25th December 1861: Madan Mohan Malaviya, Indian educator and nationalist, was born

Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, founder of the Banaras Hindu University and a leading light of the nationalist movement, was born in Allahabadin present-day Uttar Pradesh on December 25, 1861, in a Brahmin family. His father Pandit Brijnath was known for his knowledge of ancient Sanskrit texts. As a school boy Malaviya would write poems that were published.  

He matriculated from Allahabadin 1879 and completed his Bachelor’s degree in Arts from University of Calcutta. In 1884 he joined the Allahabad District School as a teacher. He was married to Kundan Devi in 1878.

In 1886 he spoke on the issue of representation at the 2nd Indian National Congress session in Calcutta, a speech that did not go unnoticed. Raja Rampal Singh, who was present at the conference, offered Malaviya the editorship of a Hindi weekly Hindustan. He remained editor here for two and a half years. He then studied law and started practising as a lawyer in 1881 in Allahabad. 

For Malaviya the nationalist cause was multi-dimensional, and self-respect and self-awareness were important ingredients in measuring the full strength of the imperial beast.

He was, for instance, acutely conscious even in his earliest speeches of the destruction of local businesses and trade that the British rule had caused. In 1893 in a session of the Congress he said: “Everyone sitting here is clothed in cloth of British-make, almost everyone, and wherever you go you find British manufactures and British goods staring you in the face. All that is left to the people [of India] is to drag out a miserable existence by agricultural operations and make infinitesimal profit out of the little trade left to them.”

The idea of a Hindu University at Benaras first came up in 1904 and by 1911 Malaviya was completely dedicated to the cause. Simultaneously, the Indian nationalist Dr Annie Besant was also keen on setting up a university at Benaresfor which she had submitted a memorandum to the government. Not surprisingly, in 1911, Besant and Malaviya joined hands and formed the Hindu University Society, whose president was Maharaja Sir Rameshwar Singh Bahadur.  

Malaviya and the others worked hard to gather the funds and get sanction for land to set up the university. The founders of BanarasHinduUniversity, as it was later called, had a clear-headed focus about the varsity’s aims and objectives. As S.K. Maini, Vishwanath Pandey and K. Chandramouli write in their book on Malaviya: “Most of the leaders and nationalists had no specific ideas for the building up of a modernIndia. It was only leaders like [Gopal Krishna] Gokhale and Malaviyaji who thought of education as the basic foundation for this huge task. The finest example of his vision can be seen in the wonderful clarity of the prospectus of the Banaras Hindu University. The true result of his [Malaviya’s] action can be seen in the products of the university, who championed the cause of progress all over the country in many fields immediately before and after Independence.”

Malviya became Indian National Congress president in 1909, 1918, 1930 and 1932.

The correspondent of the British newspaper The Manchester Guardian in a perceptive article on Malaviya’s appointment as Congress president wrote in 1909: “…Mr. Madan Mohan Malaviya is a politician of high standing and of notable ability. He is a self-made man, having made his way at the Bar after an apprenticeship as school teacher and journalist…Long before Mrs. Besant’s days he worked for the establishment of a national university at Benares. In politics, he belongs decidedly to the moderate school, and despite his enthusiasm in the Swadeshi cause, has always kept at a long distance from the extreme Nationalists. With the exception of Mr. Surendranath Banerjea himself, there is no Congress orator more generally admired than Mr. Malaviya. His age is 47.”

Malaviya stopped practising law in 1911 as he wanted to focus on social service and his long-term vision for India’s education system. Yet he fought a legal battle on behalf of freedom fighters sentenced to death in the Chauri Chaura case and got 156 freedom fighters acquitted.

Though he took part in the Non-cooperation movement he was uneasy about the Congress’s participation in the Khilafat movement. He was among the Congress leaders who protested against the Simon Commission. In 1930 Malaviya was one of the delegates at the First Round Table Conference. Later, he left the Congress and started his own party in protest against separate electorates for minorities. He was also chairman of the Hindustan Times for more than two decades.

Though he has at times been described as a “Hindu nationalist”, Malaviya always stressed the importance of religious harmony and tolerance. As he once remarked: “Indiais not a country of the Hindus only. It is a country of the Muslims, the Christians and the Parsees too. The country can gain strength and develop itself only when the people of the different communities in India live in mutual goodwill and harmony.”

Malaviya died on November 12, 1946, at the age of 85. Jawaharlal Nehru in a tribute said he was a “giant among men, one of those who laid the foundation of modern Indian nationalism and, year by year, built up brick by brick and stone by stone, the noble edifice of Indian freedom”.

Also on this day:

1919 — Naushad, renowned music director, was born 

1924 — Atal Bihari Vajpayee, 10th Prime Minister of India, was born

1924 — Om Prakash Sharma, Hindi writer of detective fiction, was born

1925 — Satish Gujral, Indian artist, was born

1928 — Kapila Vatsyayan, art historian and founder-director of Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, was born

1936 — Ismail Merchant, film producer and director, was born

1944 — Mani Kaul, filmmaker of Indian parallel cinema, was born  

1972 — Chakravarti Rajagopalachari, last Governor General of India and founder of Swatantra Party, passed away  

1974 — Nagma, South Indian actress, was born  

1994 — Giani Zail Singh, seventh President of India, passed away

2007 — GP Sippy, Bollywood producer and director, passed away 

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