The Nationalism of D.V.G and the Problems of the Princely States

This article is part 3 of 13 in the series DVG Profile by S.R. Ramaswamy

DVG practiced journalism for an unremitting seven decades; from the beginning, he fiercely upheld the nationalistic spirit in both speech and writing. From 1913-1920 when D.V.G. was editing the English biweekly Karnataka, this was the tenet that he declared: “The newspapers of our country need not imitate their counterparts in America or other foreign countries. Our papers need to conduct themselves in a manner that is consonant with our social circumstances and the nature and traditions of our people.”

Gopalakrishna Gokhale was the inspiration for D.V.G in such matters of patriotism, objective viewpoint, and intellectual integrity. The elders of the Servants of India Society established by Gokhale counted D.V.G. as an unofficial member and placed immense respect in him.

D.V.G. would become highly emotional whenever any mention was made of the Vande Mataram song. As far as he was concerned, he regarded this as our national song for decades on end and esteemed it as such. Before 1912, he had translated this song into Sanskrit.

D.V.G had included this Sanskrit translation in his poetry collection titled Vasantakusumanjali published in 1922. When India became independent in 1947, D.V.G. authored a poem titled Swatantra Bharata Abhinandanastava (An Ode Celebrating India’s Independence). He did not forget to recall the Vande Mataram song in the closing verse of this ode.

About three or four years before he passed away (1975), D.V.G had requested the music Vidwan, S. Chennakeshavayya to set an appropriate Raga for the Sanskrit version of Vande Mataram.

A Criticism

Sir Henry Cobb was the Resident back then. On one occasion, he paid a visit to the public library in Cubbon Park at about four in the evening. A disturbance had broken out when D.V.G arrived there at about five-thirty as usual. The library was subscribed to Annie Beasant’s New India and B.G. Harniman’s Bombay Chronicle papers. The ruler Cobb’s anger erupted when he saw these two papers, which were prominent organs of the national freedom movement. He apparently yelled, “Why are you subscribing to these poisonous tracts? Throw them out right now!,” and went away.  

D.V.G. learnt of this episode from the folks present there. On the very next day, he unleashed a scathing criticism: “What right does this British Resident have to interfere in this institution established by the Mysore Government for the public benefit of the citizens of Mysore? Who is he to meddle in this matter?”

An incensed Cobb indicated to the Government to punish the Karnataka paper. Sir M. Visvesvaraya sent this letter to D.V.G through his secretary S. Hiriyannayya and ordered Hiriyannayya to reply to it.

Such episodes occurred quite frequently.

A Response to the Mischief of The London Times

The tactics employed by the British Government to stifle the Indian freedom movement were numerous. The strategy of the British was to somehow create fissures among Indians. They birthed the spurious theory that India was not a single country and that the nationalist feeling among Indians would be born sometime in the future. They fostered this theory for several decades precisely because of this reason. The British propagandized these self-centered arguments with such effectiveness that even a good number of well-meaning Indian elite had accepted them uncritically and echoed the British propaganda. It was but natural that the wealthy class and the conservative sections of the British society supported the British Government. The Times paper published from London, too, belonged to this group.

In 1919, the Times paper published a series of articles. Its tenor was as follows: What is known in India as nationalism is just the selfishness of the Brahmins. The Brahmins oppose Western civilization in order to establish their superiority, that they are equivalent to the Divine. In order to uproot Western civilization, the Brahmins are using as a tool the nationalist movement inspired in the West.

In July 1919, D.V.G. wrote an extensive series of articles in Karnataka condemning this mischievous tract published by the Times. Perhaps it was also D.V.G’s intent to infuse some wisdom among the Indian people through this article. One can savour the force of his argument, his analytical skill and beauty of language in this series.  

Princely States

As a political commentator and analyst, D.V.G’s name and fame had spread even outside the borders of Karnataka. As early as 1915, D.V.G had earned widespread respect as the foremost among a handful of Indians who could speak with authority on the special problems concerning the Princely States. His writings on the various facets of this subject had attracted the attention of world-famous experts of political science such as Prof Berridale Keith and Indian constitutional experts like Sir P.S. Shivaswamy Iyer. The other person who keenly appreciated D.V.G’s scholarship was “Deenabandhu” C.F. Andrews. D.V.G’s political commentaries were widely cited in the famous papers in England.

The other notable accomplishment that D.V.G. did through the Karnataka paper was the following. In those days, the freedom movement was largely confined to British India. He brought the nature of the special problems of the Princely States to the notice of the country’s leading thinkers and the British Government. Such was the depth of his understanding in the field that D.V.G.’s name occupied the top position in the list of a handful of well-known scholars at the national level who could speak on it. For about thirty years, the topic that occupied D.V.G’s mind was this – the future of the Princely States and their citizens in the era of independent India.

In pre-independence India there were about three or four different categories of regions:

  1. Those that were known as ‘Provinces’ – Madras, Bombay, etc
  2. The Princely States – Mysore, Hyderabad, etc, which were under the rule of the Maharajas.
  3. Mixed regions – Coorg, Bhopal, etc
  4. A few islands and ‘kingdoms’ with an area less than fifty square miles: these were 336 in number. Of these, 300 had a population of less than 5000 people. Then there were 376 states with an annual income of less than one lakh rupees. Overall, about 2/5th  (7,12,508 square miles) of the total area of India (18,08, 679 square miles) was under the control of Princely States.

Despite this glaring reality, several thinkers like D.V.G. had to labour for a prolonged period to bring attention to the British that it was essential to keep in mind the special circumstances of the citizens of the Princely States in any deliberations about the future of India.

Whenever the problem of the Princely States came up, the British Government would brandish the old treaties that they had made with these states. However, this was just a ruse. This was also among the other tactics that the British used in order to postpone taking a decision. The number of Princely States that existed back then was 562. Of these, the number of states that had made the treaties with the British was just 40. The remaining 522 were not bound by any such treaty. Besides, the aforementioned 40 treaties were merely in name. They were not subject to any recognized legislative rule or law. They were akin to reminder letters written at some vague period in a remote past, a record meant to facilitate the carrying on of mutual relationships in an amicable fashion. The political customs and occurrences ever since had made them obsolete.

The British Government exercised its political power in a wanton manner. After the Diwan of Travancore, T. Raghavayya retired in 1925, the British Government appointed Maurice Watts, a Barrister in London to his position. 

As mentioned above, the reason the British Government put forward to reject India’s demand for freedom was this – the treaties and agreements that existed with the Indian Princely States. The truth of this argument apart, it was essential purely from the Indian standpoint to reach a decision about the Princely States and the future of their citizens.

To be continued

Author(s)

About:

Dr. S R Ramaswamy is a renowned journalist, writer, art critic, environmentalist, and social activist. He has authored over fifty books and thousands of articles. He was a close associate of greats like D. V. Gundappa and Rallapalli Anantakrishna Sharma. He is currently the honorary Editor-in-Chief of Utthana and the Honorary Secretary of the Gokhale Institute of Public Affairs.

Translator(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.