English Writings of D V Gundappa - 6

This article is part 6 of 12 in the series English Writings of D V Gundappa

Volume Four (1929–1946)

               In 1931, DVG brought together his considered views on the problem of the Native States in a monograph titled The States and their People in the Indian Constitution. The book drew acclaim from reputed periodicals such as Bombay Chronicle, People, Hindustan Times, Servant of India, and Triveni. Eminent publicists such as A B Keith, C F Andrews, Alladi Krishnaswamy Iyer, and P L Chudgar considered it a tour-de-force.

               He advocated a “people’s India” that is “neither disturbed by internal autocracies nor dwarfed by an external suzerainty.” The constitution, he argued, should not be a model of academic abstraction:

A constitution is essentially an instrument for human welfare. We seek it not either to gratify an airy sentiment, or to appease an academic doctrine, or to open out an arena for the restless and the vociferous amongst us. We seek through it to organize the forces of society to meet the primary demands of life, – to relieve the cry of hunger, of poverty, of social wretchedness. Adapting Aristotle, we may say that if the present Government has made life possible, a more popular and free constitution is needed to make life good. (p. 38)   

               As we noted earlier, there was a cleavage between popular public opinion and the personal interest of Princes in several Native States. When Bhulabhai Desai, a distinguished advocate, advised the Princes against the subjects in 1935, DVG rebuked him severely:

The more eminent the lawyer, the greater the temptation held out to him by the Prince; and when the Prince offers him a brief the patriot recedes and the professionalist takes precedence. (p. 52)

               Mr. Bhulabhai Desai’s advice to his clients may be lawyer-like; but it is hardly statesman-like and emphatically not democrat-like or nationalist-like. (p. 57)

               DVG served as a Member of the Legislative Council in the Government of Mysore from 1927 to 1940. Incidentally, these years demanded his active participation in various non-political activities connected with the Mysore University and Kannada Sahitya Parishat. Regardless, true to his stature as a sincere spokesman of public interest, DVG championed the cause of several reformist measures such as opposing child marriage, controlling proselytization, securing temple-entry to Harijans, and legitimizing the teaching of the Vedas to non-brahmana students.

               On 1 April 1939, the Government constituted a committee to suggest constitutional reforms needed in Mysore. K R Srinivasa Iyengar was the chairman. DVG’s views radically differed from those of the committee, which was disinclined to recommend progressive reforms. DVG eventually submitted a detailed Note of Dissent, analysing the democratic process, narrating the experience of other countries, and explaining the philosophy behind the division of power. His innate philosophical outlook coalesced with his prodigious knowledge of constitutional history to produce a political classic.

               His exposition of the spiritual dimension of a democratic state is original and profound:

The Chhandogya Upanishad (7.23) declares: “Whichever is great and spacious, therein only is happiness; there is no happiness in the small and the narrow” (यो वै भूमा तत्सुखम् – नाल्पे सुखमस्ति॥) “Universalize your life,” – that is the message. The highest spiritual achievement of the democratic State is that it provides the means for the expansion of the life of the individual into the life of the nation and so on into the life of nations. (p. 63)

               Modern governments usually go overboard in evolving schemes to ease the life of the commonfolk. On this, DVG commented:

The desire not only to receive and enjoy, but also to plan and accomplish is a basic fact of human psychology … A people long accustomed to accepting and being content with the shrewd philanthropies and well-calculated ameliorations of a Providence-like administration are in danger of losing their backbone. (p. 66)

               His words were scarily prescient. Today, almost all our state governments are caught in a race to appease citizens by offering unearned doles. The people, consequently, largely oscillate between demanding more and increasingly larger doles and wallowing in complacence.    

               DVG was of the firm belief that the constitution should anchor itself to the perdurable aspects of human nature to foster the ‘enlightened self-interest’ of citizens. He explained the dynamic nature of these elements and the method to integrate them in our lives:

The State’s constitution should have for its basis those elements of human nature and those facts of social existence that are deep-rooted and permanent, – not simply those that are superficial and temporary … Satya and Dharma are not static, because human life to which they refer is not static. While their essence remains the same, their shapes and postures change in adjustment to the changing needs of life … If [they] have any meaning and relation to human life, we must constantly take care to sublimate their essence and adapt and re-adapt them to our ever-growing purposes. In other words, we must keep one eye on the eternal verities of human nature — its instincts and appetites and idealisms — and the other eye on conditions of social equilibrium and order and harmony. (pp. 72–3)

               Democracy is a double-edged sword: While it grants freedom to people, it forces them to be eternally vigilant, knowledgeable, and responsible. DVG explained this succinctly:

The method of the progress of democracy — like man’s progress generally — is a method of compromise between its idealistic purpose and its actual raw material. The one reason, above all other reasons, for our preferring the democratic to other forms of social organization is that it helps most the development of the individual by inducing him to exhibit at its best all that is of value in him – his social sympathies, his intellectual powers, his merits of mind and spirit and personality. But as against this idealistic justification is to be remembered the stipulation that democracy can live and work well only if the individual is in fact of very fine quality. (p. 91)

               In 1941, DVG wrote an article titled India’s Political Dilemma. He denounced Gandhi for rehashing ineffectual non-violence and pleaded for a more vigorous and realistic approach to constitutional issues:

It now looks as though some of us have forgotten the commonplace, — the very relevant commonplace, — that politics is a secular department of life and that purposes and processes there should be pragmatic rather than transcendental. (p. 139)

               … Moral principles by themselves cannot suffice in politics and that they should be correlated with consideration of expediency and question of practical gain or loss. In other words, politics, being a practical art, is not fit to serve as a laboratory for conceptual ethics; and to insist on absolute standards there without reference to attendant facts would be like going into a popular restaurant and looking for the disciplines of a hospital. Experiments in dietetics are properly to be carried out elsewhere than in a railway refreshment room. (pp. 139–40)

               Non-violence therefore is exercised properly and truly only when its forms and measures are related to the facts around. Indiscriminately and mechanically applied, it becomes a mere superstition; and a superstition cannot but produce harm even when associated with so great doctrine. (p. 140)

               Winston Churchill appointed Leo Amery as the Secretary of State for India in the mid-1940s. Amery, like his master, was an unabashed imperialist. He involved India more and more in the war effort, caring little for its political future. DVG endeavoured to put the political discourse back on an even keel.  In a memorandum titled India’s Political Problem: A Possible Line of Solution, he openly stated:

If Mr. Churchill would save the Empire, let him at once set about to rid it of Imperialism, to transform it into a Commonwealth of equal-statured nations, to change the nexus from a chain imposed into a garland willingly to be accepted. The world has no use for Imperialism today. India will not stand it anymore. (p. 175)

               In an article titled Simla and After, DVG documented some seminal facts of historical importance. We come to know that the entire Christian community and the set of Muslim organizations not associated with the Muslim League supported the Wavell Scheme in 1945, but the ‘totalitarian pretensions’ of Jinnah prevailed (p. 206). We also learn that the Hindu Mahasabha was not invited to the conference at Simla:

One conspicuous omission from the Conference was that of the Hindu Mahasabha – the real counter-agent to the Muslim League. By parity of reasoning as well as by virtue of its own inherent strength, the Mahasabha’s claim for recognition must be acknowledged to be legitimate. We can only account for its exclusion by supposing that Lord Wavell feared that its presence would act as an additional red rag to the Muslim League bull. (p. 209)

Nāḍoja S R Ramaswamy introduced me to the nuances of editing and provided incredible insights into the personality and works of D V Gundappa. Śatāvadhānī R Ganesh breathes life into all my activities. Sandeep Balakrishna patiently polished my prose and offered valuable suggestions to shore up the observations in this essay. I owe an immense debt of gratitude to all of them.

To be continued.



Shashi Kiran B N holds a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and a master's degree in Sanskrit. His interests include Indian aesthetics, Hindu scriptures, Sanskrit and Kannada literature and philosophy.

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इदं किञ्चिद्यामलं काव्यं द्वयोः खण्डकाव्ययोः सङ्कलनरूपम्। रामानुरागानलं हि सीतापरित्यागाल्लक्ष्मणवियोगाच्च श्रीरामेणानुभूतं हृदयसङ्क्षोभं वर्णयति । वात्सल्यगोपालकं तु कदाचिद्भानूपरागसमये घटितं यशोदाश्रीकृष्णयोर्मेलनं वर्णयति । इदम्प्रथमतया संस्कृतसाहित्ये सम्पूर्णं काव्यं...


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इयं रचना दशसु रूपकेष्वन्यतमस्य भाणस्य निदर्शनतामुपैति। एकाङ्करूपकेऽस्मिन् शेखरकनामा चित्रोद्यमलेखकः केनापि हेतुना वियोगम् अनुभवतोश्चित्रलेखामिलिन्दकयोः समागमं सिसाधयिषुः कथामाकाशभाषणरूपेण निर्वहति।


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