The Mahārāja didn’t find any use for the European secretary. But someone nominated by the British government was not to be left out. The Mahārāja wanted a secretary who would be knowledgeable in national and local affairs, gauge the pulse of the citizens, and give him important news in a timely manner. The Mahārāja didn’t want someone who would behave like an aristocrat who had descended from the heavens and spoke in a cavalier fashion. Thus he decided that there should also be a ‘Huzūr Secretary’ along with the European secretary and upon the Mahārāja’s orders, his erstwhile tutor Purna Raghavendra Rao was appointed. And once he became a councillor, Mirza Ismail was appointed as the Huzūr Secretary.
The responsibility of hearing/reading all documents, answering queries, and ensuring the timely clearances of all government requests and recommendations fell on Mirza’s shoulders. This relieved the then Private Secretary Sir Charles Todhunter from most of his work and he was able to spend his free time in activities that were dear to his heart, such as the association for the care of disabled animals, orphanages, pinjarāpol (old age shelter for animals), and so on. During the silver jubilee celebrations of the coronation of the Mahārāja, there was a special passage about humane treatment of animals in the Mahārāja’s official address to the citizens expressing his thoughts about the future; people thought Sir Todhunter was instrumental in adding that segment.
After Sir Todhunter’s term came to an end I had requested Mirza Ismail, who was by then the Dewan, not to extend his term or reappoint him, for there was no substantial reason to do so. He replied obscurely with a smile saying, “The Todhunter couple are elderly. Old people, you know. They are pious and honest. They will do something beneficial to the people. The kingdom also needs such people.”
Before going to Mirza Ismail’s achievements as the Dewan of Mysore, it is prudent to describe the fundamental rule he adhered to as a preface. Mirza used to repeatedly quote a few lines written by a Parsi poet. It goes like this:
You arrived here crying
while your kinsmen smiled
Depart from here smiling
while your kinsmen cry!
The meaning of this verse is evident. “It is possible to accomplish this only through your goodness.”
Do good, be good: this was what Mirza believed in.
What is ‘Good’?
But what does it mean to be good? What is good? Whatever the majority of the people demand, that is good – is one opinion.
What has been accepted by the world as good from time immemorial is good – is another opinion.
Mirza Ismail was not one to deny the opinions and aspirations of the citizens. “Their opinions are indeed valid. But the voices we hear in the political circles alone don’t constitute the voices of the citizens. The opinions and voices of the common people who remain outside political institutions carry more weight and hence must be given more value” – This was his opinion. We need not reinvent what is good for people. Food surplus, ample job opportunities, education, culture, a clean environment, scenic locales, flowers and fruits, clean clothes, good conduct, magnanimity – these are good for people. This has been accepted by all countries and all religions for a long time. There is no secret ingredient when it comes to what is good: it needs neither discussion nor debate. With constant and persistent effort, if the government can cultivate what has been accepted as good since ages, then it has served its purpose.
The Binny Mills Unrest
The Binny Mills problem started the same year in which Mirza became the Dewan of Mysore [i.e. 1926]. That year, the employees of Binny Mills went on strike. When all the efforts by the police to disperse them went in vain, with no other choice they opened fire. I remember there were a couple of deaths. And that’s when the trouble started. Later that year, during the Representative Assembly proceedings that took place in Mysore, naturally the unfortunate episode was tabled for discussion. Mirza Ismail was subjected to acerbic criticism by many people. Mirza handled the situation with utmost patience. I am aware that a few people told the Mahārāja that Mirza should have instead responded to his critics forcefully. On the contrary, there were others who told the Mahārāja with appreciation that Mirza was right in his conduct. As for the Mahārāja, he did not pay heed to these critics.
An event that happened during the same time period exemplifies the innate nature of the Era of Agitations.
During the Binny Mills unrest, the police discovered that there was a possibility of further unrest and agitation. The government thought it was prudent to exercise caution and nip these revolts in the bud and so it brought out an executive order forbidding all public gatherings for some time.
One day, I was sitting with one of my lawyer friends in his house. A friend of his, another lawyer, happened to visit him. That friend started a discussion on the curfew that was ordered by the city magistrate and expressed his displeasure, screaming on top of his voice. I tried to pacify him. “You say the government has acted impetuously. You might be right. But it’s not appropriate to violate it. Instead, the magistrate can be requested to take back the orders. The current city magistrate is a good person. He is just and people-friendly. If you are willing to go and request him, and if you want me to accompany you, I will also come. I am confident that he will cancel the orders.”
He disagreed and said, “Requesting the officers is not right. We should earn our rights through our strength. There should be awareness among the citizens. Agitations are instrumental in this!”
After hearing this I kept quiet. That proponent of agitations is still alive [c. 1971]. He has earned fame and has occupied various prominent positions. Even after all these episodes of unrest during that era, the people of Mysore did not feel the need for such agitations; that is true even now. These days, not only in Mysore but even across India, some people have made agitation their daily routine. And we all are experiencing the ramifications of that.