DVG: The Indefatigable Champion of Responsible Government

This article is part 21 of 23 in the series Life and Legacy of DVG

Writing about the necessity for a politician to cultivate a practiced and constant study of high and valuable literature, DVG says[1] that

Governance is primarily an art, then it is a subject for study. As art’s innate nature, it first reveals itself in practice before it can be codified. Likewise, the first step is to strive for friendly acceptance of the people in the real world before defining a proper framework of rules and laws. Theory is akin to a mountain, art is akin to rain-laden clouds…Both theory and art must go hand in hand.  

Indeed, when one surveys the best of world literature, it is clear that they also exhibit an astonishing command over a vast range of scholarship—from Mahakavi Kalidasa to Dr. S.L. Bhyrappa in our own time. Thus, like an artist, a good politician should be able to accurately gauge what is known as the “mental makeup” of his city, for example. Indeed, we have examples of former Diwans and corporation heads who would go out and personally inspect every street in their city. This sort of hands-on governance is perhaps the most effective method of ensuring that decentralization works at its most optimum level because it ensures two things at the same: one, alertness and healthy fear among the lower levels of bureaucracy and admiration from the people that the topmost rungs of the government personally cares for them. This is also consistent with the method of the familiar, ancient system where the King would tour the kingdom in disguise etc.

Needless, DVG also anticipated the criticism that this method of governance is not feasible or practical in a modern democracy. The essence of his brilliant rebuttals to this charge can be summarized as follows: DVG regards the individual citizen’s vote as power and to use this power, self-education in democracy was the first and greatest prerequisite. Second, because the aforementioned method of hands-on administration was still in vogue and familiar to the inherited Indian historical consciousness, it only needed a change of form in the new system of democracy. Third, in a remarkable essay[2] written in his later years, this is what DVG says:

Fifty years ago, there was clamour everywhere for the freedom of the citizen…today, if we feel that something is a public good, we automatically want the government to do it.

In other words, this is the perennial struggle—if not battle—of a democratic system where the limits of government and individual freedom, and the extent of law are engaged in a constant clash. As always, DVG’s preference is to cultivate the goodness that comes from within, which both ensures individual freedom and limits the ability of government and law to overreach into the citizen’s personal life.  

Outlines of Responsible Government

Before and throughout his tenure as a legislator, DVG stressed precisely on these elements using a constant mantra: Responsible Government. That was a period that stretched from 1913-1948. DVG’s tireless advocacy of Responsible Government makes for a separate section as we shall see. But in passing, here are the key features as outlined by him:

  1. The Office of the Diwan was over-centralised and exercised its authority in an arbitrary fashion. DVG advocated for a thorough but well-thought out decentralization of this power.
  2. Given the ancient political tradition of this country which is innately noble (i.e. infused with Dharma), Indians are more than capable of being trained for Responsible Government.
  3. The national atmosphere charged with patriotism and nationalism will eventually usher in a patriotic Government when independence comes and it is only befitting that when our people are trained in Responsible Government, future nation-building will be more vigorous, successful and will have sturdy foundations.
  4. Responsible Government is perhaps one of the most workable and practical realization of the democratic fundamental, people ruling themselves.   

Needless, DVG was deeply influenced by the clamour for Responsible Government raised by the Indian National Congress in British India, studied it thoroughly and was convinced of its fitness in the Mysore Princely State as well. More importantly, he witnessed the pathetic condition of most of the Princely States and was both alarmed and angry at the complete absence of democracy therein and doggedly wrote to the various Maharajas and Princes pleading for reform. Comparably, Mysore was much better. Yet, although democracy was injected in slow drops, it was a sham in practice as we have seen earlier.

Two major episodes stand out in DVG’s long fight for achieving Responsible Government in Mysore: repeated gags on the press and the infamous Bangalore Ganapati Clashes of 1928.

Quite naturally, these were also great causes of his tense relations with Diwan Mirza Ismail. The Bangalore Ganapati Clashes especially took this tension almost to a breaking point. The following is a brief summary of the outbreak.

The Bangalore Ganapati Riots of 1928

The Government School (formerly known as S R Nanjundayya School) on Arcot Srinivasachar Street in Sultanpet, Bangalore (today, AS Char Street) housed a small Ganesha idol in its campus since time immemorial. When the school underwent renovation in 1928, the contractor built a small mandap for the Ganesha idol.

Overnight, the government decided to focus its attention on this development which had gone unnoticed by the general public. The officials of the education department objected to the presence of this Ganesha idol inside the mandap. The reason? The house of Abbas Khan, the then head of the (Bangalore City) Corporation was located right opposite the school. A mosque stood next to his house.

Once this news became public, students and the general citizenry took out a rally demanding the Ganesha idol to be restored to its place in the mandap. Prominent Kannada papers like Veerakesari, Nava Jeevana and Vishwa Karnataka stood rock-solid behind this widespread public opinion. It didn’t take long for the rally to morph into a protracted public agitation.

H C Dasappa (who later became a Congress MP from Bangalore South in the second Lok Sabha and was a minister in Nehru’s cabinet), Nilagiri Sanjivayya, and K H Ramayya stood by the government’s stand to not restore the Ganesha idol. On the other side, those who supported the public agitation included the formidable Kannada editor, “Veerakesari” Sitarama Sastri, Sampige Venkatapatayya, Nittoor Srinivasa Rau (later the Chief Justice of the Mysore High Court, also the first chief of the CVC), and M P Somashekhara Rao.

“Veerakesari” Sitarama Sastri wrote blazing editorials protesting the nakedly communal stand of the government, including a fine piece of satire in Kannada with the God Ganesha himself outpouring his sorry plight in the first person.

The government, instead of resolving the issue in a rational manner, decided to use brute force. It arrested student leaders who formed a significant and influential chunk, which only heightened tensions. The unrest only intensified — now the government had two problems on its hand instead of one: the demand for reinstating the Ganesha idol and the protest against the government’s haughtiness. Thousands of protesters took out their processions in front of the Diwan’s home and the Bangalore Central Jail. Things reached such a dangerous pass that the army was called in to restrain the protestors.

Finally, the government backed down and released some student leaders on bail. Ramlal Tiwari, Subramhanyam and Bhima Rao became instant heroes — they were paraded in a massive victory procession, which eventually reached the school. The Ganesha idol was reinstalled and Arati and Puja was performed.

Muslim Hooliganism, Government Inaction

Even as the Arati was being performed, a barrage of stones and footwear came flying from the opposite buildings. This was followed by the sound of a gun going off. Within minutes, an army of Muslims armed with sticks, swords and other deadly weapons descended on the worshippers. Hundreds were grievously wounded.

That the nature and the aftermath of this unprovoked attack was so gruesome can be gauged by the fact that it not only made national headlines but was also reported in faraway London by the Times and other prominent papers.

Meanwhile, the Mysore government seemed to be hurtling towards disaster after fresh disaster. This time, it simply feigned blindness, which only infuriated the public, which perceived the government to be insensitive. An incident that was reported in the international press was being met by the government with snubbing-by-silence. A torrent of angry editorials, protest marches and other forms of strident criticism followed.

Finally, the government backed down and appointed a six-member enquiry committee headed by the retired Diwan Sir M Vishweshwarayya. After a prolonged process of collecting evidence, documents, reports, and testimonies, the committee submitted its report formally titled Report of the Bangalore Disturbances Enquiry Committee. Its findings: Things went out of hand because of the government’s inaction and delay in the face of a situation of crisis, and that “law and order was completely broken during the disturbances and the government favoured one side in the incident.”

Faced with plummeting credibility, the government turned to vent its ire against newspapers. It unleashed a regime of press censorship and threatened editors with banishment, a common punishment in those days.

Quite naturally, DVG didn’t take kindly to such repeated high-handedness on the Government’s part.

To be continued

Notes


[1] D V Gundappa: Rajyashastra, Rajyanga—DVG Kruti Shreni: Volume 5 (Govt of Karnataka, 2013) p. 168-9

[2] D V Gundappa: Rajyashastra, Rajyanga—DVG Kruti Shreni: Volume 5 (Govt of Karnataka, 2013) p. 141-2

 

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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