Diwan T. Rama Rao
The life of Dewan T. Rama Rao illustrates the principle that ‘a man of plain sense and cool resolution has more useful talents and is better qualified for the highest public service than a man of the finest parts who wants temper, judgment and knowledge of mankind.’ It has been said of him that he was not only an able and loyal servant of his Sovereign, but a great friend of all honest men.
Mr. Rama Rao was born at Trivandrum in June 1830. His father Sakharam Rao was District Judge at Alleppey and had won for himself a reputation for scrupulous honesty and high character. These qualities were reflected in his son who in the midst of serious temptations maintained an uprightness that was almost unknown among his colleagues. Sir T Madhava Rao whose cousin he was, entertained a high opinion of Mr. Rama Rao, so much so that in his later years he took Mr. Rama Rao as his trusted lieutenant.
The first years of Mr. Rama Rao’s school life were spent in the Maharaja’s Free School, where he picked up such English education as could be had in those days in the L.M.S. Seminary at Nagerkoil. In 1851 he entered the Travancore State Service as a clerk in the Huzur English office. His renderings into the vernacular won for him the admiration of the District Judge of Calicut at whose instance he went to the Sessions Court at Calicut as Translator. He remained in British service for over a year, but was called again to Trivandrum as Tahsildar. The offer came when Sir Madhava Rao was Dewan Peishkar, but the state of service in Travancore was such that Mr. T. Rama Rao could not easily make up his mind. Nevertheless love of his own native land prevailed in the end and he joined the Travancore service. In 1857 he was promoted as Police Sheristadar and as such he gave a very good account of himself during the Shanar rebellion. His prompt and business-like methods and daring stood him in good stead in detecting crimes. In the performance of his duties he spared no one. Any other in his place would have shrunk from the delicate situation in which he was sometimes placed. But his superiors trusted him and warmly approved of his acts. He was, however, not free from the evil notice of those who were naturally afraid of him. Eventually, of course, he succeeded in maintaining his position despite influential opposition.
He soon rose to be Deputy Peishkar and then Dewan Peishkar. His magisterial work was marked by great ability and fair dealing. In the large portions of the State entrusted to him there was excellent order which proved a blessing to the people. In 1885 Mr. Rama Rao was made Head Dewan Peishkar and the next year he was made Dewan.
Mr. Rama Rao’s elevation to the Stewarship of the State was hailed with joy by the Ruler and the people alike. His close association with the administration in several departments has given him a rare insight into the defects that needed mending, and so, his later years were packed with achievements of a major or minor character. His first act as Dewan was that celebration of H.M. the Queen’s Golden Jubilee in an eminently Hindu fashion. What will constitute Mr. Rama Rao’s best title o the subjects’ gratitude is the institution of the Legislative Council “composed of a maximum of 8 members of whom not less than two were to be outside the service and presided over by the Dewan, or in his absence by the Senior member present.” The Council has now been expanded and given extra powers to suit the times.
Among the many reforms introduced by Mr. Rama Rao may be mentioned the Revenue Survey and settlement, the organisation of the agency to work the system, the construction of embankments to ward off brackish water submerging cultivated lands, better drainage works, the separation of Revenue from Devaswam, besides judicial reform and educational improvements. Special mention may be made of the enfranchisement of the “Viruthi” which had been a source of oppression. The Viruthicars are persons to whom lands are given on condition of their supplying vegetables etc., on the occasion of certain ceremonies. Those persons were not allowed to give up their (State) lands and yet were compelled to give these supplies at a fixed rate, which was far below the market value of the goods. These are now paid a fair price, - the price that is ruling in the open market. This is only one of the many instances in which Mr. Rama Rao carefully attended to the needs of the poorer classes of the population.
Despite these remarkable achievements, an agitation in favour of the recruitment of local people to the public services was brewing. Owing to the participation of certain European members, the agitation assumed threatening proportions. Lord Connemara thought it best to pay a personal visit to Travancore and judge for himself. His conclusion was that the agitation was baseless. He was perfectly satisfied with Mr. Rama Rao’s administration and so in 1891, gave him the title of C.I.E.
When Mr. Rama Rao laid down the reins of office in 1892, he had served as Dewan for a period of 5½ years. He was already a Fellow of the Madras University and was also the only Indian fellow of the Incorporated Society of Science, Letters, and Arts of London.
Mr. T. Rama Rao was a conservative in many ways. His ideal was cautions advance and his criticisms on the Marumakattayam marriage Law, early marriage, and widowhood and the Gains of Learning Bill give evidence of his general attitude towards these problems. Mr. Rama Rao was eminently philanthropic. His numerous charities in the cause of the poor have earned for him the reputation of the “Good Dewan Rama Rao”. He passed away on 8-6-1895 after a period of well-earned rest.