Volume Three (1923–1927)
DVG congratulated the Hindu Mahasabha on its attempt to consolidate our community. He explained the salience of the endeavour and the perils of neglecting it:
When Mahomedans and Parsis and Christians are developing a vivid sense of religious community, the avoidance of that sense by Hindus alone would be clearly suicidal. Further, the Sanghatan movement, by fusing the narrower prejudices of caste and sect, can make for greater solidarity among the Hindus. (p. 3)
Today, elaborate mechanisms are in place to counteract concerted efforts aimed at revitalizing our civilizational ethos. The fragmented Hindu society continues to suffer.
Birkenhead (1872–1930) was a reputed jurist and statesman. Known for his florid eloquence, he delivered a much-publicized speech in the House of Lords on 7 July 1925. DVG exposed the mismatch between Birkenhead’s reputation and record in his critique of the speech:
… The source and substance of Lord Birkenhead’s reputed brilliance is not any high and fervent humanitarian inspiration or generous political idealism such as that which impelled Montagu or was the very life-breath of Morley. The renown of Lord Birkenhead, far louder no doubt than theirs, is the creation, if we may say so, of a prolixity, as hollow as facile, of the pen and of the tongue. (p. 14)
Several constitutional reforms were introduced in Mysore in the 1920s, building on the extraordinary work of M Visvesvaraya. They were concerned with the state’s economic development. Unfortunately, public leaders were not competent to utilize them completely. DVG made a pointed observation on this: “Power has preceded knowledge” (p. 25). The statement found its way back to him after years: State-level leaders of independent India were woefully ignorant of political concepts central to the newly formed Republic, and DVG had to give elementary lessons on democracy, sovereignty, nationhood etc. to them.
DVG’s unsleeping political acumen foresaw the horrible ramifications of communalism. When the faction led by Mahomed Abbas Khan and G Paramasivaiya began to increasingly dominate the proceedings of the Mysore Representative Assembly, DVG issued a clear warning to nip the ‘communal caucus’ at its bud. Saddened by the ‘death of decorum’ it had caused, he urged immediate action:
The needless malignance of the epithets used, the persistence in pugnacity, the brawling tone, the angry gesticulation, – these disclosed a spirit of uncitizenlike jealousy and want of charity and the desire of revenge, which cannot be contemplated by any lover of the country without grave misgivings as to the future of our national aspirations … Communalism in our country is the greatest enemy of democracy; and it is to prevent the crystallization of Communalistic Parties that we have to direct our most urgent effort. (pp. 30–31)
George Curzon (1859–1925) wrote a two-volume tome titled British Government in India. DVG’s masterful review of it began by explaining the author’s implicit objective—‘to oil the lamp of England’s imperial pride’—and isolated select portions of the work that are of interest to Indians. DVG commended Curzon for his considered views on bureaucracy and the preceding viceroys and condemned him for his noncommittal stand regarding the political future of India. He painted a life-size image of the viceroy in hues of highly effective adjectives: aristocratic, imperiolatrous, prestige-obsessed, and pageant-loving. He gave due respect to the British and even implored Indians to learn from them when appropriate. The closing remarks of his review are soaked in sympathy:
Whether we agree or not with Lord Curzon’s estimate of the characters and achievements of his predecessors, none among us is likely to remain untouched by the note of sadness with which he refers, in closing, to the sacrifices and sufferings which they bore in the services of their country. Many of them had to contend against persistent ill-health in — to them — the trying climate of this country, to put up with prolonged separation from home and family, and to bear tragic bereavement. Not a few of them had to face the opprobrium of their own countrymen. “Over the Viceregal throne,” — pleads Lord Curzon, — “there hangs not only a canopy of broidered gold, but a mist of human tears.” This represents the human and personal side of patriotic service for even the most high-placed among the Empire’s far-deputed servants. Therein is a lesson for India. If Englishmen — and the most select of them — are prepared to dare so much for the sake of their England’s Empire, how much should Indians be prepared to dare and to bear for their India? (p. 46)
DVG swore allegiance to the Liberal school of thought in politics. Among others, Mahadev Govind Ranade, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, and V S Srinivasa Sastri were his predecessors. The hallmark of political liberalism was a constructive but non-confrontationist approach to public life. This comes across clearly in DVG’s stand regarding the problem of the Native States:
I plead for tact side by side with courage, for knowledge along with enthusiasm, and for sober discretion equally with warm earnestness. Let us not be unnecessarily harsh in our language and cantankerous in our attitude. Let us try all the means of friendly persuasion first; and, above all, let us be scrupulously constitutional in our methods. (p. 49)
DVG did not adhere to Liberalism without ascertaining its strengths and weaknesses. True to his position as ‘internal critic,’ he delineated the pitfalls of his favourite system of political thought:
What is wrong with the Liberals is, not in their views or programmes, but in their utter lack of propagandistic zeal and energy … Unless they put more vigour and momentum into their methods of work, the Liberals will soon cease to be a factor worth reckoning in Indian politics. (p. 112)
DVG tirelessly championed the case of the Native States in India. Unmindful of his efforts, some refractory Princes dragged him into disputes. In one such instance the ruler of Nabha took offence to DVG’s calling him ‘Ex-Maharaja.’ DVG wrote the following note of clarification:
I am pained that I have been invited to a controversy regarding the use of the expression “Ex-Maharaja.” It seems to me that the propriety or the impropriety of it depends upon the sense in which the term Maharaja is to be employed. If it is taken as only a title, I am perhaps at fault in having attached the prefix “Ex” with reference to Your Highness. But if the word Maharaja is taken as a synonym for the phrase “Ruling Prince,” which is my practice, I feel that there can be no objection to the prefix; for, I see from the Government of India Communique of 7.7.1923 that Your Highness “voluntarily expressed willingness to sever connection with the administration of the State” and that the permission therefore was given, the administration being handed over to the Government of India. With this brief explanation, I should prefer to let the matter be dropped, adding, however, the assurance that no discourtesy was ever intended by me and that my attitude will always remain one of regard and esteem. (p. 53)
Astonishingly, such unsavoury episodes did not dissuade DVG in the least. Soon after the Nabha fiasco, he submitted a draft scheme of federation of Indian States for the consideration of the Imperial Government. He expounded the subject methodically in seventy-five points and answered criticisms in a further twenty-five. The draft was eminently practicable, because DVG was convinced that “politics is not mathematics and … the stubbornness of our conditions and the complexities of our circumstances should receive more attention … than the fastidious demands of theory and logic.” (pp. 55–6)
DVG wrote a tract titled The Reform of the Hindu Mutts in 1923. He made bold to express himself in favour of radical reform in the traditional seats of authority. He was against the Madras Hindu Religious Endowments Bill that tried to sanction authority to the legislature to interfere in religious and spiritual matters. “A place of worship is like a work of art, and individuality is of its very essence,” he argued. (p. 149)
He unequivocally stated that the State should never overshadow the conscience of a community:
When a legislature acts gratuitously and on its own initiative in a matter where the conscience of the community is or ought to be the sovereign principle, it can only serve, as indeed will be obvious, to throw the community’s own powers of rectification and recuperation into disuse, to close up the outlets of such scanty springs of social zeal and popular energy as are still left, to encourage the habit of being dependent for everything upon governmental action, and finally, to add a new vexation to all except a small body of faddists and officials. (p. 148)
It appears DVG anticipated the exact mistake that a string of subsequent governments would—wilfully or inadvertently—commit. Ignoring the bell of caution he has rung will cost us dearly.
 The meaning of ‘Liberal’ has undergone a sea change from DVG’s time to the present. DVG’s political outlook was liberal in the sense of being magnanimous, accommodating, and open-minded. Over time—especially after the second world war—the term got divorced from its original moorings and became highly politicized.
To be continued.
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.