A Fearless Legislator
Acharya Sitaram Chaturvedi
Eminent Writer & Prof. BHU
When Malaviyaji was the Editor of Hindustan some of his friends advised him to contest for Municipal Councillorship in Prayag. Municipal Councillorship was monopoly of the rich in those days. Those who contested such elections spent a lot of money. Malaviyaji believed in the services of the people and contested the election on the strength of his convictions only. This was not enough and so he lost. But he did not belong to that category of power seeking persons who court the voters at the time of elections and ignore them when the elections are over. He did not at all mind the defeat and devoted himself to the services of his people with greater vigour. His sincerity of purpose so endeared him to his fellow-citizens that when he contested for Municipal Councillorship next time, he was returned with an overwhelming majority. His efforts for enhancing the beauty, grandeur and cleanliness of Prayag obliged his fellow Municipal Councillors to elect him Senior Vice-Chairman. The city of Prayag assumed a more graceful appearance under his regime.
Just then, plague broke out in the city in a serious epidemic form. People abandoned their houses, deserted their near and dear ones and fled to places of safety. The city looked deserted. Only those people were left back on the mercy of God, who were invalid, weak, old or infirm Malaviyaji cared little for his ownself, visited each individual house, managed to send the affected people to hospital, shifted the unaffected to safer places, got the houses disinfected with antiseptics and provided food and shelter to those who had become destitute. He established a camp outside the city to provide shelter to the people during the epidemic. This selfless service of Malaviyaji was highly appreciated by the Government and gratefully acknowledged by the people. Malaviyaji was promoted by many a friend to stand for the Provincial Council. Pandit Vishwanbhar Nath of Allahabad was the nominated member of the Council at that time and Malaviyaji had a very great respect for him. Hence, as long as he was alive, Malaviyaji never aspired to go to the Council. But after the death of Vishwambhar Nath, Malaviyaji was nominated by the Government in 1903 to the U.P. Legislative Council. It was customary for the Government nominees in those days to lend their full support to Government policies in all matters. But Malaviyaji proved an exception to this. He never supported the Government in any matter which, in his view, went against the interest of the people.
In 1903, the very year of his nomination the Government introduced the Bundelkhand Alienation of Land Bill, 1903, which sought to dispossess the cultivators of their land in the Bundelkhand area. Malaviyaji strongly criticised the Bill in a speech on 19 January 1903. He characterized it as a Bill against all canons of political and social justice. Though the Bill was carried, Malaviyaji did not lag behind in his duty as a responsible legislator. In addition to this his speeches in 1904, 1905, 1906 and 1907 on the Annual Budgets need special mention. In these speeches, as on many other occasions, he pleaded for allocation of more funds for education; for organizing the police administration in a more systematic and effective way; for placing Indians on responsible posts in the Government; for conducting the Indian Civil Service Examination in India; and for adopting measures to ensure good health among people. The Government had to yield to many of his suggestions. When the Government proposed an increase in the Budget for police, Malaviyaji opposed it vehemently and warned that it would make the people suspicious of the intentions of the Government.
His re-election to the U.P. Legislative Council under the new Indian Council Reform Act was proof of the appreciation of his services by the people of his province. It was but fitting that he was so re-elected, for he was one of the first to moot the question of reform of the older Legislative Councils (under 1861 Act), which were entirely constituted of nominated members.
Some reform was wrought in the formation of the Legislative Council under the new Indian Councils Reform Act. It was therein provided that two members would be returned from the Provincial Legislative Council to the Imperial Legislative Council (the Viceregal Council). In the very first instance, Malaviyaji was one of the two such members to be returned and he continued to be its member till he resigned in 1920. His first important and forceful speech was on the Press Act. Malaviyaji and Hon’ble Mr. Basu were the only two members who spoke and voted against it. Malaviyaji had very expressly remarked that if the press was left at the mercy and sweet will of the local Government, they would not be able to discharge their duties as guides and representatives of the public mind and would not furnish true criticism of the Government as they had been doing till then. But this Bill was also passed in spite of strong opposition. The way in which the Provincial Governments misused this legislation to serve their purpose confirmed the prophecy made by Malaviyaji in that respect.
When Mr. Jenkins introduced the Seditious Meetings Bill of 1910 to provide for the continuance of the Seditious Meetings Act of 1907, Malaviyaji clearly sounded a note of warning, “Not only that no necessity has been shown for the measure before us, but there is also the fear, as my friend the Hon’ble Mr. Gokhale has pointed out that a repressive measure may itself, by being abused in its working, lead to promoting the evil which it was intended to cure.”
Gokhale’s Elementary Education Bill received Malaviyaji’s warm support in 1910 when he aptly observed: “Every civilized country has found that compulsion is the only means by which universal education can be secured. No country has succeeded without it and we cannot expect to succeed without it.”
Another subject on which his forceful voice was more than once heard was in connection with the question of Indentured Emigration. In 1910, Shri Gokhale had pleaded in vain for the abolition of this monstrous and iniquitous system. During the regime of Lord Hardinge, Malaviyaji had very strongly protested against the injudiciousness of the system and urged for its immediate abolition. He characterized the system as ‘an unmitigated curse’. He wound up his forceful speech with the following remarks,” The system has worked enough moral havoc during the last 75 years. We cannot think, My Lord, without intense pain and humiliation of the blasted lives of the victims, of the anguish of soul to which our numerous brothers and sisters have been subjected by this system. It is high time that this should be abolished.”
The appeal did not fall on deaf ears. Lord Hardinge soon announced that he and the Secretary of State for India had decided that the system should be discontinued.
His speeches on Salt Tax, Exchange Ratio, Gold Standard and Tariff Bill need special mention in this context. He remained in the Imperial Council till 1920 and those who had worked with him and heard him speaking still cherish a sweet and admiring memory of his silver-tongued forceful oratory.