DVG as the Ideal Legislator: A Legacy of 14 Years as Member of the Mysore Legislative Council

This article is part 20 of 23 in the series Life and Legacy of DVG

A little-known episode in DVG’s life illustrates this renunciate facet innate in him. On 2 June 1927, DVG received an invitation directly from the Mysore Maharaja to which he recorded, “Invitation from the palace. What to do?” Ever the respecter of tradition and custom, DVG visited the palace and met the Wodeyar. On 20 June 1927, his daughter Smt Tunga wrote him a letter: “I felt really happy hearing that you visited the palace. I really wanted to see you wearing the Durbar dress.”

DVG has neither spoken about or left any record of his meeting with the Maharaja of Mysore. This profound silence is also a profound testimony of how DVG regarded such things. To borrow a worn-out cliché, DVG was one of those handful of lotuses that bloom in the sludge of politics and public life. At the risk of speaking the blunt truth bluntly, DVG was several notches higher than even “Right Honourable” V.S. Srinivasa Sastri[1] who for all his erudition, eminence, patriotism and public service, wasn’t particularly courageous in matters that demanded taking a decisive stand.

***

DVG entered the Mysore Legislative Council at a crucial juncture in the history of the Mysore Princely State. The Indian National Congress had all but been monopolized by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi in British India and was spreading its tentacles across the country at a feverish pace. However, it had no presence in the Mysore State. The only political party here was the aforementioned non-Brahmin Party in its infancy. It would prove to be a short-lived experiment. The nationwide clamour for Responsible Government quite naturally made its voice heard in Mysore as well and DVG was one of its staunchest proponents as we shall see. As a journalist deeply involved in politics and national life, DVG could not be immune to these currents furiously swirling outside Mysore. As a perceptive commentator, DVG realized that it was only a matter of time before these currents would flood Mysore as well. With great foresight, DVG anticipated the numerous problems and sudden turmoil that such a flood would cause and tirelessly wrote about them.

Although the Mysore Legislative Council had its own importance, it was largely a toothless body in the sense that its decisions could be overruled by the King or the Resident on a mere whim. Despite this overarching constraint, the sort of spirited and highly knowledgeable debates that DVG conducted in the Council is truly astonishing. Indeed, if an independent volume[2] comprising all of DVG’s speeches and debates in the Council is compiled, it will make for a brilliant education for all aspiring and serving lawmakers both in our assemblies and the Parliament.

In no particular order, here is a small list of the subjects on which DVG debated: freedom of speech, legislative motions and rules, economy, prostitution, reservations, communal harmony, press censorship, untouchability, Hindu temples, child marriage, widow remarriage, and public security. Neither can these be merely classified as legislative debates in the sense it is commonly understood. They were virtuoso performances suffused with erudition, eloquence, scholarship, wit, courage, and moral authority.

Extent of Free Speech

In 1929, the leader of the House Proceedings, a Minister named K. Mathan raised an objection regarding Rules. He had a rather self-righteous bias against nominated members of the Council. Accordingly, he sought to impose limits to the matters such members could discuss. Thus, if a nominated member was a recognized expert on say economics, law, education, or reservations, he could debate only these topics, nothing else. If the member did venture to opine on other topics even on justified grounds and armed with solid knowledge and sound reasoning, it was seen as a violation of House Rules. DVG was inflamed when he heard this. In a debate[3] on 28 June 1929, he retorted:

I must very strongly protest against the implied censure. I think that Government has nominated me not to represent the Government but to represent the public and I represent the public according to my light. I interpret the Rules according to my understanding and not according to Government’s understanding.

The minister Mathan never spoke about House Rules after this. However, this did not end here. It resurfaced in another form five years later. By then, the Indian National Congress had already made impressive inroads into Mysore and the turmoil DVG had anticipated was unfolding on a daily basis. His earlier cautions had gone unheeded but DVG persevered. In May-June 1936 just before the House convened, DVG sent two matters for consideration:

  1. A committee had to be urgently set up to discuss political reforms
  2. Another committee to discuss and debate the problems of integrating the 500-plus Princely States into Indian Union after the British left

Needless, both topics were inextricably linked. The Diwan, Mirza Ismail who was also the President of the Council refused to place these proposals before the House. DVG was unfazed. On 23 June 1934, he wrote a detailed essay discussing his proposals in The Hindu. In response, Mirza Ismail reprimanded DVG in the House saying that publishing such things in a newspaper constituted a violation of House Rules and gave him no chance to reply. DVG was dogged. Two weeks later, the Prajamata magazine (then based out of Madras) published a Special Supplement[4], a dedicated long-form rebuttal by DVG. The entire essay[5] is worth its weight in gold. Only a representative sample is provided below.

It is…reassuring to see the analogy of the British Parliament commended…after the requiem on Parliamentary democracy…from the lips of Sir Mirza Ismail just two weeks ago. If he would establish Parliamentary institutions and traditions in this country…we have no quarrel at all. That he is not doing is our…grievance…

In writing my article in ‘The Hindu’, my purpose was to show the limitations of the existing Constitution in Mysore…Sir Mirza desires not only that we should remain gagged on the floor of the House, but that we should remain gagged even outside as to what we suffer inside. He does not admit that the general public of the country is a higher tribunal than the Legislature which it creates. My position is different. I think that the public…which elects the legislature is a higher authority than the Legislature; and that if the representatives of the public are under any…handicaps they have not only the right but also the duty of reporting their difficult position to the people who elects them.

Needless, such occurrences were not infrequent and caused some tension in the relationship between DVG and Mirza Ismail. To both their credit, they never allowed bitterness or personal animosity to creep in and till the very end, they remained cordial friends. In a moving reminiscence in his classic Jnapaka Chitrashale, DVG not only praises Mirza Ismail but chides himself in a rather self-deprecatory Kannada term, “nannadu bhanda-jiva” (I am thick-skinned). Indeed, much before he became a Member of the Mysore Legislative Council, DVG had clearly stated his position to Diwan Mirza[6] in a letter:

In the present circumstances of the country, politics is as often a force to divide as to unite; particularly when one of two friends happens to be an official in high authority and the other a non-official worker of the public…In such cases I hold that what, according to one’s right is due to the country is greater and more sacred than what is due to private friendship. Of course, one’s first effort…should be to reconcile the two claims. But when that is found to be impossible, the larger must, alas! be allowed to supercede the smaller…May I regard such rare good fortune as mine?

This quality of honest friendship and genuine affection in political life is in the realm of impossibility today.

An Ideal Legislator

DVG exhibited the same traits of courage and fearlessness in his debates on highly-charged and taboo issues like prostitution and child marriage and widow remarriage. Unlike other members of the Council, he did not nonchalantly dismiss prostitution as an absolute evil but strove to find ways to mitigate it based on precedent, history, social realities, and…statistics. He demanded the Leader of the House for hard facts, census data and verifiable experience before making a law regarding prostitution. These debates are truly eye-opening to say the least. On widow remarriage for example, he led by example. After tragically losing his wife to a fire accident at a relatively young age, DVG was pressurized by his family to remarry. He accepted on one condition: I will remarry only if my widowed sister also remarries. His family let the matter rest there.

It is obviously impossible to do justice to the full, rich, erudite, and wise legislative legacy of DVG spread over fourteen long years in these pages. Even the aforementioned glimpses are merely representative at best and partial at worst. What is undeniable is the fact that he elevated parliamentary democracy to a high and sublime degree that earned him enormous respect even from his opponents in the House. Other members like J. Mohammad Imam, Abbas Khan, D.H. Chandrashekhariah, Rao Saheb Chennayya, Narasinga Rao, Hassan Venkateshayya, M. Ramachandra Rao and Sir Puttanna Chetty poured generous, heartfelt compliments on DVG’s style of debate, his eloquence, wit, constructive criticism and held him as an ideal legislator.

sarvārtha sahabhāgitege rāṣṭra kula varga
sarvadaṇu tānenuttorva manujan
sarvajīva samṛddhiganugūḍi duḍiyutire
parvavaṃdiḻegalavo - maṃkutimma ॥ 882

The goal of founding countries, categories and sects is to help in sharing and caring for one other.
Each person must realize that he is just an atom of the whole.
He must work towards the overall well-being of the whole.
Only then, the world will look beautiful akin to a festival day - Mankutimma

To be continued

Notes


[1] DVG had great regard and affection for V.S. Srinivasa Sastri and has written a detailed profile about him.

[2] In a rare departure from a half century of legislative indolence, the Karnataka Government published a few selections of DVG’s debates in Pratibhavanta Samsadiya Patu: DVG in 2009 in Kannada, a shoddy, unsatisfactory and incomplete work.

[3] D.R. Venkataramanan: Virakta Rashtraka DVG Navakarnataka, Bangalore, 2019, p 121. Emphasis added.

[4] Dated 13 July 1934

[5] D.R. Venkataramanan: Virakta Rashtraka DVG Navakarnataka, Bangalore, 2019, pp 122-3. Emphasis added.

[6] D.R. Venkataramanan: Virakta Rashtraka DVG Navakarnataka, Bangalore, 2019, p 80. Emphasis added.

 

 

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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.

Prekshaa Publications

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