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The Dewan as Author and Political Observer

T. Madhava Rao served as Dewan of Indore from 1873 to 1875 and thereafter as Dewan-Regent of Baroda from 1875 to 1882, and received the title of Raja in 1877. At Baroda he gave a series of lectures on administration to Gaekwad Siyaji Rao III, which was later published as a book, Minor Hints.

Many of his ‘minor hints’ are useful tips in day-to-day life. He explains anger as “temporary madness” and advises against any action until anger subsides. The advent of media and democratic norms is reflected in Rao’s advice to Siyaji Rao: The position of a Maharaja in these days is not one of abundant ease and unlimited enjoyment, it is not one in which he is at liberty to spend what public money he likes and in what manner he pleases, it is not one in which power can be exercised withoutsalutary constitutional restraint, it is not one in which the will of His Highness is the law. In these days, a fierce light beats on the throne. It is a light which exposes every defect to the public gaze. It is a light which has immensely increased the responsibilities of rulers.

Much like in erstwhile Travancore, his royal pupil eventually fell out with him, curtailing his ministership. The book, however, has continued to be in circulation, in spite of its imperial and monarchist outlook. One of the fans of the book is Narendra Modi, who recommends it as a must-read to all new Indian Administrative Service officers (however, he has wrongly assigned the book to Siyaji Rao).

As Congress man and public figure

In his later life, Madhava Rao settled in ‘Madhava Bagh’ in Madras (Chennai) and had a brief association with the Congress party in 1887, two years after its formation. He served as president of a reception committee during the 1887 Madras session. His take on the Indian National Congress was quite different from what it finally evolved to. He considered Congress as “ the soundest triumph of British administration and a crown of glory to the great British nation”. He soon resigned from the Congress.

He wrote in The Hindu under the pseudo names ‘Native Thinker’ and ‘Native Observer’, on matters ranging from politics to astronomy. He was criticised for airing views that pleased the Britishers. Condemning the criticism over the annexation of former Burma, he wrote: -“ It is strange how hastily the Native Press has condemned this measure. A statesman of Lord Dufferin’s calibre is sure to justify it completely. That Press might at least have tried to conceive possible grounds to justify the measure. The habit of conceiving possible explanations is well worthy of cultivation by those who deal in politics.

But Madhava Rao also is said to have refused to send Travancore soldiers for the military operations of the British and as retaliation the British symbolically reduced the gun salutes to the king of Travancore. He seems to have been curious about international politics too. He forwarded his article on the German occupation of Africa to the German chancellor Bismarck who appreciated the same, replied to him and also distributed a German translation to his soldiers. Madhava Rao died in 1891 in Mylapore, Madras, at the age of 63.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi believes all IAS officers must read a book authored by Madhava Rao.

Raja Ravi Varma in Baroda

Raja Ravi Varma, the famous artist-prince from Travancore, was known to Madhava Rao during his Travancore days. In 1881, Madhav Rao invited Raja Ravi Varma to paint the coronation portrait of Siyaji Rao Ill Gaekwad of Baroda. A special studio was built in the Laxmi Vilas palace grounds. The many kings who came as guests invited him to paint their family portraits. This catapulted him to national fame. Ravi Varma has painted Madhava Rao twice, one of which became the basis of the statue in the city. Madhava Rao is also known to have given employment to some Malayalis in the Baroda Government.


Raja Sir T. Madhava Rao with Nobles of Baroda


This article by Prof. Achuthshankar Nair, Head of the Department of Computational Biology and Bioinformatics, University of Kerala which appeared in the The Hindu of 9th Oct 2015 is reproduced  with his permission.

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