A Governor kept busy

One of the highlights of Madras Week (Miscellany, June 24) will be a day-long seminar on the relationship the British had with Nawab Muhammad Ali of the Carnatic.

One of the presenters, who is working on a book in which this relationship will figure, will specifically speak on the link between the Nawab and Governor George Pigot (1755-1763). There is no Governor of Madras who had a more hectic time in the Presidency than the man who became Lord Pigot and who was the victim of the second coup in Madras history.

Pigot came out to Madras in July 1737, just about 275 years ago, as a Writer. He was a Junior Merchant in 1746 when the French seized Madras but was repatriated to England by the victors on condition that he would not take up arms against them. Pigot returned to Madras in 1750, moved to Fort St. David (Old Cuddalore) as a Councillor, then to Vizagapatnam as Chief till 1754 when he was given charge of Fort St. David as Deputy Governor. In 1755, he was back again in Madras — this time as Governor. A memorable eight years lay ahead of him.

Those eventful years began with Nawab Muhammad Ali entering Arcot as the British-recognised ruler of the Carnatic. Under Pigot’s orders, Angria’s pirates on the west coast were eliminated by Admiral Watson and Lt. Col. Robert Clive. The same two teamed up to lead the expedition from Madras to recapture Calcutta from Suraj-ud-Dowla, after the Black Hole tragedy. Clive’s victory at Plassey was to lead to empire. Then came a revival of French ambitions in the South. The Comte de Lally captured and razed Fort St. David, then besieged Fort St. George. The fortifications of Madras had by then been substantially improved by Pigot, he had an army within well-trained and led by Stringer Lawrence, and he provided an inspiring leadership. All Lally’s attacks were blunted and he had to withdraw after besieging the city for 67 days. Pigot then ordered his army to march on Pondicherry, which was captured and razed in retaliation for Fort St. David. These never-a-dull-moment years ended with the support he lent to the British force that captured Manila. Most important of all, it could well be said that it was under Pigot that a trading house began to dream of becoming a ruling power.

Pigot returned to England early in 1764 to be feted and knighted. In 1766 he was raised to the Irish peerage as Baron Pigot of Patshull. And in 1775, he returned to Madras as Governor once more, now addressed as Lord Pigot. The choice of Pigot was because he once had the goodwill of both the Nawab of the Carnatic and of the Rajah of Tanjore who was, at this time, claiming restoration of his territory taken by Muhammad Ali. The Nawab was in two minds about what he should do, but his numerous European creditors, which included most of the senior European merchants, councillors and officers in Fort St. George, forced the Nawab to oppose the rendition. This coterie, benefiting from the Nawab’s constant borrowings from them, staged the second coup in Madras history, arresting Pigot in August 1776. By March 1777 Pigot was a sick man and two months later passed away.

Pigot was buried in St. Mary’s in the Fort, the first burial inside the Church itself. No tombstone marked the spot or honoured a man once a hero. Then, during excavations inside the church in 1874, an unmarked coffin was found. It was thought to be that of Lord Pigot and the then Governor, the Duke of Buckingham, ordered a tombstone, simply inscribed ‘In Memoriam’ to be placed on the spot where the coffin had been found.

Stephan Roman, regional director of the British Council is sure to have a fascinating tale to tell about the Pigot-Wallajah-Tanjore connection at that seminar scheduled for Madras Week.


The other Rangaswami

Not long after the piece on S. Rangaswami appeared in this column a few weeks ago (Miscellany, June 3) there arrived in the post from the U.S. a little booklet about another Rangaswami who also became the editor of The Hindu. He was A. Rangaswami, who was not only much more into the politics of the times, but also became the editor of another Madras paper, the Swadesmitran.

A. Rangaswami, whose younger brother, N. Gopalaswamy Iyengar, became the Dewan of Kashmir and then Minister of Defence in the first Nehru Cabinet, was from his student days at Presidency focussed on Economics and Political Science. But seeing those subjects leading only to academe or Government Service, he next studied law and began practising in the early 1900s in Tanjore.

Just at the time he was making his mark in Tanjore, his maternal uncle, S. Kasturi Ranga Iyengar, bought the floundering Hindu. To help him, particularly with the management of the paper as well as with a socialist’s knowledge of economics and politics, he invited Rangaswami to join him as Assistant Editor as well as Manager. Rangaswami’s incisive editorials and scholarly articles on his specialisations helped increase the prestige of The Hindu considerably. At the same time, he made it a successful business venture, something the Doubting Thomases had been sceptical about when his uncle had bought the ailing publication.

One of Rangaswami’s most significant investigative stories has echoes down to this day. When the Madras Government agreed to the Mysore principality building a dam across the Kaveri at Kanniambadi, Rangachari, after on-the-spot investigations, wrote a series of articles that the dam would affect farming in the Tanjore and Trichinopoly Districts. The shocking disclosures made the Madras Government refer the plan to a mediator. Unfortunately the mediator ruled in favour of Mysore. Whereupon Rangaswami urged the Government to seek the views of the Secretary of State for India and London directed that the dam should not be constructed.

Seen as an analytical journalist committed to explaining the complex to the lay reader, an able administrator, and a good speaker and writer in Tamil, he was just the man whom the ailing G. Subramania Aiyer was looking for to take over the Swadesmitran which could do with a dose of all three after Subramania Aiyar’s arrest in August 1908, for anti-Raj diatribes, broke his spirit and doused his journalistic fire. And so in November 1915, Rangaswami joined it as both editor and proprietor. He was to make it a potent force in the world of Tamil journalism. To help him in this were a kinsman, C.R. Srinivasan, and Subramania Bharati (from 1920).

It was another Srinivasan, Kasturi Ranga Iyengar’s son, who sought Rangaswami’s help in 1928 after S. Rangaswami’s death, when he had to add to his managerial functions those of editorship. With Swadesmitran well settled, Rangaswami accepted the editorship of The Hindu, C.R. Srinivasan became editor of the Swadesmitran and, not long afterwards, its proprietor too.

As editor of The Hindu, A. Rangaswami made the paper a strong supporter of the swaraj movement. He himself became an active member of the Congress Party and one of its leading organisers. Invited to the first Round Table Conference in London in 1931, he found Gandhi asking him to serve as his secretary during the conference. And he was at Gandhiji’s side, or serving on one sub-committee or the other, during the nine months the conference dragged on.

In February 1934, A. Rangaswami Iyengar passed away after a year-long struggle with illness. Politics — if steps taken in the quest for freedom can be called that — was Rangaswami’s first love. Economics and agrarian policies were other loves. And for relaxation, music led the way — he was involved with the founding of the Music Academy — followed by theatre and poetry. He was typical of the Indian intellectual of the day. Well versed in the English language, familiar with Western political and economic thought, but equally interested in Indian arts and culture.


Celebrating a century

Around the middle of this month half a dozen veterans of Madras Fertilizers Ltd, all of them now retired senior executives, will gather in a retirees’ commune in Texas to celebrate in his home there the 100th birthday of Joseph Weaver, their mentor. “What we learnt from him, we’ve never forgotten,” says L. Vasudev, who later chaired Indian Airlines.

It was in 1965 that the industrialisation of Manali began with Madras Refineries Ltd, a joint venture of the Government of India and the National Iranian Oil Corporation. Sensing an opportunity here, AMOCO, once Standard Oil of Indiana and, later, the American Oil Company, which was working with Iranian Oil, in 1966 teamed with the Government of India to set up in Manali Madras Fertilizers Ltd. Both plants welcomed several American technicians, managers and senior executives to help set their facilities up and get production going. One of them was Weaver, who came out as managing director of MFL (1966-1971). He was not only a hands-on trainer but a very human man manager. His mandate was not only to construct the plant but also start up production. But he went much further than that, recalls Vasudev. He set in place the systems — both for administration as well as production — that are in place to this day with little tweaking.

The success Weaver made of MFL, led to AMOCO being awarded in 1976 the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) Award for developmental work overseas. President Gerald R. Ford presented the award to the chairman of Standard Oil Company (Indiana) AMOCO, India. Inc., for the Madras Fertilizer project. At the White House, to see his chairman receive the Award and commendation, as well as to accept one for himself, was Weaver.

How many at MFL remember Weaver’s contribution, wondered Vasudev when we met recently. If anyone does, perhaps he should get MFL to celebrate Weaver’s century, he added. And there should be another celebration too, Vasudev went on, at the Madras Club, particularly by the swimmers there. And thereby hangs another tale.

Over a hundred Americans, all AMOCO personnel working in the two plants, were living in Madras and had nothing to do with their evenings in what they considered a “one-horse town” at the time. They were not exactly happy and Weaver decided that something should be done for morale. When he found that the senior executives like him were accepted by the Madras Club as temporary members and the technicians were not, he approached the American Consul-General and with his help worked out a deal.

AMOCO, he suggested, would build a swimming pool and a pavilion in a tree-shaded corner of the Club, removed from its main buildings, and the Club would give the technicians permission to enter its premises to use this facility. Members of the Club were also welcome to use the pool. Once AMOCO pulled its personnel out of Manali, it would present the Club the swimming pool. There was much debate in the Club even over such a generous offer, but eventually it was accepted. And, so, when the AMOCO technicians left Madras, they left the Madras Club what was — and what many think is still — the finest swimming pool in the city. And that surely is reason enough for the Club to celebrate Weaver’s 100th birthday, mused Vasudev.

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