Profiles in Eminence: Sir M. Visvesvarayya’s Heartfelt Tribute to Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya

This is the full text of Bharataratna Sir M. Visvesvarayya's extraordinary tribute to Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya.
Profiles in Eminence: Sir M. Visvesvarayya’s Heartfelt Tribute to Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya
Sandeep Balakrishna

Editor’s Note

Thankfully, we haven’t yet reached a stage of national and cultural amnesia where we need to provide an introduction to both Sir M. Visvevarayya and Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya. And so, we can directly skip to the full text of this brilliant tribute to Pandit Malaviya written in long hand by Sir M. Visvesvarayya.

Titled Some Personal Reminiscenes, it is a superb study in how a national titan regarded a cultural giant. It also throws light on the innate nobility of character that underscored the personal and the public life of the luminaries of that era. Among other traits, this included undisguised respect for the other person, a sense of unqualified magnanimity, a genuine recognition of goodness and virtue, and natural restraint.

For your reading pleasure.

Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya: Some Personal Reminiscences

It has been my privilege to come into contact with Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya on more than a dozen occasions within the past 22 years and on several of these occasions I have had opportunities of discussing with him at length topics of common interest to us, particularly in the

spheres of education, politics and economics. I will briefly recall here some of my reminiscences of such occasions.

Political Activities

It was at the session of the Indian National Congress in December 1910 at Allahabad which I attended as a visitor that I first made the acquaintance of the Pandit. He took a prominent part in conducting the business of that session, and whenever questions arose, spoke with assurance and eloquence. In his characteristic plain white clothes, he was easily the star-figure in the assembly.

The next time I came within the ambit of his political activities was in December 1921 when he led a deputation to the Viceroy in which Dr. Annie Besant and several prominent Indian leaders took part. I was then in Calcutta and he asked me also to join the deputation, the object of which was to suggest measures to Government calculated to allay the unrest prevailing at the time and to voice public dissatisfaction at the inadequacy of political reforms which had been introduced the year before and to demand an immediate advance to enable the country to enter on a career of constructive activities and peaceful progress which were not thought possible under the limitations imposed by the Parliamentary Act of 1919.

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On January 10, 1922, a representative all-parties Conference was convened in Bombay chiefly at the initiative of the Pandit, which Mahatma Gandhi also attended. A Committee was appointed to give practical effect to the objects of the Conference in which along with the Pandit, Mr. M. A. Jinnah and M. R. Jayakar who took part, my name was also included. But the work of the Committee ended abruptly in certain circumstances which are now matters of history.

The Pandit has waged many a fight in the people’s cause on the Congress platform since 1886 and in the Imperial Legislative Council and its successor, the Indian Legislative Assembly since 1910. In all political struggles he has been in the forefront of the battle. Till two or three years ago, he kept to the strict and narrow path of constitutional agitation and when last year [1931] the agitation was at its height and leader after leader was sent to prison including his great friend and compatriot Mahatma Gandhi, he joined the Working Committee of the Congress which was then a proscribed organization. T hat led to his arrest and subsequent incarceration. To an orthodox Hindu, prison life is particularly abhorrent, but he made this supreme sacrifice when he felt the country’s interests demanded it.

Benares Hindu University

The Pandit’s most notable achievement in the sphere of constructive activities is the establishment of the Hindu University at Benares for which he has worked ceaselessly for over 25 years. Such important institutions are usually built up by the benefactions of super-rich men, or by high officials taking the lead with the backing of Government, or by means of public subscriptions raised to commemorate a great name. But in the present case the University has been brought into existence by the devoted exertions of a private citizen, mainly through the trust reposed by the public in his devotion, character and high moral purpose.

Benares was selected for the location of this University because that city is an old and historic centre of learning and is held in veneration by millions of Hindus as the principal seat of their faith. His Highness the Maharaja of Mysore was prevailed upon to become the first Chancellor and it w as recognised at the time that having regard to His Highness’ well-known piety, love of Sanskrit literature and devotion to the Hindu religion no more fitting choice could have been made for that high office.

Pandit Malaviya started with a definite concept of what the University was to do and what the general disposition was to be of the various buildings which were to give it habitation. He sought to preserve the best thought and culture of Hindu religion and philosophy and, at the same time, to train experts in science, men of business and industrial leaders, who would help to increase the country’s production and wealth. He discussed some of these questions with me at Delhi and other places. He took enormous trouble to consult every one within his reach whose views were worth knowing—engineers, architects, educationists and industrial leaders—but while profiting from all such advice, adhered in essentials to the original plan on which the general scheme had been started.

The Pandit carried on an intensive campaign to collect funds and build up the University from stage to stage. He approached Princes and chiefs, waited on high Government officials, visited important centres and addressed great gatherings at which he appealed to the patriotism of merchants and Zamindars and to the religious instincts of the Hindus for this purpose. I was present at one such gathering in Calcutta which he addressed in Hindi with great force and eloquence—I believe this was in January 1912—when rich Zamindars, Marwari merchants and others came forward with promises of large sums, many handing in bundles of currency notes on the spot. The moving eloquence of the Pandit had evidently told on the audience and money literally poured in on that occasion.

I visited Benares by invitation in January 1923 and found that the University had taken a definite shape. A noble pile of buildings had sprung up. Instruction up to the highest degree in the various branches of Art and Science and teaching in Sanskrit Classics Vere in full swing. A high class College in Engineering had begun work and attempts were being made to start a College of Agriculture. Although the University was still in the stage of development, it had already made a mark as an all-India centre of learning, and was attracting students from all parts of the country.

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The Pandit’s political activities have both helped and hindered his work for the University. It was his reputation as a man of learning and piety and a disinterested political worker that enabled him to make a satisfactory start. On more than one occasion he was in disfavour with the Government and there were apprehensions of stoppage of Government contributions to the Institution. Recently when he was sent to prison for his political opinions, it was freely talked about that the staff would have to be placed on half-pay.

Other Interests and Activities

The Pandit’s interests are nation-wide and are not confined to politics or education. Every good public cause his sympathy and support. He has been a strong supporter of compulsory primary education. He has also been one of the principal organisers of the Hindu Mahasabha Movement, the object of which is to promote co-operative effort for all good purposes among the Hindus so that the community may not fall below other nationalities, either within or outside the country, in energy and virile power for defence or self-improvement.

He is in favour of giving military training to the people of every Province or State, so that they may be able, if need arises, to defend their hearths and homes. And he has been a vigorous advocate of the policy of industrial development in the country. The minute he wrote for the Report of the Industrial Commission (1916-18) has often been quoted as the true Indian view of the industrial needs of the country.

His Oratory and Personal Characteristics

The Pandit’s effectiveness as a public worker is considerably enhanced by his fine powers of oratory. He has a pleasing mellow voice and his exposition of subjects is lit by many lights. Knowledge of Sanskrit classics, wide acquaintance with English history and literature, deep study of the condition of the masses and researches in current finance and economics, all help to adorn his discourses. He can speak for hours without a note and his addresses in Hindi have a remarkable value in moulding the thoughts of his orthodox audiences, particularly in Northern India. He has throughout maintained a continuity of aim and consistency of principle in all his public utterances and activities. His simple habits and plain living are also in his favour and they make a peculiar appeal to the Indian masses. A man who does not seek comfort and fortune for himself when both are within reach is most likely to feel compassion for the poor and the distressed.

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Profiles in Eminence: Sir M. Visvesvarayya’s Heartfelt Tribute to Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya

An Estimate of His Work

A man of deep culture, broad sympathies, an intrepid and selfless worker, he is popular with all classes of his countrymen. While not actually taking part in political controversies, he is known to enjoy the regard and confidence of high dignitaries, notwithstanding the fact that all his life he has been struggling to soften the rigours of bureaucratic rule for his countrymen. His winsome manners and amiable personality have contributed not a little to gain for him the esteem of his adversaries. His European opponents know that he is a clean fighter and respect him on that account. The Indian Princes regard him as their friend; and, while he s the idol of his orthodox countrymen, he is not unpopular with the reformers. His chief claim to the confidence and gratitude of his countrymen is his intense concern for their welfare, the enthusiasm he has roused among them for national objects and the impetus he has given to nation-building. A noble and lovable personality, a staunch Hindu and a great Indian, all he thinks of, all he works for, are the interests of his community and country; to these interests he is giving every moment of his waking time.

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