The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, January 30, 2000


Dr S. Radhakrishnan

Sir Pherozeshah Mehta

Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar

Maulana Azad

Chakravarti Rajagopalachari

Dr Hardayal


Dr S. Radhakrishnan
(September 5, 1888 - April 17, 1975)

DURING his State visit to Britain in 1963, the then President of India, Dr. S. Radhakrishan, suddenly asked his driver to make a detour and take him to the offices of the famous publisher Allen & Unwin. Surprised at the President’s behaviour, his aides reminded him that as he was on an official visit, his programme could not be changed. But the President was firm:"Tell the driver to wherever Allen & Unwin are, and I should like to see Allen whom I know very well." Later when. Allen found the President of India at his doorstep, he nearly fainted:"‘Mr President," he managed to say, "why didn’t you inform me? I would have made proper arrangements."

Dr S. Radhakrishnan"Never mind the arrangements," Dr Radhakrishanan said with a smile, "I have come to find out how my books are selling."

It is rather disturbing to note that while we had some highly educated men and women as our leaders 50 years ago: Nehru, Dr Ambedkar, Dr Zakir Hussain, Sarojini Naidu, to name a few, how many of our present leaders can boast of such distinguished credentials. Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan could, and he was perhaps the very embodiment of Plato’s Philosopher King.

The second of two children, Dr Radhakrishnan was appointed teacher at Madras Presidency College in 1909. Seven years later, he was transferred to Rajamundry, and was later invited to Mysore to occupy the Chair of Philosophy. By then he had made his mark in the academic world with his well received The Philosophy of Rabindranath and The Reign of Religion in Contemporary Philosophy. In spite of his busy schedule as a teacher and an administrator, he wrote more than 150 books and numerous research papers in his lifetime.

In 1926, he was deputed by Calcutta University as the university delegate to the Congress of the Universities of the British Empire. Once there he was approached by many universities and societies to deliver lectures. It was during this tour that he delivered his famous Upton lectures at Manchester College. They were subsequently published as The Hindu View of Life. From England he proceeded to the USA to attend the International Congress of Philosophy. He was elected Fellow of the British Academy in 1940, first Indian to be thus honoured.

After Independence, when Nehru decided to send Radhakrishnan to the Soviet Union as ambassador, many wondered how a scholar would deal with a dictator like Stalin. Not only did Radhakrishnan have a successful stint there, he also got along very well with Stalin. Impressed by his track record, he was made the Vice-President in 1952, and 10 years later the President of India. In December, 1964, Pope Paul VI visited India and made him Knight of the Golden Army of Angels, the Vatican’s highest honour for a Head of State.

There were many interpretations of Indian scriptures and philosophy, but Radhakrishnan was perhaps the first Indian philosopher to present to the world the deeper aspects of Indian philosophy. He was truly India’s cultural ambassador to the world. After listening to him, one English lady was prompted to say, "There is no need for us to send missionaries to India."

Radhakrishnan had great respect for all religions of the world. "My religious sense," he used to say, "did not allow me to speak a rash or a profane world of anything which the soul of man holds or has held sacred. The attitude of respect for all creeds, this elementary good manners in matters of spirit, is bred into the marrow of one’s bones by the Hindu tradition.’’Top


Sir Pherozeshah Mehta
(August 4, 1845 - November 5, 1915)

IF Bombay or Mumbai is the commercial capital of India, one person that it ought to be grateful to is the Right Honourable Sir Pherozeshah Mehta, the quintessential gentleman, debater, speaker, and administrator. In 1877, a volunteer corps comprising mainly Europeans was set up to improve civic conditions in Bombay. Sir Pherozeshah got up and said it was "not advisable to resolve on the formation of a volunteer corps composed exclusively of Europeans at a public meeting of the inhabitants of Bombay".

Pherozeshah MehtaOwing to his untiring work for the people of Bombay, the Bombay Presidency Association was established in 1885 with Pherozeshah Mehta as its president, a post that he held all his life. The same year the Indian National Congress held its first sitting in Bombay under the presidency of W. C. Bannerjee. Pherozeshah Mehta joined Congress and became one of its guiding forces. Such was the impact of his towering personality and genius on his associates that Gopal Krishana Gokhale once remarked: "Mr Mehta, to a great extent, is a happy combination of the independence and strength of character of the late Mr Mandlik, the lucidity and culture of Mr Telang and the originality and wide grasp of Mr Ranade."

Son of a successful businessman, Pherozeshah Mehta was among the first batch of young Indians to receive first class European education. He studied for three years at Lincoln’s Inn in England, where he came in contact with another great Indian, Dadabhai Naoroji, and got involved in the activities of the London Indian Society and the East Indian Association. The main aim of these societies was to create a healthy public opinion in England. It was during this phase that he became a great friend of W. C. Bannerjee.

At one of the meetings of the East Indian Association, Mehta said: "An elementary knowledge of reading and writing and arithmetic however widely diffused, would no more be able to break and loosen the hard ground of traditional prejudice than children’s hatches of paper, however numerous, would suffice to clear a jungle."

In order to stem the growth of the nationalist movement in India, Lord Lytton decided to censor the vernacular press. Pherozeshah Mehta vehemently opposed the move. He believed that the press should be as free as possible, and that it was the fundamental duty of the government to educate the masses. "England must raise India to her own level, or India will drag her down to hers," he warned.Top


Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar
(April 14, 1891 - December 6, 1956)

IT was a hot summer’s day. Unable to control his thirst, a little boy goes to a pond and begins to drink water. He is spotted and beaten mercilessly. His crime? He is an untouchable. High caste Hindus in India have been ill-treating the untouchables for centuries, but not many have the guts to stand up and fight for their rights: Bhim Rao Ambedkar, the little boy, had. This incident was not his first bitter experience at the hands of high caste Hindus. In school, he was not allowed to sit along with other friends; his teacher refused to teach him Sanskrit; if he touched someone by mistake, elaborate purification rituals were held. How much indignity could he tolerate?

Dr Bhim Rao AmbedkarIn spite of being the son of a sepoy, Dr. Ambedkar had the good fortune of getting good education. Later, Sayaji Rao, the Maharaja of Baroda offered him a scholarship that enabled him to have higher education in the USA, Germany, and England. Working almost round the clock, he earned a doctorate from Columbia University. While in America, he for the first time learnt what it meant to be free from discrimination, although he did not fail to notice the way blacks were being discriminated there. He later left for Britain to study at the London School of Economics. After his return to India, he became Professor of Economics at the Sydenham College of Commerce. Unfortunately he could not continue to work because of his low caste. Since most of his colleagues refused to speak to him, he was forced to move to Bombay.

Humiliated, insulted, and hurt again and again, Ambedkar realised that he had to do something to change the equation. In 1927, he organised a satyagraha to enable Harijans to draw water from a public tank at Mahed. He also fought for the right to enter a temple at Amravati. He burnt the Manusmriti, the book that supported the caste system. About this time he began to harbour thoughts about giving up his Hindu religion, he even thought of demanding a separate homeland for the backward classes. But on the eve of Independence, he realised that the future of his community was with India.

He was appointed Law Minister after Independence, and as chairman of the Drafting Committee of the Indian Constitution, he was one of the authors of the Indian Constitution. It is ironical that the same man who two decades earlier had burnt the Manusmriti, was now called upon to draft a new smriti - the Constitution of Independent India.

In spite of all the assurances of the government, Ambekar was pained to notice that there was no significant improvement in the lot of the depressed classes, even after Independence. He used to say that railways and factories had done more to combat untouchability than the efforts of social reformers.

Totally fed up with the system, he along with a hundred thousand followers embraced Buddhism at Nagpur on October 14, 1956. Top


Maulana Azad
(November 11, 1888 - February 22, 1958)

LONG before the partition of India, Maulana Azad had warned that "partition would be a bitter pill which would keep the two countries at loggerheads, and the condition of the minorities would be miserable". He added, "It would be a sin to partition India". He did his best to persuade Jinnah to give up the demand for Pakistan, but the latter retorted: "You are a show-boy of the Congress. Give it up." But Azad was not the kind to give up, and he did not give up the cause of Hindu-Sikh-Muslim unity, even after the creation of Pakistan.

Maulana AzadA fighter all his life, he openly criticised Sir Syed Ahmed Khan when he urged the Muslims of India to boycott the nationalist movement. He came out against the Simon Commission, and he toured Punjab and exhorted his countrymen to boycott it. When the Nationalist Muslim Party was formed in 1929, to function within the Indian National Congress, he was elected its president. After the arrest of Gandhi and Motilal Nehru, he became the acting president of the Congress. In Delhi he organised the All-India Muslim Conference, denounced the partition plan, and also decried the claim of the Muslim League as representative of the Muslims of India.

On December 10, 1921, he was arrested for delivering objectionable speeches, and fanning the flames of the non-cooperation movement. Defending himself, he said: "I believe that liberty is the birthright of every nation and individual. No man nor any man-made bureaucracy possess the right of enslaving human beings. However, attractive we may coin the names for slavery and servitude, still slavery will remain what it is. It is against the will and canons of God. Therefore, I refuse to admit the present government as a valid authority and, consequently, think it to be my national, religious and human duty to relieve my country and nation of this servitude. . . ."

But that was not all. Like most of the other leaders, Azad was also a great writer and thinker. He did commendable work as editor of Nairang-i-Alam. Later he started publishing his own newspaper, Lisan-us-Sidq. His Tarjuman-ul-Quran is considered to be a masterpiece.

When Nehru learnt about Azad’s death, he said: "We mourn today the passing of a great man, a man of luminous intelligence and a mighty intellect with an amazing capacity to pierce through any problem to its core. I use the world ‘luminous’, I think perhaps that is the best word I can use about his mind - a luminous mind. When we miss and when we part with such a companion, friend, colleague, comrade, leader, teacher, call him what you will — there is inevitably a tremendous void created in our life and activities."Top


Chakravarti Rajagopalachari
(December 10, 1878 - December 25, 1972)

Chakravarti RajagopalachariTWENTYFIVE days after Gandhi broke the Salt Laws, another man repeated the symbolic act by marching along with ninetyeight satyagrahis from Trichy to Vedaranayam. He was arrested and sentenced to six months’ rigorous imprisonment. Rajan to his parents, and CR or Rajaji to his admirers, Chakravarti Rajagopalachari was not only a great leader and administrator, he was also a great scholar and writer. Chakravarti means world conqueror — he was a world conqueror indeed; not of land, but of hearts.

Born in Thorapalli, Salem district, Rajagopalachari started practice in Salem in 1900. A man of the world, he really enjoyed the pleasures of life in his early years. He played tennis, enjoyed billiards and cards, and was a good marksman. He was the first lawyer in Salem to own a car. But all this changed after he met Gandhi in 1919. His admiration for Gandhi’s methods was reciprocated by the latter. Gandhi used to refer to him as his conscious keeper. In line with the policies of the freedom movement, Rajagopalachari built an ashram at Tiruchengode in 1925. He showed courage by first admitting four Harijans into the ashram. Although some people dubbed him ‘deputy Gandhi’, Rajagopalachari was not a blind follower, and often voiced his difference of opinion openly. He was a bitter critic of socialism and communism, as he regarded cooperative farming, quotas, and licences counterproductive and main source of corruption.

An experienced organiser, Rajaji helped Gandhi in concluding the Gandhi-Irwin Pact, and persuaded him to attend the Second Roundtable Conference in London. He drafted the Poona Pact in order to keep Harijans within the Hindu fold by advocating joint electorates, and reservation of seats. When Congress accepted office in the provinces under the Government of India Act of 1935, he was made the Prime Minister of Madras. He proved to be an able administrator, commanding the loyalty of the people. In order to generate funds, he introduced sales tax for the first time in India.

During the negotiations for the transfer of power, Rajaji played a crucial role as member of the Partition Council. He risked unpopularity when he said, "I do not believe in Pakistan. But the Mussalmans ask for it. Mr Jinnah asks for it, and it has become an obsession with them. Why not say ‘yes’ to them just now."

After Independence he succeeded Lord Mountbatten as Governor General of India. Later he devoted his time to social work. For a democracy to be healthy, he realised the need for a strong opposition. He formed the Swatantra Party in 1959 as a national alternative.

Much more than his contribution to the freedom struggle, Rajaji will be remembered for his commentaries on the Upanishads, the Bhagavadgita, and his version of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, which over the years have run into many reprints. He won the Sahitya Akademi Award for his Ramayana.Top


Dr Hardayal
(October 14, 1884 - March 4,1939 )

IN a room filled with wonder struck audience, a young man is playing chess. Nothing unusual about a young man playing chess, but this man is also counting the ringing of a bell, listening to Arabic and Latin verses and repeating them, and solving a mathematical problem — all at the same time! Such was the awe-inspiring genius of Dr Hardayal, a great scholar, writer and freedom fighter.

Dr HardayalHis peers were quick to recognise the prodigy among them and offered him a state scholarship that took him to Balliol College, Oxford. He was doing extremely well there, but after meeting firebrand revolutionaries like Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, he learnt that young men back home were sacrificing their lives to liberate their motherland, he gave up studies and returned to India and joined the freedom movement.

Soon he was in the thick of revolutionary activities. He moved the masses with his fiery speeches and writings. The government could not tolerate him any more, and decided to arrest him. He got wind of the plans, and fled to France, because he believed that he could better help the cause of freedom from abroad. At about the same time Madam Cama was planning to start publishing Bande Matram, a monthy journal from Geneva. She invited Dr Hardayal to assist her as editor. Later he went to Harvard, and got involved in the Ghaddar Movement. The party felt that it too must bring out a revolutionary newspaper to inspire freedom fighters. The first issue of Ghaddar appeared on November 1, 1913, and soon it became so popular that they had to smuggle copies into India on a regular basis. It openly advocated revolt, and assured Indian revolutionaries of German help.

Unfortunately the Ghaddar Movement lost steam, and most of its members withered away. After 1927, Dr Hardayal went to London and did his doctorate. He wrote a thesis which was accepted by the University of London, and later published as Bodhisattva.

Dr Hardayal was of the opinion that with the spread of western education, Indians were forgetting their own cultural values. "Patriotism must decay under a system which discourages the study of our national past," he believed, "British educational policy separates the cultured classes from the common people, diminishes their reverence and love for heroes of ancient and medieval India, and curbs their political aspirations." But when someone pointed out that he himself had studied in western institutions, Dr Hardayal replied: "I am what I am in spite of the education imparted by the foreign Christians in St. Stephen’s College. If I were a product of this system of education, how is it that you don’t find so many Hardayals?"

It is not difficult to answer that, for the likes of Dr Hardayal are not mass produced by nature.

(To be concluded)
Text and illustrations by Kuldip Dhiman

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