Vīrakesari Sitarama Shastri: The Legislative Assembly, Hanumanthaiah, people's leader - Part 6

Legislative Assembly

Sitarama Shastri was a nominated member of the legislative assembly for a few years. He utilised that platform effectively to facilitate people-friendly measures. Only a handful could face him in a debate.

Once when he was criticising a particular decision of the government, M A Srinivasan, a Council Member (and Minister), was embarrassed; overcome by anger, he said, “Do you remember that you are just a nominated member (as opposed to elected)?” Shastri replied like an enraged lion: “Sir, by the grace of whose official signature you are sitting on the chair of the Councillor and asking haughty questions, it is owing to the same authority that even I am sitting in this meeting. Nominated members aren’t here to just agree with every decision the government takes and play the role of a yes-man. We are here to bring you to the right path whenever you go astray and ensure harmony between the government and the citizens.”

There is no need to explicitly state that the minister had no answer. He had never faced such verbal arrows.

Due to Shastri’s boldness, even other members started participating actively with confidence in the proceedings.

Later sometime (probably in 1929) when K. Mathan, a Council Member, irresponsibly argued that the authority of the nominated members was limited, DVG answered in strong terms: “I must strongly protest against the implied censure. I think the Government nominated me not to represent the Government but to represent the public, and I represent the public according to my light. I interpret the rules according to my understanding and not according to Government's understanding.”

In this manner DVG, Virakesari, and others pioneered the establishing of the people’s rule.

Sitarama Shastri and Hanumanthaiah[1]

Once, Kengal Hanumanthaiah, the member of the opposition (Congress) brought a bill to reduce the salaries and other facilities provided to Ministers leading to an embarrassment for the government. To substantiate his argument he gave a powerful speech earning praise from one and all, after having conducted a thorough investigation; he had collected a lot of information on the functioning of the parliament in England, the privileges and facilities enjoyed by the ministers there, and so on. Those arguments, however, were swept away by Shastri’s rebuttal which mainly argued that the situation in Mysore was different and hence such measures were not prudent.

“Sri Hanumanthaiah has presented his argument extremely well. Anyone would be convinced. When I was in the Congress I used to compare him with Abhimanyu. He knows how to get inside the cakra-vyūha but he doesn’t know how to come out! The ministers in the British cabinet aren’t like the ministers here. They all hail from aristocratic families and most of them are shareholders and directors of huge companies…”

In this fashion Shastri provided details of each of the ministers and their positions of affluence. The members were mesmerised by the detailed knowledge that Shastri possessed. The whole environment turned hostile towards the bill. Thus Shastri saved the government from a great deal of embarrassment.

After the proceedings when all the members were exiting, K C Reddy[2] scolded Shastri (in Telugu) in a tone loud enough for everyone else to hear it, “You just spoiled everything!”

~

Many years after this incident, once again there was a situation when Shastri opposed Hanumanthaiah (who by then had become the Chief Minister of Mysore). Sheshappa, the editor of the newspaper Kiḍi (‘Spark’), who was always criticizing the government, wrote an article titled The Ghostly Gloom of the Attara Kacheri[3]. The government filed a criminal case against him. Shastri tried to rectify the situation and make the government withdraw the case by calling Hanumanthaiah over the phone and trying to convince him. But Hanumanthaiah was adamant.

Shastri went on to be the witness in favour of Sheshappa in court.

The government advocate was young and inexperienced. He started asking offensive and irrelevant questions like, “What's your educational qualification? What all exams have you passed?” Shastri calmly replied, “Even if I told you my educational qualifications you are in no position to fathom it. Śṛṅgeri Śāradā-pīṭha is my gurukula. Śrī Śrī Candraśekhara-bhāratī is my classmate. If you understand this much, it is sufficient.”

The youngster was not to be silenced. “In what all disciplines have you done vidvat (proficiency exams)? Do you have the certificates?” He continued in this manner.

By then Shastri’s patience was on the brink. “I’ve worked as an examiner for the vidvat-level exams in all disciplines. I don’t hold any academic degrees,” he replied. He then turned towards the Judge and said, “I’m here since the court has invited me to be an expert witness; to give my opinion on whether the usage of words in the article is right or wrong. I have all the required expertise and eligibility to comment upon that – I declare so. I request the lordship to warn the government prosecutor not to ask irrelevant questions.”

After this the government had no courage to continue the deliberations of the case. The court dismissed the case.

There seems to be some unexplainable connection between courts and Sitarama Shastri.

People’s Leader

In the beginning of the year 1941, there was disagreement between administration and the employees of Binny Mills. The strike went on for twenty-five days. There had been four or five strikes before that – especially in the matter of disbursing bonuses. But those were not on such a huge scale. The main complaint of the administration was the unionization of the employees. However, many felt that the demands of the workers were fair. Thus K T Bhasyam and others too were sympathetic to their cause.

N D Shankar who was gathering the workers asked Sitarama Shastri for support. Shastri played an active role in generating sympathy towards this cause in the minds of people.

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]The second Chief Minister of Mysore State.

[2]He later became the first chief minister of Mysore state.

[3]The present-day High Court of Karnataka building which earlier housed the eighteen public departments.

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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