Utkalamani Gopabandhu Das. We all know Gopabandhu as a prominent freedom fighter and a rarest of the rare social reformer.

    His indomitable commitment towards the cause of social service and his unparalleled zeal to serve the nation had once “silenced” none other than Mahatma Gandhi. In his article titled My Orissa tour published in Navjivan newspaper, Gandhi wrote:

    “If the country has a hundred Gopabandu Das, we could attain Swaraj within a year.”

    Gopabandu had set gold standard of journalism. In 1919, he had established Odia newspaper Samaj, which is today standing tall as the largest Odia broadsheet. He used journalism as a vehicle to wake up the national spirit against the British Raj. Gopabandhu famously said: “Nationalism is our religion and God is present before us in the form our nation.”

    Gopabandhu was the president of Utkala Sammilani, the organisation which worked for the cause of liberating Odisha as a separate state on the basis of language.

    Gopabandhu was the first president of Odisha Pradesh Congress Committee. He was at the forefront of Non-Cooperation Movement called by Mahatma Gandhi.

    But there is a chapter missing from his life, which the so-called secular historiographers have tried to suppress. Gopabandhu was a champion of Hindutva and cultural nationalism. In fact, it was he who gave the most powerful definition of the word ‘Hindu’ in his poem:

    “Nija swartha lagi jata nuhen Hindu,

    Biswa hite Hindu prati rakta bindu”

    (A Hindu is not born for self interest. Every drop of his/ her blood is meant for the wellbeing of the humanity.)

    Utkalamani Gopabandhu Das was thoroughly influenced by prominent Hindu Mahasabha leader Lala Lajpat Rai. Following Lalaji’s visit to the state, Das established the Odisha unit Hindu Mahasabha in 1926.

    As the leader of Hindu Mahasabha, Gopabandhu advocated for organising Hindus on seminary lines. He justified the need for formation of Hindu defence squad. He established Goshala across Odisha for the protection of cows. He campaigned against cow slaughter emphasising that cow is invaluable for an agrarian country like India.

    Gopabandhu supported the Sudhi Movement meant for reconversion into Hindu fold. Further, he emphasised on bringing in reforms in oppressive traditions practised in Hindu society. He was a crusader against the evil practice of untouchability. On untouchability, Gopabandhu vociferously argued:

    “Hindu unnati (progress) is unthinkable without eradicating the menace of untouchability.”

    Similarly, Gopabandhu advocated for widow remarriage and argued against child marriage.

    As a real proponent of Hindutva, Gopabandhu was an ardent champion of plurality. When communal riots took place between the Hindus and the Muslims in Kolkata in 1926, this is how he had reacted.

    “Both the Hindus and the Muslims have religious differences. It is also natural that there would be some minor tension between the two. But there is a need for the spread of some other feelings, which would overcome the religious differences and lead the unity between the two. Like religion another dearest component of the society is motherland and its love. Love for one’s motherland is a very dear feeling for everybody. With the growth of this feeling religious differences would subside. Indian motherland is supreme. India’s national unity is impossible so long as love for the nation has not become one’s Dharma and service to the nation one’s main priority.”

    Gopabandhu described Hindus and Muslims as “two brothers” living in the country since millennia. He wrote: “They can’t be separated in the future as well.”

    Gopabandhu had asked the Muslims of Odisha “not to be scared” of the development in “their neighborhood” (Bengal) and urged them to be “careful” about a few “alien Muslims” who “misled them” and “brought disrespect to them.”

    His famous poem Bandira Atma Katha (The autobiography of a prisoner), which he wrote when he was locked in prison fighting with British celebrates the very spirit of multi-culturalism of India. In that poem he beautifully invoked Yudhistira, Akbar and Jesus. His moving words ‘Veda, Koran ku kara sama gyana’ (Treat the Vedas and Koran equally) are significant to the present day world marred by religious chauvinism.