Hemananda Biswal was the first tribal Chief Minister of Odisha who will always be remembered as an inspiration for the tribal leaders of Odisha. Tribals, who constitute about 24% of Odisha’s population, were not recognised in the political set up of Odisha till Hemananda Biswal rose to become the first Chief Minister from this community in 1989.
The veteran Congress leader started his political career from his native gram panchayat in the then undivided Sambalpur district as a Sarpanch and then became the Chairman of the Block.
Hemananda Biswal was himself a very good farmer and belonged to the Bhuyan tribal community. He joined the Congress party in 1972 when Nandini Satpathy was the leader of the party in Odisha.
Looking to his popularity in 1974 Assembly election, the party gave him a ticket from the Laikera constituency and he was elected. He lost in 1977 election as most of the other Congressmen. But he did not leave Congress party and joined Nandini Satpathy who was part of the Congress for Democracy led by Jagjivan Ram.
In 1980 he was again elected to the Assembly from Laikera, and became Chairman of the Public Undertaking Committee of the Assembly. He had sharp differences with the then Congress leader Janaki Ballav Patnaik regarding neglect of western Odisha and tribals in the state.
Biswal was elected as the president of the Sambalpur District Congress Committee defeating the candidate of Janaki Ballav Patnaik, who was the Chief Minister of Odisha.
Actually this episode brought Biswal to the notice of the party high command in Delhi. Then onwards in all other election committee in the state, the AICC nominated him as a member.
In 1985, when he was elected again, Janaki Ballav Patnaik was forced to induct him as a Minister. When the Congress was losing support among the masses because of Patnaik’s leadership, he raised his voice before the high command.
In 1989, when Congress lost miserably to Janata Dal the Congress high command asked Patnaik to resign as Chief Minister. Suddenly, the Congress Central leadership nominated Biswal as Chief Minister though the general elections of Odisha Assembly were three months away.
In 1990, Congress lost and got only 10 seats, but Biswal was among those 10 winners. Before Congress returned to power in 1995, Biswal started to organise the tribals and Dalits of Odisha under the banner of Ambedkar Manch. That was the period of Mandal politics. Though the Congress leaders of Odisha were opposed to the implementation of the Mandal Commission report, Biswal was in support of Mandal recommendations.
In 1995, when every Maldalite wanted Biswal to become Chief Minister, Patnaik, who was president of the party in the state, managed the post for himself. Biswal was made the Deputy Chief Minister along with another Biswal from coastal Odisha late Bansata Biswal.
When the J. B. Patnaik Government became unpopular in the wake of the gang rape on Anjana Mishra and the role of the then Advocate General Indrajit Ray who was a close associate of Patnaik, Biswal was the first top leader of the party who demanded the resignation of the Advocate General.
In 1998 Parliamentary election, Congress lost miserably and the Biju Janata Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance virtually swept the polls in the state. Congress high command changed the PCC president and made Biswal the PCC president. Patnaik was asked by the high command to resign as Chief Minister after the murder of Australian missionary Graham Staines in 1999.
Congress high command nominated another tribal leader of Odisha, Giridhar Gamang who was a Member of Parliament from Koraput for long years. But because of mismanagement of super-cyclone of 1999, the Congress again lost 1999 mid-term poll of Parliament.
After that, again Congress asked Gamang to resign and made Biswal Chief Minister for the second time when the general elections of 2000 in Odisha were three months away.
It was Biswal who played a key role to make the state government allot a prime location in the capital city of Bhubaneswar for installation of the statue of B. R. Ambedkar.
When many Congress leaders lost the election in 2000, including J. B. Patnaik and Basanta Biswal, Hemananda was able to be elected to the Assembly. After he lost in 2009 Assembly election, he shifted to Sundargarh Lok Sabha constituency and was elected in 2009.