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Diwan Bahadur R. Raghunatha Rao

The life history of Dewan Bahadur Raghunatha Rao must still be fresh in public memory. He lived to a ripe old age and will be remembered for the zeal and vigour with which he espoused the cause of social reform, particularly widow-remarriage. This of course brought him a certain amount of unpopularity which was inevitable, but no one doubted either his integrity or the profundity of his scholarship in Sanskrit and in Vedic lore.

Raghunatha Rao was a cousin of Sir T. Madhava Rao and son of Rai Raya Rai Venkat Rao who was for some time Dewan of Travancore and subsequently Revenue Commissioner under Sir Mark Cubbon in the State of Mysore. He was born at Kumbakonam in February 1831 and was first educated in a school in Bangalore Fort. In 1845 he entered the Government High School, Madras, but left the institution without taking the proficient’s certificate. During the period of 4 years, when he managed his paternal estate, he gained an insight into the Revenue system of the country. He obtained a pleader’s diploma in 1856 but entered Government service, first as Translator in the Collector’s Office. He soon rose to higher positions, as Sheristadar of the Civil Court and later Deputy Collector. He was placed on special duty with regard to the acquisition of lands. After serving in the Tungabhadra project, at the personal request of Sir Charles Trevelyan, he was transferred to the Trichinopoly and Coimbatore districts and eventually came to Madras as Town Police Magistrate and Justice of the Peace. A pilgrimage to Poona in 1893 brought him into a chance contact with Tukoji Rao, Holkar of Indore. Within two years he was requisitioned to serve in that State as Special Settlement officer and later as Dewan in succession to Sir T. Madhava Rao. Raghunatha Rao had a difficult and delicate task to perform, for the Maharaja was not having good relations with the Government of India. Owing to his unyielding nature, he had soon to give up his position and revert to Madras as Deputy Collector. In 1888 he retired from Government service and spent the rest of his days in educating public opinion, on social, political and economic problems, mainly through the Press.

Dewan Bahadur Raghunatha Rao was as active in his old age as in his youth. He was a friend of the poor and presided over several agrarian institutions. He was one of the founders of the Indian National Congress and took a keen and abiding interest in the polities of the country. Even at the advanced age of 80, he turned out very valuable work as member of the Legislative Council and did his best to ameliorate the condition of his countrymen, in recognition of which he was made C.S.I.

On May 3,1912, he passed away in peace. His life was remarkable for its ceaseless activity in the interests of the country. Although unbending to his superiors in office, he had broad sympathies and generous impulses. Public life in the presidency was made richer by his presence, and his career stands, “as a beacon light to those mariners who sail stormy sea of public life.”


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