Mahamana Madan Mohan Malaviya

Mahamana Madan Mohan Malaviya

Malaviya – A Patriach Among Leaders


Edgar Snow, American Journalist


Excepting Mahatma Gandhi, probably no man in India is so loved and respected and has such a wide following among 200 million Hindus as has Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya. Like Gandhi, in his youth he studied law; like Gandhi he abandoned it to devote his energies to the cause of India, first as an editor, later in broader fields of public services. Today, at 71, he is distinguished as an educator, statesman, legislator, orator, above all as a patriot.


Of the patriarchs among leaders of India’s struggle for freedom none has so impressed me with his fairness, sincerity and cultural greatness as Malaviya. He has a manner full of grace and charm and a demeanor calm, dignified and with splendid Aryan poise. His face is handsome and still remarkably youthful. In his speech he is disarmingly candid and direct-- quite the opposite of what we are told to expect from Eastern politicians. His personality radiates the sweetness and simplicity of a child, yet his words carry the strength and conviction of a man with a settled philosophy of life.


Malaviyaji is deeply and genuinely religious. You sense about him, almost at once, an inwardness and spiritual consciousness that animates his attitudes towards his environment. Yet there is nothing of mysticism, asceticism, or negation about him. He is a man of action and at times of impassioned utterance. Yet he is, like Gandhi again, a thorough satyagrahi. An instinct of gentleness, fortified in him by his unquestioning faith, accounts for the fact that though his whole career has been a battle for political reform in India, he has never advocated violence in any form.


Malaviya is a Brahman, of the highest Hindu caste. He was born in Allahabad of a family that has furnished some of India’s most celebrated Sanskrit scholars. Hoping that he would further add to the lustre of the classic escutcheon his parents secured for him a sound Sanskrit education. But in his thirteenth year an incident occurred that was significant of the direction in which his genius was to turn. One day he disappeared, and his father, fearing that something had happened, went in search of him. He found young Mohan delivering a fiery speech to a rapt audience on the junction of the three rivers.


From his Indian school Malaviya went to an English middle school, then to Calcutta University, where he earned a B.A. degree. His unusual felicity with English got him a place as assistant master and for three years he taught in an English school. Then he returned to Calcutta University and in 1891 acquired an L.L.B. For a while he practiced law, and with marked success.


While still a student, Malaviya had joined the Indian National Congress, then a mild even a conservative body with little influence of power. As he matured, legal procedure, which seemed to him dull and detached from the formative streams of life, lost interest for him. He began more and more to identify himself with the agencies acting for progress and change in the social and political scene of India.


In those days Malaviya was not a rebel in the sense of one who urges a sharp break with tradition and the prevailing system, but rather a logician seeking to win his ends through persuasion and “sweet reasonableness” in contrast with the irreconcilable Indian Nationalists who sought to overthrow everyone and everything in authority. Panditji, his education having given him a horror of breaking the law, believed in utilizing what legal instruments then existed to introduce improvements. He was a reformist rather than a revolutionary.


Like other Indian parties, Malaviya has had always for his ultimate goal the liberation of his country. Unlike others he has not, however been above cooperating with the British Raj whenever such cooperation offered the chance of bringing even a small benefit to the Indian people. In 1902 he entered the Government Legislative Council, and he has been a member of it ever since. During his 29 years in the Council he has introduced many bills aimed to help the impoverished kisans, the agrarians.


Malaviya has worked for political and educational advancements. Such concessions as the Morley and Chelmsford reforms in a large sense owed their inspiration to his passionate and eloquently graphic pleas for relief of his enthralled countrymen. His ability at manipulating searching inquiries into official methods of systems, and the unexpected satire and irony with which his brilliance as a dialecticism is tinged, early became feared and respected by the Government. At one standing he once put 93 questions in the Legislative Council, thereby exercising the Government for weeks afterwards.


Malaviya has twice been president of the Indian National Congress and is, I believe, its eldest active member. Only Gandhi, Gokhale and Nehru have done as much in enhancing the prestige and developing the power of the now world renowned organization as has the “silver tongued” Pandit from Allahabad. Perhaps his greatest service to it was that, through his essentially conservative spirit, he kept the Congress from contesting with the Government until it had developed sufficient strength to launch a campaign without being wrecked as a result of it.


He believed, as a strategist, in gaining puissance through time. He knew, as an educator, that his people were woefully ignorant and divided in opinion. He realized, as a politician, that before acting, the Congress must secure itself firmly on the edifice of public support. Thus for years he fought the Congress Left Wing, counseling for delay in the execution of a revolutionary programme.


When at last his followers felt that the time had come, Maliviya reluctantly acquiesced. His talent as an arbiter, so often helpful in settling previous disputes in the Congress, he now turned upon himself. Still inwardly hesitant, perhaps, still fearful lest the satyagrah principle should be misunderstood by the masses and overreaching the discipline of Congress leaders should end in futile bloodshed and suffering, he allied himself to the movement with some misgivings.


Yet after Gandhi was arrested last spring, and jailed, Malaviya rose and as religious head of the powerful Hindu Mahasabha took the responsibility of carrying the Congress banner. He invited those who wish to do so to follow him. Thousands accepted. It was inevitable that, despite his great service to the Imperial Government he was, in his turn, arrested tried and sentenced for disobeying the laws of India. Only Gandhi’s incarceration stirred the nation’s educated class as did the arrest of Panditji. But his patriotism, I believe, has not been expressed as a reformer or politician so much as in his enterprises. You often hear it remarked by skeptical Europeans that the Indians are admirable agitators, but utterly incapable of improving upon that which they seek to destroy. It is believed that Indian Nationalists are excellent destructionists but incompetent constructionists. One of the most complete refutations of this observation exists at Benares, where the Hindu National University proudly lifts its graven spires over the rooftops of a city sacred not for centuries, but for millenniums. That institution is the product of Malaviya’s energy and imagination, the full-fruited realization of a man of practical genius.


Twenty years ago Panditji issued a thin brochure in which he etched in outline the kind of school he hoped to erect at Benares. Most of his own fortune had been given away to charitable enterprises and in various services to his country. He had invested and lost a great deal in the four Nationalist newspapers of which he was editor, and two of which he founded. But the vigour with which he campaigned for funds to build the Benares Hindu University attracted the interest of the nation’s wealthiest citizens, and won the encouragement at last even of the British Government.


He described a seat of learning risen from the banks of the ancient Ganges, dedicated to the exposition of all that was fine, lasting and beautiful in Hindu culture. It would be equipped also to furnish an adequate introduction to the important courses of western thought, and to teach the fundamentals of western arts, sciences and mechanics. It was nearly ten years more before the thing of such lofty fancy achieved shape and men were able to point to it, rising lordly beside golden waters, as the finest university in modern India conceived, constructed and administered solely by Indians.


Today the University has 32 departments of learning and over 180 members of the teaching staff. It has over 2600 students. On its magnificent site, two square miles of green and gold, it has 173 buildings, including numerous University hostels with a capacity for housing more than half of its students, and its professional members. It has a library with over 60,000 books and a dozen laboratories with equipment costing more than Rs. 2,50,000. There are 300 scholarships open to competition by boys and girls of any caste, any creed. It has extensive playgrounds and athletic fields, a gymnasium, a stadium, a botanical garden, a dairy, and so on. Ten thousand persons visit it annually, among them many distinguished Europeans and Americans.


It is largely upon this achievement – the University – and the ideals which Malaviya has tried to foster here, that his prestige in the future will rest. It is an edifice that must secure for him a peculiar niche in the Indian hall of fame. Whatever evolution or revolution may mold India’s destiny it is certain that a reverence for modern education, bearing kinship to this type of which Malaviya has been the pioneer, must be a fundamental credo in any new state which survives.


There is no doubt that Malaviya is guided by a discerning faith in his own interpretations of the Hindu scriptures. His religion is hardly separable from any aspect of life, any problem of society. In one of his famous extempore speeches he once confessed, “It is one of the settled convictions of my life that religion is at the foundations of all greatness and goodness, and that without an abiding religious faith no affair of man can succeed”. But he tells you that he is impatient with the corruption of religion into codified superstitions, and the abuse of it to enforce social discriminations.


Malaviya sings hymns and prays regularly. In his address he sometimes quotes from the Bhagvad Gita and occasionally from western poets with spiritual turn of mind. He is extraordinarily well read but though he has carefully studied the most profound western philosophers he still finds, on the whole, loftier solace in the Indian sages. One of the exceptions to this are the works of Smiles. He carries copies of them with him whenever he travels.


He is in favour of adult suffrage for women and the removal of purdah. Through legislations, he would guarantee to all citizens of India, under Swaraj, equal opportunities in matters of education and livelihood, and equal rights to participate in all the social and political functions of public life. But interference in any way with the individual’s religious convictions, or any attempt to force him to change his private mode of conduct, meet with his vigorous opposition.




Mahamana Madan Mohan Malaviya