Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....

The National Movement: Contribution of the South

Dr. D. Anjaneyulu


Contribution of the South

This year marks the centenary of the Indian National Congress, which had its birth in Bombay on December 28, 1885. The Congress no doubt represented the focal point of the national aspirations of enlightened Indians of that period, but it was by no means the first or the only organised attempt to give voice to educated public opinion, especially with respect to the different regions in India. It certainly provided the common platform so necessary at that time, as also the intellectual thrust for integration.

The British Indian Association in Bengal, started in 1851 in Calcutta, was the centre of activity for public workers like Dr. Rajendralal Mitra and Ramgopal Ghosh. Its place was later taken by the Indian Association (founded in 1876) by the joint initiative of Surendranath Bannerjea and Ananda Mohan Bose.

In Bombay, an early organ of public work, was the Bombay Association, which owed its origin, to Dadabhai Naoroji and Jagannath Shankarshet, activated later by men like Mangaldas Nathubhai and Naoroji Furdoonji. In Maharashtra proper, the Poona Sarvajanik Sabha took its birth in the late 1870s, enlisting the support of K. L. Nulkar, S. H. Chiplunkar and others.

In the South, the beginnings of articulate public opinion are identified with the founding of the Madras Native Association in the 1840s by Gazula Lakshmi Narasu Chetty, with “Crescent” as its organ. His role became very important in connection with what came to be known as the Report of the Torture Commission (1855). He was a true pioneer, as he did in Madras what public-­spirited men elsewhere were to try to do later in the 1870s and 1880s. He received an award (LSI in 1861) and was made a member of the Legislative Council in 1863. But he was a loner whose fortunes fell on evil days and he died a poor and disappointed man in 1868.

Public opinion, in a collective form, found organised expression with the founding of “The Hindu”as a weekly newspaper in 1878 and the starting of the Madras Mahajana Sabha in 1884. The paper was founded by six intrepid young men – G. Subramania Iyer, M. Veeraraghavachariar, T. T. Rangachariar, P. V. Ranga­chariar, D. Keshava Row Pant and N. Subba Rao Pantulu. The first two were also closely associated with the starting of the Madras Mahajana Sabha, whose first President was P. Rangaiah Naidu. There were also other active members, like Sir T. Madhava Rao, Dewan Bahadur R. Raghunatha Rao, P. Rauganatha Mudaliar, T. Rangachariar, S. Subramania Iyer and C. Saakaran Nair (the last two to be knighted later). S. Kasturiranga Iyengar, who later took over the publication of “The Hindu” was also a founder ­member of the Mahajana Sabha, which was initially located on the premises of the paper at 100, Mount Road.

The intellectual elite of South India also played a vital role in the genesis of the Congress – a role that has not been adequately appreciated. Even the official historian of the Congress, Dr. B. Pattabhi Sitaramayya, concedes the point that the actual origin of the idea was shrouded in mystery. But he mentions the fact that it was conceived at a private meeting of 17 men, including members of the Madras Mahajana Sabha and of the Theosophical Society, after the Theosophical Convention at Adyar, Madras, in December 1884.

The suggestion cannot be dismissed out of hand, as the names already mentioned, those of the members of the Madras Mahajana Sabha recur in the list of Representatives (or delegates as they are now called ), who attended the inaugural session of the Indian National Congress in Bombay in December 1885. They include, among others, P. Rangaiah Naidu, P. Anandacharlu, S. Subramania Iyer, G. Subramania Iyer, M. Veeraraghavachariar, R. Raghunatha Rao, Kadambi Sundararaman and T. N. Iyer. The Madras contingent was 21 strong, out of a total of 72, next onlyto the home team, representing Bombay-Sind, which numbered 38.

The first South Indian (by which is meant Andhra, Kannadiga, Keraliya as well as Tamil) to preside over a Congress Session was P. Anandacharlu, at the seventh annual session at Nagpur in 1891. Social reformer and youth leader, humanist and man of letters, he was a person of sturdy independence and vigorous personality. He did not mince words in denouncing the ruler where they were at fault. “An oligarchy of fossilised Indian administrators, superannuated for service in India” was how he described the Indian Council (to advise the Secretary of State for India) in London.

Anandacharlu had well-defined views on the role of the Congress as a powerful tool for all-round improvement of the nation. “Educate the masses” was his exhortation to fellow­Congressmen. It was imperative to imbue the masses with the spirit of the Congress, “which is only another name for national sentiment.” He wanted them “to saturate their minds with the aspirations of a united nationality.” He was a doughty fighter in freedom’s battle; but he was all for winning that battle by “constitutional and righteous methods.” He also supporteda proposal for holding a session of the Congress in London.

The second South Indian to preside over the Congress was C. Sankaran Nair at Amaravati in 1897. A man of strong views and dauntless spirit, he made an eloquent plea for free institutions and representative government. “It is impossible to argue a man into slavery in the English language,” he said in his memorable address. Though a constitutionalist by conviction he always fought hard, whoever was the opponent, giving no quarter and asking for none.

Another patriarch from the South, who adorned the galaxy of Congress Presidents was C. Vijayaraghavachariar of Salem (1852-1944). He presided over the Nagpur session of the Congress in 1920. It was an eventful session for two reasons – it was here that the Congress came under the sway of Gandhi and completely changed its creed; it was here that the programme of flag Satyagraha was decided upon. Describing the session as a turning point, the grand old man of Salem declared: “Nagpur is the ‘Thermopylae’ in the history of the Congress and the country.”

Going a little in time, one is confronted by the inspiring figure of Dr. Annie Besant, who was a many-sided personality. If she cannot be described as a “patriarch “, she has to be hailed as a “matriarch” who gave the country the message of Home Rule. She galvanised the youth and shook the Indian bureaucracy to its foundations to such an extent as to drive it to the recourse of interning her in Ooty. Riding on the crest of the wave of a new national awakening, she presided over the Calcutta session of the Congress in 1917. Though born in Ireland, she identified herself so much with India and Indians, making Madras her home, that she could aptly be described as the white-robed warrior from the South.

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, a compelling figure from the South sought to invigorate the national movement by his intellectual eminence as a lawyer and individuality as a political activist. S. Srinivasa Iyengar, who presided over the Gauhati session of the Congress in 1926, had his sympathies with the younger section led by Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhash Bose, who were impatient for freedom, and the Swarajists, who were ready to sharpen their fighting weapons on the floor of the Council Chamber. His influence was later felt in the dedicated workers who were nurtured under his care.

Dr. Pattabhi, the historian of the Congress, who presided over its Jaipur session in 1948, was known for his advocacy of lingui­stic provinces and service to the cause of the States people. There was at least one other staunch individualist, whose example of courage and sacrifice had served as a source of inspiration to many in the city of Madras and in the Andhra districts. It was “Andhra Kesari” T. Prakasam, who spread the message of the Congress through his daily newspaper Swarajya. It served as a training ground for patriotic-minded journalists, as well as freedom-­fighters. His finest hour was in the demonstration against the Simon Commission and in the Satyagraha.

There were yet others from the south, men and women, poets and politicians, who may or may not have presided over the Congress, but who contributed substantially to the national movement and influenced the policies and programmes of the Congress. Among them Rajaji (as C. Rajagopalachari was popularly known) and S. Satyamurti take an honoured place. The former, known as the conscience-keeper of the Mahatma, not only propagated the Gandhian message of prohibition and removal of untoucha­bility in Tamil Nadu, but also expounded Gandhiji’s political and social ethic. In the split between the pro-changers and the no­ changers, he served as a powerful advocate of the latter, throwing his weight against Council entry and in favour of the construct­ive programme.

By a curious irony of fate, S. Satyamurti, a born parliament­arian, if ever there was one, who made a mark in the assemblies and councils in the Province and at the Centre, found himself left out in the cold, when the Congress decided on office acceptance in the Provincial Autonomy Scheme under the Government of India Act, 1935. But this did not sour him too much as he was ready to throw himself, heart and soul, in the electoral campaigns of the Congress. The growth of national sentiment among the masses and the success of the Congress in the elections owed not a little to the unstinted labours of Satyamurti and his spirited co-workers. If he had done nothing else, he deserves all credit for the training and encouragement lie gave to an unknown Congress volunteer, who rose to be a national leader – his name was Kamaraj.

It is difficult to think of any Congress leader in the South who carried the message of Gandhi and the Congress to every nookand corner of Tamil Nadu, strengthening the national movement from the grass-roots as did Kamaraj (1903-1975). It is often said of him that there was no village that he did not visit in person nor a Congress volunteer that he did not know by name. He represented a necessary shift in the leadership of the freedom movement under the Congress from the lawyers-dominated intellect­ual elite to the political workers from the rank and file.

The task of inspiring the common man with a spirit of national­ism was not confined to the political worker or the party cadre. The vision of the poet, the voice of the singer, the pen of the writer and the journalist had proved even more effective. Poet Subramania Bharati, who worshipped “Shakti”, identifying her with Mother India, had an integral vision of the country. His Guru was Sister Nivedita, his mentor Sri Aurobindo. In his song of the Mother, he sang:

She has thirty crores of faces,
But her heart is one;
She speaks eighteen languages,
Yet her mind is one,

His voice was strengthened by others like those of Subramanya Siva, and V. O. Chidambaram Pillai blazed a new trail on the seas.

The concept of national idealism found expression in different forms – ranging from Sri Aurobindo, Kavyakantha Ganapati Muni and Ananda K. Coomaraswamy to V. V. S. Iyer and Duggirala Gopalakrishnaiah. It supplied the vigour and vitality necessary for the sustenance of a patriotic movement with a lasting significance, far beyond the attainment of political independence.

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