Vīrakesari Sitarama Shastri: A Feisty Lion - Part 1

Political acumen, rights and duties of the citizens, answerability of the government, the role of newspapers in protecting the welfare of the people – these things found expression in a hitherto unseen rigour for the first time in Karnataka (the erstwhile Mysore state) during 1928–29. The ‘Ganapati Riots’ of Sultanpet, Bangalore provided the stage for this. The Mysore Government, which looked bereft of political will in the eyes of both the citizens and the Investigation Committee, took drastic measures to ban the newspapers including Sampadabhyudaya, under the editorship of senior journalist Sri M. Venkatakrishnayya; Mysore Patriot; and others. It also revoked, on 26th February 1929, the publishing rights of Vīrakesari, the newspaper published from Bangalore, which was under the editorship of Sri. Sitarama Sastri. As soon as this happened, Sitarama Shastri wrote a caustic rebuttal in the newspaper Navajīvana published by Sri. Ashwatthanarayana Rao. To publicise that article thousands of pamphlets were distributed in Bangalore on 28th February 1929. The content of the pamphlet was as follows:

“Read the 28.2.1929 edition of Navajīvana by Sitarama Shastri! Let the Mysore government be warned! I’ve convinced fifty people to be prepared and ready to violate the press act. We are prepared to be imprisoned. Banishing us would be juvenile! The reign of Mirza Ismail as the Dewan of Mysore should end. A responsible government should be established. Let the government be warned!”

The Audacity to Agitate

Sitarama Shastri had written the following in Navajīvana published the same evening:

“The recent conduct of the Mysore government is wrong. Day after day it is taking bizarre turns. Wherever we go people ask, “Is there any remedy for the recent lunacy of this government?” What can we say! The discord between the government and the newspapers is growing beyond limits. Just or unjust, the government seems to thrash all the newspapers using the same stick without discretion. And so we have been forced to fight against this mad elephant. It is difficult to run a newspaper when the fear of it being banned at whim occupies the minds of people. The government has unjustly banned the newspapers of some of the most senior journalists of Mysore. Now they are publishing social pamphlets[1]. They have concluded that they cannot write about politics by being limited to merely parroting the government’s views and hence have decided to violate the law. This is the only right royal highway available – not just to the senior-most journalists but to all of us. Mr. Mirza Ismail, not able to rule lawfully, has decided to use tyranny. We, agitators should ensure the end of the tyrannical reign of Mr. Mirza Ismail. We have taken a vow: This irresponsible government should be uprooted and a new responsible government should be established. The government has decided to use high hand tactics to suppress us. Let us see how this war would end.

Now the government has tyrannized the press. There are rumours that senior journalists would be banished. I am preparing for the struggle against this press act in Bangalore. I have prepared around fifty other journalists to violate this press act. Nothing can stop this. This agitation is the only weapon we have. Through this we shall violate the press act. We are ready to face imprisonment or exile. Mysore’s span is negligible compared to the whole of India! If we stand at one border and roar, it would be heard at the other borders. Isn’t this banishment juvenile? Would the government bow down in front of the truth and conduct itself lawfully? Or would it fight? This is a warning to inform that it should be ready to face dire consequences.

Yours in the service of the public,

Sitarama Shastri

This is just an example to show his audacity and temerity.

He was at the forefront of many such agitations. The Mysore government confiscated the Vīrakesari press on two occasions.

During the last days of the agitation for the establishment of a responsible government (1947), since there was a ban on his newspaper, Sitarama Shastri took containers of cast metal types[2] along with a few compositors to Madras, printed the newspaper there, and distributed it in Bangalore.  It was his vow that in such an important agitation Virakesari’s contribution should be there. Even blindness and paucity of funds couldn’t stop him in what he thought of as his sacred duty. Sastri’s friend, Sri Gururaja Rao, was managing the studio of the erstwhile super star Sri. V. Nagaiah, in Madras. He introduced Sastri to V Nagaiah. Sri. Nagaiah’s situation was not very convenient then, but he was impressed by Sastri’s erudition, conviction, and towering personality.  He helped him. Sastri remembered his timely patronage till the very end of his life.

Virakesari’s circulation in Bangalore took the government by surprise. It left Arcot Ramaswami Mudaliar’s government stunned.

Sastri wrote articles in the form of ‘open letters’ highlighting the lacuna in the governance of Mudaliar, administrative blunders of his ministers, the insolence of the officers, and corruption. Under the title, “To the notice of His Highness, the King”, he gave a proper account of the mismanagement going on in the state. He published a list of allegations against the personal secretary Sri. T. Tambu Shetty. The paper ushered in a revolution in Mysore.

With no choice left,  Arcot Ramaswami Mudaliar as the dewan and K C Reddy as the head, a responsible government was established in Mysore. This was the culmination of the long cherished dream of Sastri. Such audacity was what made him a popular and a natural leader.

~

Sitarama Shastri was the foremost among the erudite littérateur-journalists of the previous generation. The Vīrakesari newspaper that he published had such a vast following that ‘Vīrakesari’ became part of his name. He was one of the principal founders of the Mysore Congress in a bid to agitate for a responsible government. He enriched Kannada literature with around sixty works. Daulat, stitched around the episodes that occurred during the reign of Tipu Sultan being one of the best in Kannada literature along with Śrī Raṅgarāya and others. He gave us a simple yet attractive translation of the Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa. He wrote an exciting biography of Chatrapati Shivaji.

The current article is an English adaptation of the Kannada original which has appeared in the Dīvaṭikegaḻu, authored by Nadoja Dr. S R Ramaswamy. Some parts have been adapted from the booklet titled - 'Virakesari' Sitarama Sastri - published as part of the series Mulukanadu Mahaniyaru. Thanks to Sri Hari Ravikumar for his edits.

Footnotes

[1]‘ಪೌರಸಾಮಾಜಿಕ ಪತ್ರಿಕೆ.’

[2]During those days, typesetting was undertaken by hand compositing. The ‘type’ was a metal piece cast from a matrix mould that represented a particular letter of the alphabet or a symbol. A compositor was one who would assemble the various types representing the letters into lines to ultimately make a ‘form’ from which a page would be printed.

Author(s)

About:

Nadoja 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 stalwarts like D. V. Gundappa, Rallapalli Anantakrishna Sharma, V Sitaramaiah, and others. He is currently the honorary Editor-in-Chief of Utthana and served as the Honorary Secretary of the Gokhale Institute of Public Affairs for many years.

Translator(s)

About:

Raghavendra G S is currently pursuing a PhD in Computer Science at the Indian Institute of Science. He is a Sanskrit poet and a keen student of classical literature in Sanskrit and Kannada. He is one of the contributing editors of Prekshaa.

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