The warden of Socrates’ prison is a great and enduring metaphor for several reasons. For one, when Socrates’ wealthy friend Crito says he can bribe the prison guards to help him escape an unjust punishment, Socrates refuses purely on moral grounds thereby setting a personal example. His self-sacrifice is perhaps his way of shaming the state of Athens itself. On another plane, as he tells Crito, submitting himself voluntarily to unjust laws instead of inciting a revolt also shows that Socrates valued maintaining social order and cohesion. It is not a coincidence that the Crito episode became and still remains a foundational topic in the philosophy of law. At any rate, the Socratic metaphor also stands for the truism that the world has rarely heeded the sage advice of wise men and women since eons and in some cases, has killed them because of their wisdom.
Arguably, this applies in varying degrees to DVG’s legacy in the political and public realm.
So far, we have examined some of the key facets of DVG’s political philosophy, moorings, inspiration and ideals. Now we can examine how they translated in reality in his own extensive work in public life, politics and journalism spread over six decades. This work maybe broadly divided into four categories:
- As a representative of various public offices
- As a tireless advocate of responsible government
- As a visionary who warned about the problems of the princely states very early in a public atmosphere fraught with only a myopic goal of wresting independence from the British
- As a conscientious evaluator of the Congress party during the freedom struggle and a trenchant critic of Congress governments after Independence.
A Public Representative
As a nominated member to the Mysore Legislative Council, it didn’t’ take long for DVG to carve out the same standard of distinction that he had earned as a journalist and editor so far. Although Diwan Mirza Ismail had personally nominated him, DVG never became a mouthpiece of the Mysore Government. The reverse is actually true. If public life had to be spiritualized, fearlessness was the first prerequisite. As a firm believer and practitioner of the exalted principle that Government exists for the welfare and well-being of the citizens that gave it power, DVG would passionately criticize every law or move that violated this principle. Quite obviously, his own colleagues didn’t take his criticisms kindly and over time, he clashed with Mirza Ismail himself as we shall see.
The Eightfold Path
Indeed, we have a firsthand source of DVG’s conception and ideal of public life in a remarkable vow that he publicly took. The following is the full text of this vow.
Pledge: With God as witness, I hereby embrace the following eight vows:
- Debt to the Nation: The people of Bharata, her institutions and traditions have protected and nurtured me. I shall always remember the debt I owe this country and I shall attempt to discharge my nationalist duties with utmost purity of thought and purpose.
- National Unity and Integrity: I shall try to preserve the unity and integrity of the Indian nation. I shall oppose anything that causes damage to this unity be it sectarian interests of sect, creed, language, economic and social group.
- Truth: Truth should be the only basis for all decisions related to public life. I believe that the method of arriving at the truth is through honest study of the subject on hand and fearless public discussions.
- Courtesy: In interactions with people, if courtesy is complemented by truth, human life becomes truly auspicious. Therefore, I shall, according to my ability, assist in all endeavours that foster mutual friendship, compassion, and empathy among people.
- Independent Thought: In order to find out answers and solutions to problems of public life and to express them, I shall not be beholden to any faction or party and be guided by my conscience alone and conduct myself accordingly. However, I shall also truthfully contemplate upon the opinion of every group. In every matter, I shall examine every opinion with empathy and critical reasoning.
- Striving for Peace: In cases where there is potential for conflict and fight among people, I shall strive to maintain amity among them and attempt to resolve these conflicts through friendly consensus. The peace that is established by mutual goodwill among warring groups is the peace that lasts.
- Fearlessness: I shall remain fearless in both expressing the truth and spreading courtesy. I shall not conceal the truth owing to my obligation to or dependence on anybody. I shall not tolerate injustice.
- Giving up Selfishness: I shall not use my public position and official perks for my personal profit or glory.
If the political class of any country is really serious about enshrining lasting national values, it would do well to first inculcate this eightfold path of DVG within itself. Indeed, DVG took this pledge after putting its constituents in practice. A few well-known episodes from his life are worth recounting in this regard.
The first episode relates to the period when Mokshagundam Visvesvaraya was the Diwan. As a young and distinguished journalist, DVG’s newspaper office once received a cheque from the Mysore Palace. When he inquired the reason, he was told that this was part of an age-old convention where the Durbar of His Highness, the Maharaja of Mysore sent a token sum to all journalists who covered the Mysore Dasara festival every year. It was supposed to be a gesture of goodwill. DVG was incensed. He visited the Diwan’s office. This was how the conversation ensued:
DVG: “Why have you sent this money?”
Official: “Because you have covered the Dasara celebrations so well in your paper.”
DVG: “And you sent money for that?”
Official: “You’re journalists. You have travel, lodging and other expenses. Besides, this is an old custom.”
DVG: “Reporting is the duty of a journalist. The paper, not the Government, has to bear these costs. Take this back. I really don’t need it.”
When Diwan Visvesvaraya heard this, he was stunned and impressed by this young journalist’s fearless integrity and fierce independence. He wrote to his secretary: “This boy is not like the usual journalists. We cannot offer him money or any allurement. Please take back the cheque.”
The second dates back to his long associations with both Visvesvaraya and Mirza Ismail. As we’ve seen earlier, in many ways, DVG was a prize catch for both these Diwans. They sought his services for various matters and insisted that DVG accept compensation. Out of respect for these eminences, DVG accepted the cheques they gave him on all such occasions. After DVG passed away in 1975, his son, the brilliant botanist and multifaceted scholar and writer Dr. B.G.L. Swamy opened his father’s large metallic trunk. Among the things he discovered were a stack of cheques signed by Visvesvaraya and Mirza Ismail. DVG never cashed them. Public service should not have a price tag.
The third episode was when the Karnataka Government announced its decision to award a monthly pension to DVG. The aged DVG summoned the Karnataka Chief Secretary G.V.K. Rao to his home and said, “What are you doing my man? For what joy are you planning to give me money? Are you sitting in such a high office to waste public money in this fashion? This is completely unacceptable.” G.V.K. Rao had no option but to yield to DVG’s remonstrance.
The fourth episode was when the Karnataka Government made another announcement: to rename the Nagasandra Road in DVG’s honour. To which DVG promptly wrote a very public letter of protest (paraphrased): “surely, the Government has better and more important work than renaming roads after old people.” Even in this case, DVG abided by one of his cherished ideals: that long-held conventions and traditions of people must not be altered or overturned overnight. However, this time the Government did not yield. D.V.G. Road remains one of the celebrated landmarks in Basavanagudi.
Such episodes are manifold in DVG’s long life and career and they necessitate a separate volume by the dint of their merit.
DVG’s voluntary embrace of poverty might sound rather extreme by today’s watered-down standards and dumbed-down public discourse. In fact, in his own time, even DVG’s staunch admirers felt deeply for him and all their efforts to ameliorate his financial condition were shot down by the man himself. One can hazard a guess. As DVG confesses so movingly in his magnificent essay, Hakkiya Payana, right from childhood, he was drawn to Bairagis, Dasayyas, Fakirs and mendicants for their carefree life dedicated entirely to the Divine. Thankfully, instead of following their renunciate path, DVG imbibed their spirit and implemented it in a far more treacherous realm: politics and public life. This reminds us of a beautiful line: “what raises travel writing to literature is not what the writer brings to a place, but what the place draws out of the writer.” DVG’s legacy is itself a superb testimony of what these Yogis and Bairagis drew out of him of which we find an echo in this verse from Mankutimmana Kagga:
Does it matter how much you eat? The body can assimilate only that much that the stomach can digest. The rest is waste.
Of all the wealth you accumulate, how much can you actually use?
Just a handful of flour is all you can use - Mankutimma || 677 ||
To be continued
 D.V. Gundappa: Hrudaya Sampannaru: Jnapaka Chitrashaale (Govt of Karnataka, 2013)