DVG: The Rational Champion of the Princely States

This article is part 34 of 57 in the series Life and Legacy of DVG

baruvella benegaṃ maddanāririsiharu? ।
narara kīḻtanakella parihāraveṃtu? ॥
kiridu pallanu tāḻikeḻalebekaṣṭiṣṭu ।
dhareyaṃtaruṣṇavanu - maṃkutimma ॥ 670 ॥

Has anyone been able to find a medicine for all ailments that affect man?
Is there any permanent solution to the wretched behavior of man?
We have no option but to tolerate all these by clenching our teeth Akin to how the earth patiently conceals the inner heat concealed – Mankutimma


The character of Native States has baffled the classificatory skill of all writers on international law…From this anomaly the States have to be rescued.

The foregoing excerpt[1] is part of DVG’s timely missive to Edwin Samuel Montagu, England’s Secretary of State for India. 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[2] “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.”

In hindsight, it can be reasonably argued that DVG need not have written the missive because—as he himself mentions in the document—it was simply a repetition of what he had written on the subject earlier on numerous occasions. The fact that he wrote it demonstrates how focused his tenacity was: World War I was the perfect opportunity for him to put the British on the defensive on a subject not only of enormous national significance but its far-reaching future implications, especially after India would eventually attain independence. In his words, this was the “problems of the Indian Native States.” In this work, the term “Princely States” is used synonymously with “Native States.”

***

DVG stands tallest among journalists, intellectuals, writers and public eminences of all hues who participated in the Indian freedom struggle who paid such close attention to the situation of the Princely States—both in the short and long term. The corpus of DVG’s writing on the subject roughly totals three hundred pages including his numerous columns in Karnataka and the classic “Memorials” that he wrote to various Princes and to Montagu. He pursued the issue even after Independence in the editions of the Public Affairs journal. While it is tragic that this invaluable literature has all but been forgotten today, the profounder tragedy is that even in DVG’s own time, most of the stalwarts of our freedom struggle paid scant heed to this issue. One can hazard a few guesses. The first is the fact that bulk of the independence movement was concentrated in British-ruled India, and the condition of the Princely States was not exactly their first priority. The second is that a good chunk of the leadership of the freedom movement regarded the Princely States as outmoded and regressive, and were obstacles to India’s freedom struggle. The third is the emergence of the Socialists and Communists in whose eyes the Princely States were “class enemies,” who had to be liquidated physically if possible. The fourth involves the attitudes, insecurities and general behavior of some of the Princely States themselves, who wanted no part in the freedom struggle. Thus, when we regard this overall climate, we realise the nature of the treacherous tides that DVG was swimming against when he advocated the cause of the Princely States. Yet, characteristically, the force of his personality, the weight of his public eminence, the strength of his exposition, the compulsion of his arguments, the fine attention to detail and the embracive sweep of his scholarship not only opened eyes but elicited positive responses from across the country. Sir S. Subrahmania Iyer as the Honorary President of the Home Rule League wrote a glowing foreword to DVG’s aforementioned Memorials and lavished deserved praise on the work. The Memorials first written in August 1917 quickly went out of print and DVG published a revised edition in October gratefully noting[3] the “very sympathetic and appreciative reception given… by some leading national journals and…persons known for their patriotism.”

DVG’s literature on the Princely States is an illuminating study on the fine art of political persuasion, patience, diplomacy, reform, and the courage to tell unpalatable truths in a manner that not only appeals but enlightens. In an ideal world, this work would have been prescribed reading material for students of political science at the university level.

Neither is it blind advocacy of the Princely States. DVG considers the problem as a unified whole without missing all its constituent parts. He exposes some of the glaringly egregious faults of the Princely States with compassionate ruthlessness and equally upholds all the virtuous and noble traditions that they have maintained and sustained. As in his other writings, here too, he strives to achieve the same Samanvaya (balance or proportion) that is characteristic of his life and legacy.

***

As a starting point of sorts, we can consider the case[4] of Dr. Nagendra Singh, the brother of the Maharawal of Dungarpur, Rajasthan. Dr. Nagendra Singh, Secretary of the Ministry of Transport and Shipping in Nehru’s Government was described as a “talented and scholarly man of great personal integrity and…an embodiment of refinement and culture.”

The Maharawals of Dungarpur traced their ancestry to the formidable eighth century Rajput king, Bappa Rawal. In the mid-1950s, bowing to the protests from the Communists, Prime Minister Nehru sent letters to various Princes including the Maharawal requesting them to take voluntary cuts in their privy purses. The Maharawal did not plead his own case but stood up for the young Prince of Udaipur who had just ascended the throne. He reminded Nehru of the sanctity and preeminence of Udaipur, which was more “ancient than the Japanese monarchy.” He also appealed to Nehru’s conscience by pointing out that the Government of (independent) India had recognized the Ruler of Udaipur as the only Maharajpramukh. To his credit, Nehru was not only impressed by the Maharawal but invited the new Udaipur Ruler to his residence and undid the cuts to his privy purse.

However, the story of Dr. Nagendra Singh was different. Nehru overrode him in order to favour one of his business friends who got a lucrative shipping contract.

When we compare this and similar events that occurred after Independence with DVG’s writings on the problems of the Princely States, we are stunned at how farsighted he was, and how he near-precisely anticipated such disasters three decades ago.

There was also a deeply fundamental reason for DVG to be concerned about and pursue the issue of the Princely States with such doggedness. He was himself a subject of the Princely State of Mysore, one of the model states in India at the time, and had keenly grasped both the positives and drawbacks of life in such a state. Simultaneously, DVG was an advocate of the Congress Party’s freedom movement and worked hard to propagate its ideas and programmes in the Mysore State. Add to this his profession as an editor and journalist, he had a solid understanding of what British rule meant in non-Princely States.

The combined result of all these forms the full backdrop to understand the importance and continuing relevance of DVG’s literature on the Princely States.  

But the story really begins with the near-permanent downfall of eighteenth-century India whose ruling kingdoms rapidly succumbed to the British.

To be continued

Notes


[1] A Memorial on the Position of The Native States in The Empire, Selected Writings of D.V. Gundappa, Vol I, Gokhale Institute of Public Affairs, 2020, Bangalore pp 295

[2] Ibid. p 293

[3] Ibid. p 177

[4] Narrated in M.O. Mathai, My Days with Nehru, Vikas Publishing House, Delhi, 1979, pp 171-173

 

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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