Albion Rajkumar Banerjee was a Bengali by origin. His father, Devavrata Sasipada Banerji, used to be the chief of a branch of the Brahmo Samaj. A. R. Banerjee’s wife was the daughter of the eminent personage Sir Krishna Govinda Gupta. Sir Gupta was a member of the Secretary of State’s Council of India in London; an extremely capable and respected individual.
A R Banerjee was born in England. That’s why the word ‘Albion,’ indicative of the place (Great Britain), was included in his name.
After successfully clearing the Indian Civil Service examination, Banerjee held positions of high authority such as that of Collector in various regions of the Madras Presidency, served as Diwan of Cochin for a short period, and thereafter came to Mysore as a councillor. He was one of the ministers in Visvesvaraya’s council.
When it was time for him to be relieved [of his duties] from Mysore, Banerjee packed his belongings and had made all preparations to depart from Bangalore. Right on the day of his departure, the disease of [Diwan] Kantaraj Urs worsened; therefore, at once His Majesty the King requested Banerjee not to leave Mysore and sought his services for some more time. Accordingly, Banerjee stayed back and became the Diwan.
Banerjee was a competent man; proficient at administration. He was a person who would never escape from his responsibilities. He had a strong grasp over the functioning of the government and rich experience in all departments of British India. Since Banerjee had a deep understanding of bureaucracy, its behaviour, the demeanour of those in positions of authority, and the circumvents they employed, inspecting government offices, quickly examining relevant documents, and mining the data of value was as simple to him as drinking water.
During his tenure, one of my friends had to make an appeal to the government. He was a person who was well aware of Banerjee’s nature. Asking me to draft his appeal, my friend explained how it had to be: “Our appeal should fit within two-thirds of a foolscap paper. It is only then that the Diwan will read it. In the remaining space, of four to five fingers’ width, one half is used by the secretaries to make notes. The leftover space, two-fingers wide, is where the Diwan will write his hukum [order]. If it is only within this, my work will get done. In case the page needs to be turned over, the processing of my appeal will get delayed.”
This displays hastiness. Banerjee was impatient at work.
On one occasion, the details of some events written across eight to ten pages had been presented to the Diwan. It was concerning some monetary fraud. Somewhere in the middle [of the document], was written: “A certain person named A. B. C. had to pay an amount. He did not.” These words caught Banerjee’s eyes. He right away wrote a hukum “Prosecute—at once” on the file. On seeing this, the secretary explained, “It has been two years since that person died.” Soon after, Banerjee went through the booklet in detail and apparently wrote another hukum.
This incident describes how naturally impatient Banerjee was at work.
Banerjee was an expert in conducting inspections at Taluk offices and at the Dafthars [offices] of clerks. He used to travel across the kingdom frequently and tighten his grip over the administration.
Banerjee was also an excellent orator in English. He spoke at many events and gatherings.
It was during his tenure that the production of Iron ingots started in Bhadravati.
The Council System
During Visvesvaraya’s tenure as Diwan, Banerjee was his colleague for a short period of time. An incident from those days illustrates a principle of governance.
In the Government of Mysore back in the day, there was a system called the ‘Council.’ This system was established exclusively for the governments run in British colonies. Lord Bacon, an English philosopher has explained this system. The distinct quality of this scheme is that it requires three or four people in a group of ministers to keep a close eye on each other like watchmen. The British colonies are situated far away from England. If the governments there [i.e., in the colonies] have to operate without getting monopolized by a single minister and without getting entangled in conspiracies by the ministers, they should watch over one another with prying eyes. The ministers, like mutual critics, should constantly highlight each other’s faults. The disunity amongst ministers is the strength of the council.
In England, the system of a ‘Cabinet’ comprising a committee of ministers is in stark contrast to the Council system. In the Cabinet system, the strength lies in the unity of ministers. That’s why, in a responsible government, the committee of ministers is considered to have a joint responsibility.
Was it Non-Cooperation?
The main reason behind recollecting these details here is that Banerjee, during the last days of Visvesvaraya’s tenure as Diwan, strictly followed the Council system and behaved like a sentinel.
Finding faults in the policies framed by Visvevaraya, exposing the deficiencies and writing critiques about each one of them, and thus making sure Visvevarya’s plans hit a roadblock.
One way to interpret his behaviour is this: if he were to point out the lapses in Visvesvaraya’s policies, Banerjee believed that his importance would increase. However, I wouldn’t go that far. Simply because he showed that a different perspective is possible with regard to the topic at hand, it might be unfair to accuse him of being selfish.
This debate is no longer topical. There is no doubt that Banerjee preserved the glory of the great government of Mysore.
This is an English translation of the tenth chapter of D V Gundappa’s Jnapakachitrashaale – Vol. 4 – Mysurina Diwanaru. Edited by Hari Ravikumar. Thanks to Shashi Kiran B N for his help.