New Delhi: The Vice President of India, Shri M. Venkaiah Naidu has said that people must be at the centre of governance and the Leadership must have empathy and compassion. He was delivering the 24th Sree Chithira Thirunal Memorial Lecture in honour of Maharaja Sree Chithira Thirunal Balarama Verma, in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala today. The Governor of Kerala, Justice P. Sathasivam, the Minister for Culture and Law, Kerala, Shri A.K. Balan and other dignitaries were present on the occasion.
The Vice President said that a democratic government has to be ever vigilant, ever watchful, and ever open to new trends and they need to be responsive to the changing needs and times if they have to stay relevant. He further said that an attitude of constant reform, transformative visionary leadership can make a difference.
The Vice President called Sree Chithira Thirunal an icon of good governance embodying the essence of ‘Indianness”. He further said that Sree Chithira Thirunal has shown the path that can propel India to greater development trajectory, to the heights of inclusive and sustainable development and well being. He was a shining example of wise and progressive leadership that has made an immense contribution to India’s glorious history, he added.
Quoting Kautilya’s Arthashastra on the ideal qualities of a King, the Vice President said that his emphasis on justice and protection of the people are two essential qualities of a wise King such as Sree Chithira Thirunal. He further said that social justice and ‘inclusion’ were a part of the genesis of Independent India and we couldn’t have had a really ‘free’ nation with a sizable ‘unfree’ population. This concern is reflected in the Preamble of our Constitution which aims to secure social, economic and political justice to all our citizens, he added.
Following is the text of Vice President’s address:
“Let me at the outset congratulate Sree Chithira Thirunal Smaraka Samithy for conducting the Sree Chithira Thirunal Memorial Lecture in honour of Maharaja Sree Chithira Thirunal Balarama Verma on his birth anniversary every year since 1992. I am pleased to be with all of you this afternoon to deliver the 24th Memorial Lecture.
In our country’s illustrious history, we have had a number of kings and queens who have provided exemplary leadership and have left a lasting legacy. One of such shining examples of wise and progressive leadership is Sree Chithira Thirunal the then Maharaja of Travancore and Raj Pramukh of Travancore Cochin, who has made an immense contribution to India’s glorious history.
Kautilya in his Arthashastra, written in the 2nd Century AD, talks about an ideal King. He said:
“A King who observes his duty of protecting his people justly, according to law, goes to heaven, unlike one who does not protect his people or inflicts unjust punishment”.
He also talks about a King “Who is wise, disciplined, devoted to just governing of subjects and ever conscious of the welfare of all beings.”
I would like to underscore two important aspects in Kautilya’s statement; one is the emphasis on justice and the second is the protection of the people.
Sree Chithira Thirunal embodies, in my view, these two essential qualities of a wise King.
As the last ruling Maharaja of the Princely State of Travancore, Sree Chithira Thirunal is known for a number of progressive measures. He was ‘ever conscious of the welfare of all beings’. He demonstrated in his life that we can actually achieve the Indian ideal of ‘Sarve Janaah Sukhino Bhavantu’. His focus on social justice and quality education for all are a testimony to his commitment to a ‘just’ and ‘caring’ governance.
One immediately recalls his famous path breaking proclamation in 1936 allowing temple entry to Dalits. It is worth recalling that in the historical context of those times, this was a very bold step. Gandhiji and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar had very tenaciously fought the social evil of untouchability and had made this a major plank and an integral part of India’s freedom movement.
Social justice and ‘inclusion’ were a part of the genesis of Independent India.
We couldn’t have had a really ‘free’ nation with a sizable ‘unfree’ population.
This concern is reflected in the Preamble of our Constitution which aims to secure social, economic and political justice to all our citizens.
Flowing from this ideal, we have Article 17 of our Constitution that states as follows: “untouchability” is abolished and its practice in any form is forbidden”. This Constitutional mandate was followed up by the Untouchability (Offences) Act, 1955 and the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.
In the socio-economic context of pre-independence India, removal of barriers to social integration of the dalits was a big challenge. There were dalit movements demanding temple entry in different parts of India. For example, dalits forced their way into Jagannath Temple in Orissa and into the Chamundi temple in Rajasthan. Against this backdrop, Sree Chithira Thirunal’s proclamation to allow temple entry in 1936 is truly a remarkable leap into the future. The full edict of this Proclamation is worth recalling to understand the foundations of our polity:
“Profoundly convinced of the truth and validity of our religion, believing that it is based on divine guidance and on all-comprehending toleration, knowing that in its practice it has throughout the centuries, adapted itself to the needs of changing times, solicitous that none of our Hindu subjects should, by reason of birth or caste or community, be denied the consolation and the solace of the Hindu faith, we have decided and hereby declare, ordain and command that, subject to such rules and conditions as may be laid down and imposed by us for preserving their proper atmosphere and maintaining their rituals and observances, there should henceforth be no restriction placed on any Hindu by birth or religion on entering or worshipping at temples controlled by us and our Government.”
I would like to draw your attention to two key phrases here.
One is “all-comprehending toleration” and the other is “adopted itself to the needs of changing times”.
The first is a beautiful summary of India world view that is based on ‘toleration’ and a tolerance that is not blind but is based on “all comprehending” awareness.
The second is the essential quality of good governance. A king or a democratic government has to be ever vigilant, ever watchful, and ever open to new trends. They need to be responsive to the changing needs and times if they have to stay relevant.
It is this transformational leadership that Maharaja Chithira Thirunal demonstrated. It is this leadership that earned him the rarest praise from the father of our nation – Mahatma Gandhi who told him:
“People call me “The Mahatma” and I don’t think I deserve it. But in my view, you have in reality become a “Mahatma”(great soul) by your proclamation at this young age, breaking the age old custom and throwing open the doors of the Temples to our brothers and sisters whom the hateful tradition considered as untouchables. I verily believe that when all else is forgotten, this one act of the Maharajah- the Proclamation- will be remembered by future generation with gratitude and hope that all other Hindu Princes will follow the noble example set by this far-off ancient Hindu State.”
It was a truly bold step that Sree Chithira Thirunal took. It was difficult to emulate but it set the tone for social reforms. It is no accident that this State has been in the vanguard of social justice movements. This is the land of Saint Narayana Guru who preached and practiced social equality. This is the land of Mahakavi Kumaran Ashan, the great philosopher-poet and an ardent disciple of Narayana Guru. This is the land of Guruvayur and Vaikkom Satyagraha.
Sree Chithira Thirunal was a trailblazer in establishing sound systems of education and health. He visualized that socio-economic development must be inclusive. He knew that this would necessitate broadening the base of education and universalize access to good quality education.
Sree Chithira Thirunal’s vision of inclusion and protection of human rights was very broad. He foresaw the need for expanding access to good quality education.
While there were only 31,793 students in High Schools when Sree Chithira Thirunal became the Maharaja, there were 1,54,113 students at the end of his rule.
The farsighted Prince’s outstanding contribution to the high literacy rate of Kerala can be seen in the scheme of compulsory primary education for all children in the age group of five to eleven years which he launched on 11th February, 1946.
He followed it up by a host of measures to universalize education – full fee concessions, mid day meals, free clothes and hostel facilities.
While focusing on good quality primary schooling, he also established the University of Travancore and shaped it into a centre of excellence. He streamlined the higher education sector through the University Act in 1937.
Sree Chithira Thirunal represents the high ideals of a benevolent king envisaged by Kautilya. He not only enriched the social fabric of the province through integration and inclusion but also enriched the cultural capital as well. He gave a big fillip to preservation of Indian cultural traditions including music, art dance and vedic learning.
In many ways, he was the pace setter who kept the welfare of his people as his sole aim, as he declared at his coronation in 1931.
He was a quintessential Indian with deep love for the best in the Indian cultural history.
At the same time, he was modern in his outlook and pragmatic in his approach.
He has many other ‘firsts’ to his credit. He was a king who was ‘democratic’ in his actions. His devolution of powers to India’s first State Assembly and conducting elections based on universal suffrage are pioneering initiatives. So is his decision to abolish capital punishment which was the first such decision in the entire Asia.
He was a deeply caring monarch whose heart was with the people. He cared for the farmers and set up a Land Mortgage Bank and appointed a Debt Relief Committee. He laid a solid foundation for industrial growth with around 20 industries during his reign. He was a great institution builder. Even after laying down office, he continued to create institutions like the Sree Chithira Thirunal Institute for Medical Science and Technology.
I have dwelt upon Sree Chithira Thirunal’s illustrious contributions to our country’s history in order to impress upon each one of us that we can transform our country through tangible collective efforts.
Dr. B.R. Ambedkar had once said:
“In the case of many of us….Nationalism is a mere figure of speech, but to Mahatma it is his life breath. I cannot even imagine Mahatma Gandhi in terms of caste Hindus or any other way than in terms of the nation”.
It is this identification with the national goals that we need to imbibe. When we put national interest above all other interests, we as a nation will rise up. Narrow, tunnel vision and irrational divisions will pull us down.
We have achieved a lot during the last 70 years but there are numerous challenges in our society. Inequalities and discrimination are two of these.
Gandhiji wrote in 1920 that Hinduism will perish “if it does not purge itself of the blot on itself in the shape of untouchability”.
These are some of the ‘blots’ that Sree Chithira Thirunal recognized early on and erased them.
Not only did he erase them but he re-painted the entire developmental canvas in such glorifying colours that he remains a perennial inspiration to all of us even today.
He is veritably an icon of good governance embodying the essence of ‘Indianness”.
He has shown the path that can propel India to greater development trajectory, to the heights of inclusive and sustainable development and well being.
He lived a life that was dedicated to persistent effort where he ensured that desired results are achieved.
It is an attitude of constant reflection and reform. It is a forward looking, transformative visionary leadership that had made the difference. This happened because Sree Chithira Thirunal put the people at the centre of his governance. He had empathy and compassion. He acquired knowledge and had the wisdom to apply it for public good.
As I salute him on this auspicious day, I urge our people to draw inspiration from this great social reformer and work collectively to shape a vibrant, forward-looking India in the years to come.