Ennobling Facets from Sir M. Visvesvarayya's Life and Legacy

Ennobling Facets from Sir M. Visvesvarayya's Life and Legacy

This is the first episode of a series showcasing various ennobling and inspiring facets from Bharataratna Sir M. Visvesvarayya's life and legacy.

Editor's Note

This is a transcript of a lecture delivered at Century Club, Bangalore, on the occasion of the 162nd birth anniversary of Sir M. Visvesvarayya. This has been published here upon request.

AT THE OUTSET, it is my honour and privilege to address this august gathering at the Century Club, a great institution that was founded and ennobled by Bharataratna Sir M. Visvesvarayya on the profound occasion of his 162nd birth anniversary. Liberalisation, globalisation and other forces might have ushered in rapid changes, but the Century Club endures as one of the iconic landmarks of Bangalore.

I just don’t know where to begin because I have the problem of plenty… the staggering achievements and rich legacy of Sir M. Visvesvarayya is so abundant and well-documented that it’s difficult to choose the parts to include and the parts to omit.

But when we think about it, it is amazing how Sir M.V.’s legacy is omnipresent in the Indian national life. He is present in engineering marvels like dams and bridges and industries and buildings and education and gardens and labs.

Till date, his photograph adorns every home in the Mysore – Mandya region right next to the photos of our Gods. His imprint remains indelible throughout India – the former Bombay Presidency, Hyderabad, the Mysore Princely State, Vishakhapatnam, Bihar, Shimla… he rubbed shoulders with all the stalwarts of his time in various fields – R.G. Bhandarkar, Gopala Krishna Gokhale, Justice Mahadev Govind Ranade, Mohandas Gandhi, JRD Tata, C.V. Raman, D.V. Gundappa and various viceroys and Maharajas.

Sir M. Visvesarayya was one of the world’s greatest engineers of his era who also became an accidental statesman… anything he touched, he turned into gold… it was gold that he created for the use of others… he kept little for his personal use. He was an extraordinary wealth-creator who lived like a monk.

Sir M.V. was a handful of Indians who became a living legend. Yet, as long as he was alive, he did not allow his name to be affixed to any of the great national projects that he conceptualised and built. This sounds unreal today when hundreds of roads, buildings, awards and universities are named after just one family. In fact, the very canal that Sir M.V. built at Krishnaraja Sagar was named after Irwin, the then viceroy of India. It was thereafter rightfully renamed as the Visvesvarayya Canal. Everything named in Sir M.V.’s honour was done so after he departed from the mortal world.

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Ennobling Facets from Sir M. Visvesvarayya's Life and Legacy

SIR M.VISVESVARAYYA’S HIGHLY PRODUCTIVE AND USEFUL LIFE falls into two broad phases: one, his career as a distinguished engineer and two, his accomplishments as a visionary statesman, beginning with his tenure as the Diwan of Mysore. His whole, illustrious life is the purest exemplar of a true Karma Yogi… he was a nation-builder in its most comprehensive sense… including in the literal sense of… building.

Sir M.V. was a civil engineer by education, training and profession. But he transcended its scope by expanding the horizon of his ceaseless activity which included an astonishing range of fields – agriculture, animal husbandry, small and heavy industries, dams, motor vehicles, airplanes, printing, journalism, banking, education and town planning. He acquired expertise in all these areas entirely through self-study. In just six years as Diwan, he had transformed an inert and rudderless Mysore State into a Model State in India. Here’s a partial list of what all he had built as its Diwan.  

  • Mysore Soap Factory

  • Mysore Iron & Steel Works

  • Kudremukh Iron Ore Company

  • Sri Jayachamarajendra Polytechnic

  • Bangalore Agricultural University

  • State Bank of Mysore

  • Mysore Chamber of Commerce (later, Federation of Karnataka Chambers of Commerce & Industry)

  • Mysore Apex Chamber of Commerce

  • Mysore University

  • The Bangalore Press

  • Government Engineering College (now UVCE)

  • Century Club

Only a handful of people today know that it was Sir M.V. who first charted out the plan for a road connecting Tirumala and Tirupati.

In fact, Sir M.V.’s stature swelled up after he stepped down as the Diwan of Mysore. This is because the whole nation had witnessed the miracles that he had achieved in Mysore in such a short span. Naturally, everyone eagerly sought his advice and guidance.

On one occasion, Sir M.V. told his close friends, “I always carry my resignation letter in my pocket. That is the secret of my self-confidence.”

IN EVERY NATION-BUILDING ENDEAVOUR, Sri Visvesvarayya's vision was powered by just one unadulterated fuel: India’s industry as well as its benefits should be entirely in Indian hands… it belonged to India. This is why he never accepted any commission or consultancy fees from the government or Indian businessmen. In fact, for every project that he took up after resigning as the Diwan of Mysore, Sir M. Visvesvarayya never touched a single rupee even as honorarium! This I think, is one of the purest forms of patriotism.

And this patriotism expressed itself through concrete, practical action – his vision of India’s greatness was rooted in wealth-creation. He was guided by the philosophy and conviction that no poor nation commands respect. This is consonant with Kautilya’s eternal formula:

Dharmasya moolam arthah arthasya moolam rajyam, rajyasya moolam indriya-jayah||

The root of Dharma is wealth. The root of wealth is political power. The root of political power is the control of sense-organs.   

The last line – indriya jayah (control of passions) fully applies to Sir M.V. He lived a simple, frugal life. He had no extravagant habits or seedy indulgences, and like I mentioned earlier, he was a fabulous wealth-creator who lived like a monk.

Sir M.V.’s approach to wealth-creation was twofold:

1.   Creating national assets like dams, factories, etc.

2.   Infusing economic self-sufficiency in ordinary citizens. A small example illustrates this. On several occasions, Sri Visvesvarayya gave a simple mantra to the poor farmers in the Mysore-Mandya belt. He told them, “plant a cotton tree and a papaya tree in your backyard or garden. You will never go hungry in your life.”

But all this was easier said than done. We must recall that Sri Visvesvarayya spent the majority of his career under colonial British rule. Today, it is almost impossible to imagine the stifling conditions under which he worked.

The building of the Krishnaraja Sagar Dam (KRS) is a classic example proving this point. At every step, he met with dogged opposition from multiple forces – from the British Resident who incessantly exerted pressure on the Mysore Maharaja, Krishnadevaraya Wodeyar IV, from various vested interests acting on behalf of the Madras Presidency and from selfish factions in the Wodeyar family who wanted Visvesvarayya to fail at every step. Yet, it is a great tribute to M.V.’s courage, intrepidity and persistence that made the KRS Dam a reality and an exemplar of civil engineering in the whole of Asia.

Sri Visvesvarayya faced similar obstacles when he envisaged the Mysore University. Among other things, his vision was motivated by a determination to shatter the monopoly of the British policy of training civil servants outside of Mysore and then importing them to govern the Mysore State.  

And when Sri Visvesvarayya concretised this vision, the Mysore University went on to produce a minimum of three generations of luminaries who emerged from it. Here are a few names: Sri H.V. Nanjundayya (the founding Vice Chancellor of Mysore University), S. Radhakrishnan, Radhakumud Mookherjee, S. Srikanta Sastri, Brajendranath Seal, M. Hiriyanna, T.S. Venkannaiah, A.R. Krishna Sastri, D. L. Narasimhachar, K.V. Puttappa, (former CJI) M.N. Venkatachalaiah and N.R. Narayana Murthy.

To be continued

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