Sir K Seshadri Iyer (Part 2)

Competence at Work

Alongside his reputation for proficiency at work, there is another trait of Seshadri Iyer that needs to be mentioned as a corollary. He was never a person who yearned for people’s endorsement. A German historian defines the term ‘people’—one of the elements of the State—in the following manner:

The people is that part of the State which does not know its own interests.

In other words, citizens of a state represents those people who are not capable of realizing their own welfare. Seshadri Iyer, it appears, belonged to this school of thought. No doubt, we have to do good to the citizens. But then, what is good for the people? That is not something for the common man to decide. Rather, it is the intellectuals, who are capable of analysing the state’s situation and happenings—using their experiential wisdom—should decide what is good.

That is not all. The mode of operations decided by competent thinkers should not be hindered by the crowded mobs. Even this thought was on Seshadri Iyer’s mind. With respect to democratic powers, these were the reasons why the path traversed by Seshadri Iyer was not the same as the one treaded by Rungacharlu. It was a right decision on Rungacharlu’s part to establish the Representative Assembly. However, it might cause more of an inconvenience to administration than assistance. Removal of such an eminent assembly is not possible. Therefore, Seshadri Iyer’s strategy was cleverly tolerating the assembly and managing it in some manner. But it was the strategy of unenthusiasm, and to a great extent, a path of apathy and aloofness.

*    *    *

Seshadri Iyer had the special skill of picking suitable assistants. With great astuteness, he appointed officials to positions of great importance. I have already mentioned the name of Chengai Srinivasa Iyengar earlier. A few other prominent names include Comptroller E R Subbaraya Iyer, Sessions Judge Subbarao, A Rangaswami Iyengar, and Secretary Vijayendra Rao.

Amongst them, Vijayendra Rao deserves a special mention. He was an out-and-out, total Mysorean. It is said that he used to write English beautifully. Apart from being competent he was a nice man. He was good looking too.

Jayarama Rao

Another gentleman who had become famous in those days was Jayarama Rao, who was similarly an out-and-out Mysorean. He had been educated in London. He delivered a wonderful discourse about the fundamental principles of the Hindu dharma and pertinently answered all the objections raised by the Christian missionaries in the audience, thereby establishing the supremacy of the Vedic school of thought. While on the lookout for a teacher for the young Chamarajendra Wodeyar X, Rungacharlu had made up his mind to appoint Jayarama Rao, who was slated to return from England in some time. But by then, Jayarama Rao breathed his last.

Seshadri Iyer’s Achivements

Seshadri Iyer’s tenure as the Dewan was for about a period of seventeen years [1883–1901]. He would delegate the routinely-scheduled duties of the state’s administration to be managed by various competent and trustworthy authorities. He kept four items of high priority to be handled personally –

  1. Interactions with the king,
  2. Transactions with the British Government,
  3. Works related to the development of resources, and
  4. Overseeing the administration.

Like mentioned earlier, he had appointed competent individuals to handle the fourth responsibility. The major portion of his time was invested into the remaining three items.

Seshadri Iyer was the Dewan during the rule of two monarchs –

  1. Chamarajendra Wodeyar X (r. 1868–94)
  2. Mahārāṇi Kempa Nanjammani – Vani Vilasa Sannidhana (r. 1895–1902)

This was an unusual situation. The Mahārāja was young and inexperienced. Next in hierarchy was the Mahārāṇi, who had never seen the world beyond palace; she was unfamiliar with the details of governance and administration. Because of this state of affairs, the responsibility of the Dewan increased greatly. It had become quite common for people to hold the Dewan accountable for any and every predicament. Seshadri Iyer took upon this extraordinary responsibility on his shoulders with fortitude and courage.

Amongst all the ventures that Seshadri Iyer undertook, three stand most prominent –

1. Power generation at Śivana Samudra,

2. Mārīkaṇivè Dam (Vani Vilasa Sagara Dam), and

3. The reservoir at Hesaraghaṭṭa.

In India, it was in the Mysore province that the first ever work related to electricity began. Seshadri Iyer’s glory was firmly established on this basis.

Generation of Electricity

Seshadri Iyer wasn’t an engineer by vocation nor was he a scientist. Before taking charge as the Dewan, he served as the Deputy Commissioner of Tumkur. We have no tangible means to learn about how a thought related to electricity and power generation arose in his mind. Iyer intently read foreign newspaper and was proficient in mathematics. While browsing through a US newspaper, he apparently read an article describing the process of power generation and the various benefits that came out of it. This appears to have seeded the thought in Seshadri Iyer’s mind that inspired the vision of Śivana Samudra. This might be a possibility.

Why didn’t it occur to anyone else like it did to him?

During the years 1903–04, I used to often read a monthly called the Wide World Magazine in the Reading Room at my high school in Kolar. Motors had just begun to be used all around the world. The magazine had published an exhaustive article that threw light on many details such as the construction of a motor and its application. Even the pictures of a few of its parts had been printed. I read that piece of writing and saw the pictures. Despite doing so, I am only as knowledgeable about it today as I was then. If someone claims that Seshadri Iyer was inspired by an article in a newspaper, I am not in a position to substantiate it.

Talent is like flowing wind in space. Who can reason when, and in which way, it blows?

*      *      *

To be continued...

This is the second part of an English translation of the third chapter of D V Gundappa’s Jnapakachitrashaale – Vol. 4 – Mysurina Diwanaru. Edited by Hari Ravikumar.



Devanahalli Venkataramanayya Gundappa (1887-1975) was a great visionary and polymath. He was a journalist, poet, art connoisseur, philosopher, political analyst, institution builder, social commentator, social worker, and activist.



Karthik Muralidharan is an entrepreneur, educator, and a motivational speaker. An MBA in Human Resource Management, Karthik currently runs businesses in Leadership Education, Training, and Wealth Management. He is deeply interested in prosody, philosophy, and literature.

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