The Abiding Inspiration of Gopal Krishna Gokhale

This article is part 18 of 23 in the series Life and Legacy of DVG

Enter Gopala Krishna Gokhale

The second occurrence was the death of one of India’s pioneering statesmen and a fine democrat, Gopal Krishna Gokhale on 19 February 1915. While his death was mourned by the entire nation, only a handful took the inspiration to perpetuate his substantial and noble legacy. 

Accordingly, DVG and some in his close circle seeded The Mysore Social Service League, the precursor to the Gokhale Institute of Public Affairs (GIPA) which DVG founded on 15 August 1948. The first grand event of the League was inviting Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi to Bangalore, his maiden visit to the city on 5 May 1915. The words of Gandhi’s speech as he unveiled Gokhale’s portrait resonated in DVG’s ears: 

All Indians who wish to serve the country must work in the field of politics. They must discharge their services in political life and political institutions like Dharma. This is what Sri Gokhale taught me. 

Gopala Krishna Gokhale’s dignified portrait still adorns the centre of the DVG Hall (“DVG Sabhangana,” in Kannada) in the GIPA premises with the inscription, “Portrait unveiled by Mahatma Gandhi on 5-5-1915.” 

For a full year, DVG meditated not just on Gandhi’s words but on Gokhale’s dictum that “public life must be spiritualized.” The dictum became the slogan of his Karnataka paper from then on. What emerged from his penance was an unshakeable conviction that gave a concrete direction to DVG’s work in public life from which he never swerved. It stretched over a rich, eventful, busy and highly productive span of more than three decades (taking 1915 as the starting point) over which DVG not only wrote contemporary history but created it. One of the first things DVG did was to write a heartfelt tribute to Gopal Krishna Gokhale, and another elevating essay, In his Footsteps, reaffirming his commitment to the great savant. Indeed, for much of his life, DVG never tired of writing and speaking about the contributions and value of Gokhale in both Kannada and English.  

The other insight that DVG realized can best be captured in his own words: 

It is the burning of the intellect that enables the realization of a Darshana through Mantra. That burning is Shraddha or conviction. It is verily Tapas or penance.

In his case, this translated into a lifelong attempt at a synthesis in public life. DVG never viewed the Vaidika (loosely translated: religious) and Laukika (worldly) as separate. Both were complementary. Laukika would degenerate unless accompanied by the best elements of Vaidika. 

Ceaseless Activity, Unremitting Public Service 

It would be a mistake to assume that once DVG became the Municipal Member, he devoted all his time to politics. 

DVG was first a journalist and editor and described himself as such till the end of his life. However, it is also essential to have a brief idea of the kind of prolific and intense activity he was engaged in apart from his journalism as well.

DVG was instrumental in establishing and growing the Karnataka Sahitya Parishad founded in 1915. As an office-bearer, invited scholars and litterateurs, hosted scholars, conducted seminars, Gamaka sessions, and in general, welcomed anybody who wished to serve the Kannada language and its long and profound literary heritage. 

DVG also wrote and published annual reports on various aspects of the Mysore State, a topic we shall examine in detail later. 

Around 1916, he was involved in an organization named Friends Union (the rechristened form of the Ranade Society). In 1917, he was made part of a small group curiously named, Non-Entities, whose intent was to raise funds for bright Indian youth who wanted to pursue higher studies abroad. He also lent his weight to the newly-formed Amateur Dramatic Association (ADA), which has survived till date with an auditorium of its own in Bangalore. He was instrumental in collecting the proceeds of several plays from this group, which he then sent to the renowned scientist Jagadish Chandra Bose’s Temple of Truth. 

From the insights and learning he had acquired via writing Diwan Rangacharlu’s biography, DVG motivated a few prominent public personalities such as H.V Rangaswami (from Hassan) and M. Venkatakrishnayya and founded the Mysuru Sarvajanika Sabhe (Mysore Public Association) in Mysore city. However, it stopped functioning after three years. DVG was also instrumental in the establishment of the iconic National High School in Bangalore.

Needless, this list is merely a fraction of the full extent and sweep of DVG’s involvement in almost all spheres of national life but for now this fraction suffices as a highly representative sample.

A Blip

Diwan M. Visvesvaraya’s resignation in 1918 in protest against state-imposed quotas for government jobs generated much public outrage and DVG was personally pained by the decision. It was also the end of a principled era in public life. Diwan Visvesvaraya’s conviction was straightforward—the best man for the job and not his background or social stratum. India has long since slipped down the dangerous road to both iniquity and a stifling political correctness which almost prohibits even an informed scrutiny of the necessity of reservations. DVG was among those who abided by Visvesvaraya’s principles, and wrote on the subject: 

To the noble sentiment of uplifting the backward sections are tied several other sentiments and principles. In the attempt to uplift the backward sections, care must be taken not to deliberately push the forward sections behind.  

History testifies to the tragic fact that DVG’s warning went unheeded. 

DVG’s Moral Authority and Farsightedness

At any rate, by 1922, DVG had flowered as an authoritative, truthful, courageous, selfless, and therefore fiercely independent voice of public conscience. His caustic column in the pages of The Hindu questioning Diwan A.R. Banerjee’s trips to Shimla and England caused such a massive public embarrassment that the Diwan himself wrote a personal clarification. This is also a reflection of the overall standard of officials manning high office. In October of the same year, DVG wrote a revealing note to Mirza Ismail: 

The problem hitherto in this country was – How to rouse the people? How to create a democracy? The problem will hereafter be – How to keep the people well informed and sober? How to impart self-discipline and judgement to democracy? The Leviathan is astir and there need be no misgivings as to its growing force and velocity. Our fear should rather be now about any rude…movements by which he may damage good things or frighten good men

DVG observed with growing alarm the kind of hooliganism that the Justice Party was beginning to unleash in neighbouring Tamil Nadu under the pretext of justice for the allegedly separate race called Dravidians. Its ripple effects were quickly felt in the Nellore region, and it didn’t take long for its dangerous inspiration to blossom in Mysore in the form of the so-called Praja Mitra Mandali. Quite obviously, the Justice Party and similar outfits claimed that their agitations were entirely consonant with the spirit of democracy. However, DVG was not fooled by such well-sounding facades and made it a point to repeatedly call their bluff.

***

A.R. Banerjee completed his term on 30 April 1926 as the Diwan of Mysore. He was succeeded by Mirza Ismail on 1 May 1926. As its longest-serving Diwan, Mirza Ismail’s tenure was marked by substantial upheavals for some of which he was directly responsible and some he proved too meek to control. His regime was also notable for a critical turning point in the contemporary history of the Mysore state as we shall see.

Flung into the Whirlpool

Years before Mirza Ismail became the Diwan, he had an abiding respect for DVG whose scholarship and public service he admired, and the two shared a warm relationship. They regularly met and corresponded with each other on a range of topics. Most of all, Mirza was impressed by DVG’s stunning capacity for fearless, impartial objectivity in a realm choked with time-servers and flatterers. Accordingly, on 27 May 1927, he nominated DVG as the Member of the Mysore Legislative Council. The public was elated with this appointment. The 7 June 1927 edition of The Mysore Patriot gushed as follows: 

A scholar in Kannada, keen student of politics, economy, pioneer in the field of “The Indian India,” accomplished writer and speaker, journalist, publisher of no mean caliber, Mr. D.V. Gundappa long ago earned his title to a place in the Councils for the State. His present nomination to the Legislative Council adds lustre to the journalistic world…and redounds to the credit of the new regime in that it has broken new ground and shown both courage and fresh outlook.   

Accolades, encomiums flowed in torrents towards DVG from all directions. His close circle of friends and other luminaries of the time wholeheartedly welcomed the move. On 9 June, a party was organized to honour DVG at the selfsame K.T. Appanna’s Hindu Coffee Club, now rechristened as the Modern Hindu Hotel. Men recognized as eminences in their own fields fussed over him. Among others, Rao Saheb Thangavelu Mudaliar, Dr. Abbayi Naidu, S.G. Sastry, Dr. Kunhi Kannan, B.K. Garudachar, Belur Srinivasa Iyengar, Pamidi Subbarama Setty, K.T. Bashyam and Mokshagundam Krishnamurthy were present at the party. 

In one stroke, Diwan Mirza Ismail had hurled DVG directly into the whirlpool of hard-rabble politics. For the next fourteen years, its brutal reality would unfold strand by strand before his own eyes. 

sulabhavenalla naralokahitanirdhāra ।
balake noḻpar kelaru, kelareḍake noḻpar ॥
vilavilane capalisuva manujasvabhāvadali ।
nelegottu hitakelli? - maṃkutimma ॥ 855 ॥

It isn’t easy in this human world to understand what is good and what is not |
Some look to the right, some to the left ||
If you seek happiness in the ever-fickle human nature
How can you ever find its true source?" – Mankutimma

To be continued

Author(s)

About:

Sandeep Balakrishna is a writer, author, translator, and socio-political-cultural analyst. He is the author of "Tipu Sultan: The Tyrant of Mysore" and "The Madurai Sultanate: A Concise History." He translated Dr. S L Bhyrappa's magnum opus "Avarana" into English.

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