The First Proponent of Democracy in India
I have never seen Chettipunyam Rungacharlu [alternatively, Rangacharlu or Rangacharya.] I was born five or six years after his demise.
I wrote a fairly exhaustive treatise about Rungacharlu’s administration in both English and Kannada. That was fifty-seven or fifty-eight years ago. The aspect of his history that caught my mind and firmly fixed itself in my psyche was his understanding of the democratic system such a long time ago.
Dewan Rungacharlu was the first ever champion of democracy in India. The Representative Assembly that he established in 1881 no longer stands today; it is destroyed. The torrents of time has washed away an innumerable number of states, monarchies, schools of thought, and literary works. It has made many great things seem as if they never happened. The Representative Assembly is one of those things that came in the line of time’s assault and vanished never to be found again.
The manner in which the Representative Assembly of Mysore was established will be quite instructive to our generation. Although Rungacharlu pioneered such an extraordinary and unprecedented venture, he did not organize any ceremony for its inauguration. He had no trumpets blown, no pavilions erected, no stages built. During the year when the Mahārāja [Chamarajendra Wodeyar X] took the reins of the kingdom [from the British, in 1881], the Navarātra durbar was a magnificent spectacle. A festival that had not been celebrated for years had started again, so the citizens were, quite naturally, jubilant. To participate in the celebrations, important personage from all across the state had congregated at the capital. To make use of this opportunity for the state’s welfare, Dewan Rungacharlu invited those eminent people to a friendly get-together and discussed the kingdom’s state of affairs with them.
Thus, in a friendly manner, untangled by rules and regulations, the Representative Assembly began functioning. Rungacharlu said that the government had learnt many useful things from the experience of the first, informal meeting and that the state would profit from such regular interactions and knowledge exchanges between the government and people of eminence. This would, he felt, gradually eliminate the gap between the government and the citizens, and strengthen the feeling of co-operation since the government and its citizens were, after all, two limbs supporting the same body. He followed it up by sending out a government hukum for the Representative Assembly to convene once every year regularly.
The idea of a Representative Assembly had been on Rungacharlu’s mind for a very long time. The British Government had come up with a pact that the Mahārāja had to concur with during the handover of the Mysore kingdom to him [as per the Rendition Act of 1881]. The then British Commissioner had to recommend the terms of the pact to be finalized. Rungacharlu used to be the Revenue Secretary and Advisor to Commissioner Gordon. As a result, Rungacharlu got the opportunity to include the previously-mentioned idea along with the list of terms in the pact. It was worded as follows: To learn the opinions of the citizens, a Citizens’ Representative Assembly consisting of prominent farmers, traders, and other people of eminence shall be instituted.
However, the British Government rejected that recommendation. How can a system not implemented in the British India directly ruled by us be brought into effect in a mere Princely State! What would its consequence be in British India! – This was their fear.
Perceiving the intent [behind the rejection], Rungacharlu pretended to have dropped the idea at that point of time and waited for an opportune moment. Right when one such convenient occasion took place, he turned the idea to reality.
No drums beaten, no trumpets blown…
Perhaps, Kālidāsa intended something like this when he said, “…phalānumeyāḥ prārambhāḥ…” (“…it is only from the results do we know that it was ever started…” - Raghu-vaṃśam 1.20) Without any preparation, without attracting anybody’s attention, the Representative Assembly, which started like a sapling that sprouted from the soil in the wild, grew into a giant tree over sixty years.
Engrossed about National Welfare
Rungacharlu served as Dewan for less than two years. He briefly directed the procedure for the state’s progress. All his actions were based on these two rules of thumb – strengthening democracy and improving economic resources by reducing administrative expenditure.
Apparently, the idea of developing national resources struck his mind while he was in the Madras Province. Learning from the experts about different kinds of timber in the forests of Wayanad, he got a square foot of planks chopped from each type of tree as a sample, had it smoothened, and had a ‘bureau’ (cupboard) made from it. I had seen that in his house. Likewise, he had got a wooden box made from a camphor tree. The forests in our country are abundant with resources; putting these resources to use was his desire.
Intending to establish textile mills near Bangalore or at some other suitable location in the State of Mysore, he had got designed plans of machinery, equipment, and buildings – much later, all these were found in between the pages of his books. Thus, in the matters of the economy, Rungacharlu had a wonderful long-term vision.
He was similar in politics, too. The markings, symbols, and notes he had made in his books show us how well he had studied the Greek philosopher Aristotle’s treatises. And during his lifetime he examined the works written by those who had been social reformers and political thinkers of England. It appears he loved the lectures of the philosopher John Stuart Mill. In his copy of Mill’s Representative Government, Rungacharlu had made a lot of notes. I have seen that book; however, I was not able to read it. That’s how legible his handwriting was. The letters were not clear and appeared as if worms were crawling on the paper!
Rungacharlu never liked his handwriting; he would dictate everything he was meaning to write and make a scribe write it down. Among Rungacharlu’s amanuenses, M Narayana Rao was one. He later rose to the rank of Deputy Commissioner and served the state. Another was Annaji Rao, who rose to the position of Assistant Commissioner.
This is the first part of a three-part English translation of the second chapter of D V Gundappa’s Jnapakachitrashaale – Vol. 4 – Mysurina Diwanaru. Edited by Hari Ravikumar.