English Writings of D V Gundappa - 2

This article is part 2 of 12 in the series English Writings of D V Gundappa

The problem of the Indian Native States occupied DVG’s mind for over three decades (1915 to 1945). Before independence, our country comprised two parts: 1. British India consisting of provinces under direct British rule, 2. Native States ruled by Indian Princes. The struggle for freedom was largely confined to British India during the early years of the twentieth century. The champions of independence, fearing unnecessary delay and complication, left out Native States from their campaign. This landed the Princely States in soup. Nobody seemed to care for them despite their accounting for nearly one-fifth of the country’s population. DVG pioneered this area of inquiry at a critical juncture. He suggested numerous schemes of constitutional reform. S Subramania Iyer, the President of the Home Rule League, wrote a commendatory introduction to his monograph on the subject titled The Problems of Indian Native States (1917). DVG’s views garnered praise from distinguished political thinkers such as A B Keith, Alladi Krishnaswamy Iyer, and B R Ambedkar.

               DVG exhorted autocratic and epicurean Princes to respect public opinion and cultivate regal restraint. Citing the example of Buddha who flung aside his royal robe and shared his life with common men, he wrote:

The need to-day is for Princes who, actuated by a similar spirit, would share power with their subjects and would continue to wear their crowns only as the emblem of their Deeksha or consecration. They have to realize that they are citizens before they are sovereigns, and that they preside over a commonwealth before presiding over a palace. (p. 203–04)

                Not mincing words, he called such Princes libertines and spendthrifts (p. 240), revealed their incompetence (p. 211), and inimitably outlined the perils of palace life:

Nurtured upon the traditions of bureaucracy, and scrupulously shut out from the liberalizing influences of history, of the philosophy of politics, and of the literatures of modern national and democratic movements – it is small wonder that many a Prince suffers from a narrow outlook upon life and from an exaggerated notion of his own importance. These feelings naturally beget in him a partiality for honey-mouthed courtiers; and therein begin the troubles of his subjects. (p. 229)

               When the Prince of Kashmir issued a statement that “it is a shame for people to follow a woman [Annie Besant] as their political leader,” DVG had no qualms in calling him out:

It is plain that H. H. the Maharaja of Kashmir is living mentally in the dark ages; or he has a very bad memory and has forgotten that he had himself sworn allegiance to a woman who ruled the British Empire for more than sixty years. (p. 256)

               DVG’s caustic critique of the Princes stems not from disrespect but from his attitude to value duties over rights, competence over entitlement, poise over power. 

               He advocates the need to admit people from the Native States into military service (p. 233) and draws attention to the pressing need to reclassify the States so that a logically sound principle would account for their representation in All-India bodies constituted to deal with Imperial questions (p. 239). He cites the poems of Tiruvalluvar to substantiate his views on popular governance (p. 252). In all these matters DVG’s thoughts are rooted in historical experience, contemporary reality, and are eminently applicable to the political configuration of our country. 

               In 1919, he brought the issue of the Native States to the attention of Edwin Samuel Montagu, England’s Secretary of State for India. Sandeep Balakrishna’s observation on this is incisive:

Apart from its sheer brilliance, the missive reveals several key facets of DVG’s genius-level statesmanship. The first is his sense of timing. DVG wrote it in February 1918, at the feverish peak of World War I. The second is the fact that he chose to directly address the Secretary of State, not just any other high-ranking British official. The third is the most important: it was DVG’s method of ringing the bell of conscience in an imperial Britain and in general, in a war-torn Europe where “statesmen and ethicists have been lamenting that the commonly accepted law of nations have now been ruthlessly violated … [and] the old treaties … have been unceremoniously torn.”[1]

               DVG was keenly alive to the pitfalls of democracy. He was of the firm belief that informed public opinion can lubricate the democratic engine and keep it going:

Since it is given to no man to be credited with infallibility and immaculateness, the one and only safeguard against the possibility of a government’s error is scrutiny and criticism. Even if a democracy were to count a few angels among its members and elect them to form a cabinet, it seems reasonable to fear that those angels too, becoming habituated to the human environment, would fall into error like the rest of the earth; and the only remedy against this danger lies in a body of men being ever on the watch to point out chances of error and to remind the angel-like government of its angelic responsibilities. (p. 270)  

               DVG edited and published his own newspapers from 1912. The Karnataka (1913–1920) was the first among a long line of periodicals. Published as a biweekly on every Wednesday and Saturday, it launched DVG onto the national scene by catching the attention of administrators, opinion-makers, and elite readers across the country. It covered literary and cultural events in the Mysore State, carried topical biographical profiles, commented on the political developments of the land, carried extracts of important speeches of national leaders, supplied perceptive notes on scientific advances and Indological research, and republished informative articles from leading newspapers of other parts of the country.    

               There were multiple hurdles for the establishment of the Mysore University. The Viceregal administration did not entertain Mysore’s demand, fearing similar proposals from other Native States. The Madras Province played truant, reluctant to give up its longstanding monopoly over education in South India. Eventually, M Visvesvaraya’s strong support secured the approval. DVG wrote extensively in the columns of The Karnataka, answering objections raised by The Times (London) and The Madras Mail. The people of Karnataka are forever indebted to DVG for his timely advocacy. (p. 330)

               Among other things, the biweekly published a charming piece on how Vande Mataram came to be composed (p. 345), an important and detailed report of J C Bose’s lecture on Invisible Lights in Calcutta (p. 367), and an admirable summary of the political, cultural, and spiritual views of Gopal Krishna Gokhale on the first anniversary of his passing (p. 408).

               DVG’s penchant for wisecracks was on display in some pieces. When a certain poetaster unleashed a barrage of high-sounding balderdash on an unsuspecting government official, DVG hit back with this:

There is a certain delightful irony in such utterly empty verses being hurled at the head of the Inspector-General of Education, the gentlemen who, of all people, is expected to know best what is good knowledge from what is not, and what is literature from trash. (p. 360)

               The Karnataka was attractive and instructive, impressive and insightful. At a time when information was hard to acquire, DVG provided it aplenty, fastening it with the sieve of reason. His commitment to publish news widely, truthfully, and swiftly to inform and shape public opinion with strict adherence to the highest standard of journalism is remarkable.

               DVG frequented libraries and subscribed to various journals to keep himself abreast of national and international affairs. He committed reams of primary sources to memory and had multiple notebooks filled with facts and figures. His carefully curated personal library included the foundational texts of major world religions. He had to endure the tedium of going to the printer, checking proofs, assembling blocks, and distributing printed copies every day. Contrast this with our age. Information on any subject is readily available on the internet, accessible at the push of a button. Word-processors that check our spellings, spruce up our sentences, and dish out neatly designed, print-ready files have made publication an instantaneous affair. To say journalism was strenuous back in the day perhaps counts as a joke than as a fact these days.     

*                            *                            *

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.

Prekshaa Publications

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