(Last Updated on : 12-03-2014)
A freedom fighter par excellence Harekrishna Mahtab underwent several terms of imprisonment, suffering enough privation and hardship. He served post-Independence India with distinction in various capacities has been considered as the 'Builder of Modern Orissa'. He served as Chief Minister of Orissa, Governor of Bombay and as a Union Minister. Shri Mahtab was also a highly respected literary figure and author of many books, the most important being the "History of Orissa".
Dr. Harekrishna Mahtab was born on 21st November 1899 at Agrapara, Balasore district, Orissa, to Krishna Charan Das and Topha Bibi. Leter he was adopted by his maternal grandparents Jagannath Mahtab, Raja of Agarpara, and Rani Dhani Bibi. After passing matriculation from Bhadrak High School he was admitted to Ravenshaw College, Cuttack in 1917. He got married to Shrimati Subhadra Devi during the student career in the School. Dr. Mahtab died on 2nd January 1987. In 1921 he actively participated in the National Freedom Movement.
Thus with this active participation he started his political career from the villages. In 1923 he became editor of the Weekly "Prajatantra" published from Cutack, which went on to become a daily newspaper. He became the Chairman, Balasore district board from 1924 to 1929. He has been First and the youngest man from Orissa to become a member of working committee of A.I.C.C. In 1930 he become the President of Utkal Pradesh Congress Committee and the same year he was imprisoned for participating in the Satyagraha movement. During imprisonment he translated the "Balmiki Ramayan" into Oriya and produced the Oriya Prose version of "The Bhagwad Gita". In 1932 he suffered further imprisonment for participating in the Salt Satyagraha.
From 1933-37 he worked for the upliftment of Harijans in the "Gandhi Karm Mandir Ashram" at Agarpara and also at Jhadapipal village, north Balasore. In 1942 British imprisoned him for speaking publicly against the British raj. He spent some time at Bardoloi with Mahatma Gandhi on his release and published 'Rachna', a periodical advocating Gandhiji's thoughts and philosophy. During the Second World War, Dr. Mahtab worked to control panic in Orissa due to bombardment near the Orissa Coast by Japan also assisted by Meeraben. During the national Movement he was imprisoned for 7 times and for a total period of about 8 years. Along with other national leaders he was imprisoned from August 1942 to April 1945 and he spent this time writing a history of Orissa, 3 novels and a number of poems.
After that he became the Chief Minister of Orissa from 1946 to 1950 and again from 1956 to 1961. He has also been the Cabinet Minister for Commerce and Supply of the Central Ministry 1950 to 1952 and remains General Secretary of Congress Parliamentary party from1952 to1954. Harekrishn Mahatab was appointed as Governor of Bombay Province from1955 to 56. During 1962 to 1967 he served as the Member of Parliament and Deputy Leader of Congress Parliamentary Party from1962 to 63.
During this period under his Leadership a parliamentary delegation was deputed to African Countries. Elected to the Lok Sabha in 1962, he was also the Deputy Leader of the Congress Parliamentary Party. Chairman of several government committees both at State level and at Centre, President of several social and cultural Public organizations and at one time was the Pro-Chancellor of the Utkal University. The Utkal, Saugar and Andhra Uniersities conferred a permanent fellow of this University Doctorate degree in literature and law upon him. He is not only known as a politician but a famous historian, writer social and cultural organiser, As a writer he is a once poet, Essayist, Novelist and a good Dramatist. He has been the Editor of 'Jhankar' the monthly. He was President of Sahitya Academy, Sangeet Natak Academ and Lalit Kala Academy of Orissa. He was also the Chairman of Orissa Olympic Association, Founder of an English Daily 'Eastern Times' which subsequently was closed down and again published in 1972 as weekly.
In 1983 'Kendriya Sahitya Akademi Award' was conferred to him for his book "Gaon Majlis". He has written as many as 24 books in English and Oriya. Some of Essays and Novels in Oriya are Prativa, Toutor, Abyapar, Gaon Majilis; Drama: Chhaya Pather Jatri, Seshashru, Andhajuga, History of Orissa in two volumes. Each in English and Oriya, "The beginning of the end" and "Call to Action" in English.