Madan Mohan Malaviya

Portrait of a propagandist

Print edition : January 23, 2015

Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, who was posthumously awarded the Bharat Ratna in December 2014. Photo: The Hindu Archives

Madan Mohan Malaviya played a key role in the construction of a politicised Hindu identity.

In a definitive essay entitled “Role of Benares in Constructing Hindu Identity” ( Economic & Political Weekly, April 13, 2002) the distinguished Italian scholar Marzia Casolari recorded Madan Mohan Malaviya’s role in this process:

“Benares became one of the centres, if not the main centre, for the construction of a politicised Hindu identity. The life of the town was involved at several levels.

“One of the key figures of this process was certainly Madan Mohan Malaviya. He was associated to the ‘Bharat Dharm Mahamandal’ right from its foundation at Haridwar in 1887. While the Maharaja of Darbhanga was the main patron of the organisation, Malaviya, at the time director of the newspaper Hindustan, was elected ‘mahopadeshak’, or chief preceptor.… When, in 1910, the British authorities began to consider the association as a dangerous body, one which might promote potentially seditious activities, Malaviya dissociated from the Mahamandal but continued to take part in its annual meetings.…

“Malaviya had been much more involved in the activities of the ‘Prayag Hindu Samaj’, right from its foundation in Allahabad in 1880. This association had a more militant outlook than the Mahamandal. It promoted the improvement of Hindu society and religion and the training of Hindus to oppose and resist their enemies. As an eminent member of the movement for the promotion of Hindi as national language and the creation of Hindu educational institutions, at the end of the 19th century, Malaviya began to consider the foundation of a Hindu University. In 1904-05 he began to work concretely on this project.…

“The Benares Hindu University [BHU] received the government’s sanction at the end of 1915, was inaugurated in February 1916, and started to function officially on 1 April of the same year. Malaviya was Vice-Chancellor from 1919 to 1939.…

“The foundation of the BHU was the accomplishment of Malaviya’s efforts to strengthen the Hindu sense of identity and cohesiveness. The BHU thus became the public platform from which Malaviya propagandised his political ideas. His was a two-pronged approach. As a prominent member of the Hindu Mahasabha, of which he was President in 1923, he could finally extend his programme of reorganising Hindu identity and society to the national level. Founding Hindu primary schools with Hindi as official language, and grass roots level Hindu organisations, as well as participation in the ‘shuddi’ movement, were the main lines of Malaviya’s political involvement. I do not agree with the interpretation according to which ‘the Hindu Mahasabha was the daughter of the movement for the creation of the BHU’. I think it was just the opposite; the BHU was the result of the increasing sense of militancy in the Hindu segment of Indian society. Ultimately, Malaviya’s project of founding a Hindu University was part of a wider project for the promotion of Hindu education, and it also attracted many other organisations and supporters in other parts of northern India. He was part of a political milieu that considered Gandhian non-violence a form of cowardice and harmful to Hindu Society.…

Certainly, Malaviya’s project had a great deal in common with the RSS programme of building up the Hindu national character. Physical education and military training of BHU students took place under Malaviya’s exhortations. Indeed, the BHU had a most vigorous University Training Corps (UTC). Malaviya had never been a member, but he encouraged students to take part in the activities of the RSS and authorised an RSS building within the campus. The BHU branch of the RSS became very active from 1928, thanks to Malaviya’s sanction and the activity of a number of volunteers. The BHU was thus finally absorbed in the milieu of militant Hinduism. Nevertheless, on several occasions in his public speeches Malaviya underlined the necessity to Indianise military service, almost in the same terms and with the same emphasis used by B.S. Moonje.

“It is well known that Golwalkar was himself a ‘creature’ of the BHU, where he graduated in biology and subsequently worked as a zoology lecturer. He joined the RSS at the BHU, after a visit by Hedgewar to the University in 1931.

“On Malaviya’s invitation, Jawaharlal Nehru also visited the BHU in November 1933. He considered ‘the Hindu University as the very citadel of Hindu communal thought’. It was not out of coincidence if in his speech he condemned communalism and criticised the activities of the Hindu Mahasabha. He labelled the organisation as reactionary and allied to other reactionary elements in India and Britain. From the point of view of a secular observer of the 1930s, the BHU therefore presented itself as a workshop of communal ideas and policies.”

In this, Nehru was alone. Contrast the hostility of our political class and our media to Aligarh Muslim University with its benevolence towards the BHU.

Shrewd politician

Malaviya, for all his religiosity, was no saint but a politician who did not scruple to use means which only a politicians of a particular type use. Motilal Nehru discovered this trait during a hotly contested election and bitterly wrote to his son Jawaharlal on December 2, 1926:

“It was simply beyond me to meet the kind of propaganda stated against me under the auspices of the Malaviya-Lala gang. Publicly I was denounced as an anti-Hindu and pro-Mohammedan but privately almost every individual voter was told that I was a beef-eater in league with the Mohammedans to legalise cow slaughter in public places at all times. Shamji contributed to this propaganda in no small measure by saying that it was I who prevented his ‘Cow protection bill’ from being debated in the Assembly. He stood from the Fyzabad Division for the Assembly, the other two candidates being a Swarajist and Daddan Saheb of Amethi. The Swarajist was a well known and influential member of the bar but Daddan Saheb’s money won the day. Shamji was financed by Malaviya but Daddan was declared as his Party’s candidate.…

“Communal hatred and heavy bribing of the voters was the order of the day. I am thoroughly disgusted and am now seriously thinking of retiring from public life. What is worrying me is how to occupy my time. I am waiting for the Congress Session at Gauhati and keeping mum in the meanwhile. The Malaviya-Lala gang aided by Birla’s money are making frantic efforts to capture the Congress. They will probably succeed as no counter effort is possible from our side. I shall probably make a public declaration after the Congress Session and with it resign my seat in the Assembly though I am still acclaimed as the leader of the strongest party in the country. We can do no possible good in the Assembly or the Councils with our present numbers and the kind of men we have. I fear there will soon be defections from our ranks but apart from this it is impossible to achieve anything. As for work in the country, I can see nothing which I can take up with any chance of success. My National Union for Hindu-Muslim Unity is of course there but in the present state of communal tension my voice will be a cry in the wilderness. I shall consult Gandhiji but as you know his hobbies do not interest me beyond a certain point” (Jawaharlal Nehru, A Bunch of Old Letters, Asia Publishing House, 1958, pages 49-50.)

The Lala was Lala Lajpat Rai, another Sangh Parivar hero, and the Birla was G.D. Birla, in cahoots with the Mahasabha and also an associate of Gandhi.

Scholars do not paint a flattering portrait of Malaviya either. Walter K. Anderson and Shridhar K. Damle wrote: “Hindu leaders called a national meeting at Benares in August 1923 to revive the Hindu Mahasabha, and it was attended by a broad spectrum of the Hindu community. Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, a spokesman of Hindu revivalism in the United Provinces, stated that the major objectives of the session were to ‘devise means to arrest the deterioration and decline of Hindus and to effect the improvement of the Hindus as a community’. Malaviya, in his presidential address to the session, stated that, ‘If the Hindus made themselves strong and the rowdy section among the Mahomedans were convinced they could not safely rob and dishonour Hindus, unity would be established on a stable basis.’ To attain this end, he suggested that caste Hindus accept untouchables as ‘true Hindus’, and end their segregation at schools, wells, and temples. He also suggested that a movement should be launched to reclaim Hindus who had been willingly or forcibly converted” ( The Brotherhood in Saffron, 1987, pages 28-29).

Malaviya influenced many Congressmen, particularly Purshottam Das Tandon. Malaviya played the sinister role of a Trojan horse within the Congress. “Under Malaviya, the Mahasabha had made significant inroads into the political machinery of Congress, opposing both the Gandhian and Swarajist factions and their (divergent) strategies of non-cooperation. By 1926, the Mahasabha had not only claimed the right, within Congress, of its local Sabhas to nominate their own candidates for local elections but had attempted to get Congress to abstain from provincial elections where the Mahasabha proffered an alternative candidate representing ‘Hindu interests’. Communal organisations had been blacklisted by Congress in 1925 and 1926. The Swaraj Party, then controlling Congress, was to curtail the influence of the Mahasabha, viewing the latter as a communal organisation (Gordon 1975). Congress later resolved in 1934 to forbid any of its members to simultaneously belong to the Hindu Mahasabha, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh or the Muslim League. From the early 1920s, the attention of the All-India Hindu Mahasabha turned towards the issue of religious conversions and shuddhi, and the formation of the All-India Shuddhi Sabha in 1923 under the aegis of the Arya Samaj” (Chetan Bhatt, Hindu Nationalism, Berg, Oxford, 2001, page 61). The Swarajists were led by Motilal Nehru.

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