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V.P. Madhava Rao

Like his namesake of an earlier generation, V.P. Madhava Rao was Dewan in three Indian State – Travancore, Mysore and Baroda, and his ripe experience and judgment in political matters were responsible in a large measure for advancing the destinies of the whole of India along fruitful lines.

Madhava Rao was born on the 10th February 1850 at Kumbakonam. He was brought up under the personal care of his father Visvanatha Rao, a member of the Subordinate judicial Service and a strict disciplinarian. At the early age of 19, Madhava Rao passed out of the Kumbakonam College as a graduate, winning the applause of his beloved Principal, Mr. Porter, for whom he always entertained the deepest respect and regard. In his youth he was fond of physical exercises, especially swimming, and used to jump in the river Kaveri from dizzy heights.

Soon after becoming a graduate, Madhava Rao joined the London Mission School at Bangalore as a teacher. His efficiency in this work attracted the notice of Dewan C. Rangacharlu and he was thereafter made Palace tutor in Mysore where the late lamented Maharaja Sir Sri Chamrajendra Wodiar Bahadur was his august pupil. From this sphere, he was transferred to the judicial service and again to the post of Revenue Sub-Divisional Officer at French Rocks where for the first time he began to show his breadth of outlook and sympathy for the poor. The provision of good drinking water in villages, the formation of extensions to relieve congestion, the putting up of buildings for travelers etc., were some of the improvements he carried out. His Chief Sir K. Seshadri Iyer, was his consistent friend and supporter and freely consulted him in connection with the revision of the Mysore Land Revenue Code and Regulations with regard to the Jaghirs.

Public appreciation grew with his promotion to the office of Deputy Commissioner in which capacity he further extended water supplies, conservancy arrangements in towns, draining of water-logged areas, etc. He fully utilized his power of patronage by buying up hand-woven cloth in times of scarcity to relieve distress among the weavers. The Supari gardeners of Malnad parts equally received his attention when what is known as “Koleroga” affected this crop. The uncertain yield combined with the tax and octroi duties pressed heavily on them, and he aimed constantly at the abolition of these handicaps. Madhava Rao’s services were also requisitioned in connection with the Regulation for the administration of Municipal and Local Funds, the Civil Service and Police Revision Schemes, and the City Improvement Committee, of which he was President.

As President of the Viceregal Reception Committee, Madhava Rao evinced a taste for the artistic and the ornamental, and his arrangements elicited the warm commendation alike of his superiors and the public. Soon after this, he was made Inspector-General of Police – the first Indian to occupy this high post. This position brought his talents as administrator to the fore. His organisation of the Police School became a model for other provinces and many years later some of the features introduced by Madhava Rao were copied in the Police Training School at Vellore.

In addition to his duties as Inspector – General of Police, Madhava Rao had to look after the plague-affected areas as Plague Commissioner. He set about this task with a zeal and energy which drew the unstinted admiration of even those outside the State. Indeed the Pioneer remarked, “Who would not live in a Native State with such men as Mr. Madhava Rao?”

The elevation of Madhava Rao to the Office of a “Member of Council” in these circumstances was hailed with great joy, and even the Mahomedans accepted him as their representative in Council. He was deputed on special duty to study the Bombay Land Revenue System and thereafter became the First Revenue Commissioner in Mysore while still a Member of Council. In 1899 he was awarded the title of C.I.E. and the next year he was given the Kaiser-i-Hind gold medal for his unique services.

About the close of 1904, he went to Travancore as Dewan. Within hardly two years, he was able to effect a good many improvements “of a far-reaching character, reforms which any administrator would consider himself fortunate to be able to achieve during a whole lifetime”. One of these noteworthy reforms was the reorganization of the Settlement Department. The scheme which Madhava Rao devised brought the completion of the settlement operations in a comparatively short time, which meant for the State a saving of Rs. 35 lakhs in cost and 16 years in duration. A second reform was the introduction of the system of “daily audit”, which enabled the speedy adjustment of advances which in the past had remained unadjusted over long periods. A third was the acceptance of cash payments of land and the other taxes which had been till then paid in kind and were felt to be an oppressive burden. Last but not least, was the inauguration of the Sri Mulam Popular Assembly where the peoples’ representatives had opportunities to discuss and influence public policies.

On the religious side, Madhava Rao was well-known for his patronage of Vedic learning and the construction of places of worship, patasalas and rest houses for scholars. For these purposes he had to acquire lands with great caution. His Holiness Sri Sankaracharya  of Sringeri was his spiritual Guru, but his religious sympathies were catholic. The Ramakrishna Mutt, the Theosophical movement, the Uttaradhi, Vyasaraya and other Mutts, the Muslim institutions and Christian Churches equally received his moral and material support.

In March 1906 he went back to the scene of his former labours as Dewan of Mysore. Madhava Rao’s fame had grown to such proportions that he was presented with an address at a monster meeting of Englishmen, Americans, Frenchmen, Germans, Jews, Hindus, Mahomedans and Parsis.

Foremost among the things which Madhava Rao did for Mysore must be mentioned the steps he took for the eradication of plague and the improvement of the Sanitary and Health Services. He sought to relieve congestion by what has since become known as “town planning”. A separate preventive branch in the form of the Department of Public Health was brought into being. The Veterinary Branch no less received his attention. He organized agricultural exhibitions, opened credit co-operative societies, and established a “Famine Reserve Fund” (1906-7) to meet impoverished conditions during the times of distress without dislocating the finances of the State. Education was improved by the abolition of school fees in village schools and by the introduction of religious and moral instruction in Schools and Colleges. Technical and Industrial Schools were opened up at suitable centres, and foreign scholarships became a noticeable feature from the year 1907. The Dewan also took the bold step of doing away with the Sayer and other duties on arecanut which caused considerable hardship to the gardeners of this crop. This meant a loss of Rs. 4 lakhs of revenue, but the loss was compensated by the revival of this industry and its return to normal prosperity.

After retirement in 1909, Madhava Rao undertook an extensive tour “to gain first-hand information on the condition of India”. He presided over the District Conference at Tanjore and was invited to the Coronation Festivities at Delhi in 1911. In 1914 on the invitation of H.H. The Gaekwar, he accepted the Dewanship of Baroda. Here he showed an interest in Art by calling for a Music Conference with a view to systematize the good features of the Northern and Southern styles of Music and musical composition. A Sanskrit Conference subsequently held discussed the Purohit Bill, and Madhava Rao had a great hand in modifying its objectionable feature. He also organized the first Health Exhibition in Baroda, and during the Great War (1914-18) rendered good services to the Troops and roused the loyalty of the public which resulted in liberal contributions to the War Relief Fund.

Madhava Rao was an ardent advocate of the Permanent settlement and succeeded in bringing about a settlement at intervals of 60 years after a great deal of correspondence. As regards the Public services he advocated recruitment by competitive examinations and the establishment of “Administrative Research” in order to bring the State to an up-to-date condition.

After retirement from Baroda, Madhava Rao devoted a considerable part of his energies to the social, economic and political uplift of India. Once he presided over the Annual Sessions of the Hindu Mahasabha and later went to England on deputation by the Indian National Congress to give evidence before the Joint Parliamentary Committee in 1919. He was an ardent nationalist in his leaning and his contribution to the Madras Mail on the subject of the Memorandum of the 19 non-official members of the Imperial Legislative Council on Post War Reforms deserves special mention in this connection.

In September 1920 he fell ill and was practically incapacitated for public work. But a few years later he practically recovered his health; and in 1929 presided over the Silver Jubilee of the Sri Mulam Popular Assembly (which he had brought into being in 1904) and personally paid his respects to the Maharaja of Mysore about a year before his death. He also paid a visit to his Guru at Sringeri. His popularity with all classes of people was a measure of his good work in all spheres. He passed away quietly in 1935. His rich contribution to the political advancement of India entitles him to our gratitude. That he was good enough to lend his personal support by becoming a Life Member of the Mahratta Education Fund should be a matter of legitimate pride for all of us.



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