Life History of Shri Biren Mitra

Orissa history is replete with post independent leaders each leaving a mark on the state with their style of functioning. Biren Mitra is one such person who rode like a colossus on state scene, which probably has no parallels in the post independence period.

Born:- 26th November 1917 at Katha gada Sahi, Cuttack 753001.
Death:- 25th May 1978 ( 60 years 5 months 29 days )
Fathers Name:- Late. Bipin Bihari Mitra
Married To:- Shrimati. Iswariamma Mitra,
Father of One Daughter and Two Sons:- Smt.Rani Mitra ( Daughter )
Late.Prem Mitra ( Elder Son )
Sri. Uttam Mitra ( Younger Son )
Education :- B.A., B.L ( Ravenshaw College, Cuttack )

Interested in philanthropic activities. An outstanding student leader. While leading medical students strike was imprisoned in the 1939. During ‘Quit India Movement’ in the year 1942, Biren Mitra was imprisoned in Berhampur Jail.

Played outstanding role in Peasant and Labour Movements. Opted ‘Inter-Caste’ marriage. Minister of Odisha 1961-1963, Chief Minister of Odisha from 1963 – 1964, Resigned from Chief Ministership in the year 1965. Elected to Orissa Legislative Assembly in 1952, 1957, 1961 and 1967 from Cuttack City (Cuttack) Constituency. Expired on 25.05.1978 at S.C.B.Medical College Hospital, Cuttack.

Orissa history is replete with post independent leaders each leaving a mark on the state with their style of functioning. Biren Mitra is one such person who rode like a colossus on state scene, which probably has no parallels in the post independence period. His inimitable style of functioning was different, for which he earned criticisms from colleagues and his political detractors. But nevertheless he believed in what he did – that was the good for the common masses.

Born in November 26th in the year of 1917 in a family of Zamindars, Biren Mitra received his early education in Pyari Mohan Academy School at Cuttack and later on in Ravenshaw College. He joined the S.F.I., the students wing of the Communist Party and was the founder of S.F.I. in Orissa. It was while in Ravenshaw College that he was spurred by the desire to join the freedom struggle.The earliest students unrest in Orissa dates back to his time when he had climbed atop the Ravenshaw College building in bringing down the Union Jack which flew over the College building and had his first brush with the batons of the British when the Jimmys’ fell on him.

A person who was ruled more by his heart rather than his head had spurned his father’s desire to follow his father’s profession as a lawyer. He had given up pursuing a career in law and was more engulfed in the freedom struggle. After passing out from Ravenshaw College he at his father’s behest went to study law at Calcutta where within six months of his studies was rusticated from the law college for his penchant for joining the freedom struggle. It would be pertinent to mention that Biren Mitra was thrown out of the house for his anti British activities. He lived rather he spent his days sleeping on the verandah of Town Hall in Cuttack and with no money to eat and struck a friendship with one Raju Sahu (who later was the owner of the famous Raj Mahal Hotel in Bhubaneswar) who led small sweetmeat stall near Town Hall used to give food to Biren Mitra during his days of his struggle with the British. With the campaign for ‘Zamindar Hatao Andolan’ he led the movement in the Cuttack District starting from his own Zamindari father right in his birth place to the umbrage of his father.

Biren Mitra joined the Quit India Movement in 1942 and was arrested with other leaders. For three long years he was in the British prisons and was later released in 1945. During the tour of Subhas Chandra Bose in Orissa, Biren Mitra headed the committee that oversaw Subhas tour of Orissa. While leading a student movement in Cuttack against the British rule he was confronted by Hargreaves a British S.P who had spread fear in the minds of the locals by his sheer presence. So great was the fear, it was said, shopkeepers downed their shutters while the pedestrian tried to avoid crossing his way. Biren Mitra while leading the students’ movement was stopped by Hargreaves at Gouri Shankar Park.

An altercation soon ensued with a verbal duel with Hargreaves, who was unaccustomed to such gumption on the part of a youth challenging him. Hriday Ballav Dey a police inspector of Lalbagh Police Station, the only Police Station then in Cuttack in 1942 happened to be a friend of Biren Mitra’s father.

Mr.Dey was greatly alarmed knowing Hargreaves ways, who would not flinch from shooting Biren Mitra then and there.In the amidst of the verbal duel with Biren Mitra, Hargreaves whipped up his revolver pointing the barrel on the forehead of Biren Mitra asked him to leave or he would shoot him down. Biren Mitra was certainly not in the least bothered whether Hargreaves would shoot him or not and replied to Hargreaves that there would be thousands of freedom fighters who would be outnumbered by the people who were prepared to sacrifice their lives for their country. He along with his agitationists were arrested. One comes across a mark on the forehead of Biren Mitra which remained indelible till he died. The mark was a result of police lathi struck violently on his forehead. While going along with other notable freedom fighters whose name cannot be mentioned due to reasons of propriety, shouting slogans of ‘Mahatma Gandhi ki Jai’ was lathi charged by the police to silence the protesters. All remained quite when the British police wielded their lathis on the agitationist, but Biren Mitra was the sole man in the procession who went on shouting slogans and when unable to silence him the police beat him up and he fell on the ground still shouting the slogans, when a lethal blow from a lathi silenced him rendering him to senseless. After his release from prison he came in contact with the doyen of Orissa politics Sri.Harekrushna Mahatab who was his mentor.

Under the leadership of Harekrushna Mahatab, the three stalwarts Biju Patnaik, Biren Mitra and Nilamani Routray had forged ahead in the game of power struggle and finally overthrew Mahatab and came in to power. They consisted the troika that was center of power, which was unleashed in the 60’s. And Orissa till today reverberates with the Biju-Biren Raj of the 60’s.

Biren Mitra’s communist background never left him, though being a Congressman, he was more of a trade union leader and headed many earst while unions of industries - Kalinga Tubes, OTM, Bhagatpur Cotton Mills at Tangi and the Orissa State Electricity Board (OSEB). His trade unionism had left him with many recriminations with Biju Patnaik an industrialist, though he was close friend and associate.It was in the year 1955, Biju Patnaik and Biren Mitra had locked horns the later championing the cause of workers’ rights, but their friendship which seemed to falter never did so and they were for many years in a bond of friendship which goes down in history. When Harekrushna Mahatab became the Chief Minister of Orissa for the second time in 1957.

Biren Mitra refused to be a minister in his cabinet. While queried by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru as to why he was not interested to join as a Minister as almost all politicians desire to be, he had replied that he would only be a Chief Minister. Biren Mitra had expressed his desire to head the party and he had shown his abilities, which was later admitted by Mahatab that Biren’s skills in organizational abilities had no parallels. Mahatab had utilized Biren Mitra’s skill in topping the Naba Krushna Chowdhury’s Ministry. And later on Biren Mitra’s organizational abilities and Biju Patnaik’s money joining together had veritably thrown Mahatab from his pedestal of power.

A new era had begun in the year 1961, the era of Biju-Biren raj with Biju Patnaik as the Chief Minister and Biren Mitra as the Deputy Chief Minister. Biju Patnaik devoted his time as a Chief Minister in the development of the state and it was Biren Mitra who undertook the responsibility of the party and people. It was under the Kamraj plan that Biju Patnaik had to resign and Biren Mitra took over as Chief Minister in 1963. It was a tumultuous period in the history of Orissa, which saw a massive student’s strike in the year 1964, which was one of the reasons of Biren Mitra stepping down from his office of Chief Minister in the 1965. Biren Mitra had his own style of functioning, which he ruled as fiefdom of his. There are many theories as to why Biren Mitra who was loved by everyone in the state had his rule coming to an end so soon. The students’ unrest could have been brought down by Biren Mitra, but he had his own principles which he never sacrificed at the altar of power. The then police I.G. Police, Sri.Srikanta Ghosh a erast while police officer of the British Raj had asked Biren Mitra to give him adequate pwers and he would quell the students’ uprising in no time. Sri.Srikanta Ghosh complained that the attitude of the C.M was demoralizing the police force and with such weakness shown by the C.M. it was only helped incensed the rioting students to go ahead in the clamour for paralyzing the government. Napoleon had remarked that if a king was a kind man his reign was apt to be a failure and so was it with Biren Mitra.

He was kind and generous to a fault. This was his greatest undoing which despite all the qualities he had that had catapulted him to great heights was cause of his shortcomings. It was evident in the Assembly when hundreds of students were trying to break police cordon and force their way into the Assembly, Biren Mitra though time and again being pleaded by the S.P of Police to disperse the crowd by resorting to firing had denied permission. He stated that he could go around and collect money from people and have the Assembly repaired but he could not in any case bring a dead boy to life. This was a temperament uncharacteristic of an administrator.

He allowed himself to be swayed by emotions which always ruled him. He drew wisdom from the fact that laws are meant for the welfare of the people and if the law comes as a stumbling block he would break the law. This again has not gone down well in annals of Orissa administrative history, where Biren Mitra had always sought to transcend the red tapism and gone ahead with his mission of helping the poor and down trodden.

Of the greatest of wonders was a C.M. who was accessible to the poorest of the poor. No proper channels existed between the people and Biren Mitra as the C.M. He had no police posse posted in his residence for his security and the people were free to call on him at any time he wished. Though he represented Cuttack, his heart went all out for the entire state of Orissa. Hundreds of people were visiting him on a daily basis and he was listening to their grievances patiently and passing orders to mitigate their troubles. This is something, which no Chief Minister past or present have done, abandoning protocols and proper channels to allow a common man to visit him any hour of the day. Sri. Prafulla Chandra Sen the former Chief Minister of West Bengal who had visited Biren Mitra during the AICC meet in Bhubaneswar had told him that after going to Bengal he would operate in the way Biren does. But it was only for three days that Prafulla Chandra Send dispensed the barriers between him and the people, but hastily had to revoke his orders when he found that it was quite tough to manage.

After stepping down from power the Congress Government lasted till 1967. With the first anti Congress movement that had generated in India, Orissa voted Swatantra and jana Congress coalition to power. Many stalwarts lost their seats, Biren Mitra was few of them who retained his hold over Cuttack by being elected for the fourth time in a row.

Congress at the centre had been divided in 1969 with old stalwarts of the Congress party on one side and Indira Gandhi and group of young turks on the other. Biju Patnaik expressing his displeasure of the handling of the Congress party by Mrs. Indira Gandhi had said ‘I cannot be an idle spectator to the party’s decay’. He broke away from the ruling Syndicate and sided with the Congress Organisation headed by Nijilingappa later on formed his own party. Biren Mitra had yet not left Congress and in the meantime came to the Presidential election which saw V.V.Giri, Sanjeev Reddy and C.D.Deshmukh contesting for the post of President of India. V.V.Giri was put up by Indira Gandhi and the old stalwarts of the congress had put in Sanjeev Reddy as their candidate, while C.D.Desmukh was the choice of the Swatantra Party and the opposition. Biren Mitra had still not left Congress and had not declared his option of siding with the old vanguards or Indira Gandhi. It was at this time Nilamani Routray was the president of the Orissa Congress who alongwith Biju Patnaik had received a personal letter from Nijilinagappa who was the All India Congress president requesting them for their help to their party’s candidate. Biren Mitra was quite piqued about receiving a cyclostyled letter instead of personal letter from the AICC president as given to Nilamani Routray and Biju Patnaik. Indira Gandhi somehow sensed that Biren Mitra was peeved about the developments that had taken place and rang up Biren Mitra requesting him to help her candidate V.V.Giri. Biren Mitra once again showed skills of his organizational activities in mustering support to Indira’s faction where the Congress was not only divided but also in the opposition. The results that came out from the votes of members of the Orissa Legislative Assembly showed V.V.Giri topping the list of the winners from Orissa followed by C.D.Deshmukh and Sanjiv Reddy trailing in the third position.

For a brief moment once again Biju Patnaik and Biren Mitra had locked horns on the issue of presidential election, but soon after Biren Mitra joined Utkal Congress founded by Biju Patnaik in the year 1970. The writing on the wall was clear to everyone that Indira Gandhi in the coming elections would be romping on to power at the centre. There was a definite wave that had engulfed India in Mrs.Gandhi’s campaign of ‘Garibi Hatao’. Biren Mitra committed a strategical mistake by siding with Biju Patnaik knowing fully well that he was committing political hara-kiri. He was a man who was ruled by his heart and not by his head. Given the circumstances any political leader of the state worth his salt would have sided with Indira Gandhi, but Biren Mitra choose otherwise. His political end was coming near as he had suffered a massive stroke which left him paralysed and coupled with the decision it was a matter of time that he had lost the game.

Biren Mitra was once again goaded to contest Nandini Satpathy in 1972 as an Independent candidate and Biren Mitra lost to her. Biren Mitra who had controlled the city of Cuttack as his fiefdom saw his control ebbing away in the new shape of things that were taking place. Biren Mitra lost to Nandini Satpathy due to various factors. The prime reason being that with his failing health the people of Cuttack were unsure of whether Biren Mitra could be able to serve the constituency anymore and it was ample visible by Biren Mitra not being able to address public meetings barring a few nor could he move in his constituency as his failing health never permitted him. Moreover the amount of money that was spent by the Congress party in having her Chief Minister elected was equally responsible for the defeat of Biren Mitra.

With Nandini Satpathy still at the helm of affairs being elected from Cuttack, the city went for civic polls in the 1973. Biren Mitra though almost retired from politics still put up his candidates in the Municipal elections. The result of the election once again outlines the control of Biren Mitra over the city of Cuttack, in 30 strong Municipal council the Congress won only 4 seats and the rest 26 seats were won by candidates put up by Biren Mitra. The coming year saw the ministry fall and elections were held again in 1974, but by then Biren Mitra had decided not to contest and he gave his support to Srikanta Panda as the Utkal Congress candidate from Cuttack. Despite severe opposition to Srikanta Panda by the Councillors and other political bigwigs who suggested that Biren Mitra should put up her daughter who happened to be the eldest in the family to take the vacant space by Biren Mitra. But Biren Mitra declined the suggestion of putting his daughter as the candidate for the Cuttack election. He never wanted to hoist his daughter or sons in politics as it has become a norm that politicians are increasingly getting their kith and kin to the forefront of politics.

It is a sad commentary that successive governments had done little in the memory of Late Biren Mitra, but he continues to live in the hearts of the common man. The common man has deified the image of Biren Mitra for whom he was their messiah. Biren Mitra never believed in creating institutions, (though the credit of creating the two universities at Berhampur and Sambalpur goes to him) to further his memory and the only thing he ever desired was living in the hearts of the common people for whom he lived.

Political & Activities

Interested in philanthropic activities. An outstanding student leader. While leading medical students strike was imprisoned in the 1939. During ‘Quit India Movement’ in the year 1942, Biren Mitra was imprisoned in Berhampur Jail.

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