The forgotten founder

December 10, 2016 04:42 pm | Updated December 14, 2016 09:29 pm IST

N.V. Raghavan

N.V. Raghavan

The Justice Party, now virtually a footnote in history books, was founded a hundred years ago. It was on November 20, 1916 that “non-Brahmin gentlemen of position and influence both in Madras and the mofussil” gathered at a meeting in Victoria Public Hall and agreed to found two institutions. One was to be called the South India People’s Association and was to be a joint stock company that would publish a newspaper, in English, Tamil and Telugu, to present the non-Brahmin viewpoint. The other was The South India Liberal Federation, which was “to promote the interests of non-Brahmin Caste Hindus” .The first issue of the paper called Justice appeared on February 26, 1917. The Tamil paper, called Dravidan , started publishing from June. Taking a cue from its mouthpiece, the Federation began to be called Justice Party.

Ask anyone who recalls the Justice Party who started it and almost every one of them will say Pitti Theagaroya Chetty and Dr. T.M. Nair. Forgotten is the role Dr. C. Natesa Mudaliar played in this and how that role entitles him to be called a founder. The story starts with a few non-Brahmin Government servants, who felt discriminated against and unfairly treated by their Brahmin superiors, founding what they called the Madras United League on the advice and guidance of Dr. Natesan, an allopathic medicine practitioner in Triplicane who did much social service in the area. At its first annual meeting, on November 10, 1912, it changed its name to the Madras Dravidian Association. Guided by the doctor, the Association grew as it began enrolling outstation members as well. When representatives of the numerous branches met on April 5, 1914, they unanimously elected Dr. Natesan Honorary Secretary and, with no name of a President being reported, it must be presumed that the doctor played that role as well.

One of the first things the Association did was to start the Dravidian Home on Akbar Sahib Street in Triplicane for non-Brahmin students. It then published in 1915 two seminal books, Dravidian Worthies by C. Sankaran Nair and Non-Brahmin Letters by an anonymous author thought to be C. Karunakaran Menon, then editor of the Indian Patriot , a newspaper. All this helped the Association gain a certain importance in the public eye, but not political clout. Such clout could only come with a leadership with a more public face. But, the two most prominent non-Brahmins at the time, Theagaroya Chetty and Dr. Nair, were at loggerheads in the Madras Corporation Council. Dr. Natesan mediated with them to bring about a rapprochement, but forming a political party was still a matter of discussion.

When non-Brahmin candidates were defeated in several elections in 1916, Theagoroya Chetty and Dr. Nair decided it was time to form a political party and the South India Liberal Federation was born. Though Dr. Natesan joined the party, as did several leading members of the Dravidian Association, the association remained a separate body till Dr. Natesan’s death. It enabled him to be often critical of the actions of the Justice Party, particularly after it came to power in 1920.

When the impression was created that the Justice Party was Andhra-dominated, to counter this, the Rajah of Panagal, heading the second Justice Party Ministry in 1923, appointed a Tamil to the Ministry, Dr. Natesan led a group that opposed the person nominated and this became an opposition group in the party. He was again in the forefront of the Justice Party members who opposed the boycotting of the Simon Commission in 1927; the majority was for it.

But, there were other occasions when the Justice Party and Dr. Natesan thought alike. In 1920, the Doctor moved a resolution in the Madras Corporation Council that what were called the Depressed Classes and usually called Panchamas should be called Adi Dravidas. In 1922, the Justice Party passed a resolution in the Legislative Council that Adi Dravida should be the name for those who were called Panchamas and other derogatory caste names. Doing without Brahmin priests in domestic functions was also a part of Justice Party thinking. Dr. Natesan, very much of the same view, celebrated his daughter’s wedding without Brahmin purohits, getting down two non-Brahmin priests from Coimbatore.

Curiously, one of my Bibles, A Hundred Years of The Hindu , and a serious study titled A Non-Brahmin Millennium by V. Geetha and S.V. Rajadurai do not appear to have any space for Dr. Natesan. But, there is a park named after him, again curiously, in T. Nagar, and in Triplicane, a road named Natesan, presumably recalling him; the dropping of the ‘Mudaliar’ is understood, but the missing ‘Dr.’ warrants presumption.

When the postman knocked…

* Several people have written in to tell me that N.V. Raghavan (Miscellany, November 28) was an Accountant-General and a couple has told me he held this position in the Great Indian Peninsular Railway. What little else I’ve been able to gather about him relates that he was a member of the Indian Audit and Accounts Service and after he retired from the service in 1930, two years before necessary, he became the Finance Minister of Indore State in 1932. Back in Madras he was, known as he was to be deeply appreciative of Hindi, invited to become the Vice President of the Hindi Prachar Sabha. Dedicating himself to the spread of Hindi in South India, he put in a tremendous effort, but resigned when he found he could not raise the necessary funds to get the teachers needed for the successful spread of the language. He then spent time in Benares at the request of the Vice-Chancellor of the Benares Hindu University to straighten out the accounts of that institution, and put in place an accounting system. During the last four years of his life (1879-1943) he was a Director of the Indo-Commercial Bank.

* Sriram V. who was one of those who told me that N.V. Raghavan had been an Accountant-General (AG), however, adds that it was a curious fact that several Accountants-General all lived in and around the rather short stretch between Thanneer Thurai Market and Lloyd’s Road corner. H. Bheemasena Rau was an AG of Madras and lived in what is called Bheemasena Gardens, Alwarpet. Across from Raghavan’s house, off what was Edward Elliot’s Road was Chandra Vilas , the home of C.S. Ayyar, the brother of C.V. Raman, the Nobel Laureate, and he was another AG of the GIPR. Behind him, in what is now Sripuram, was yet another AG of the GIPR, T.R. Panchapakesan, who lived there in Rama Vilas from time to time. Near him, on Royapettah High Road was Raja Bhavan , now an Arihant apartment block. And, there lived T.K. Rajagopalan, another AG of Madras. Leave it to Sriram to come up with such nuggets. But, one he may have missed was an AG mentioned to me in passing. Mentioned as it was in passing, I missed the details but it sounded to me that a Sundaram, an AG of Madras, had lived in the Luz Church Road area. Could someone clarify?

* The exact location of N.V. Raghavan’s house with reference to the AVM campus on Radhakrishnan Salai is still a bit confusing to me. Sriram in his note to me on Raghavan says he lived where Nilgiris and now Waitrose is, making it the western end of the AVM campus. But, Ramakrishnan Venkatesh of the Al. Ar. Devakottai Zamindar family says the Devakottai property stretched “from Nilgiris sideroad west to beyond the road just east of the kalyana mandapam”. The area was called Devakottai Colony, he adds.

If Raghavan’s house was where Sriram says it was, did the Accountant-General purchase the western corner of Devakottai Colony at some point in time? Venkatesh adds that Av. Meyyappa Chettiar who later bought the Devakottai property in Madras had been the Zamindar’s tenant when he rented a property at Devakottai Road (Devakottai’s railway station, not far from Karaikudi) for his studio when he moved out of Madras during the World War II threat. Venkatesh goes on to relate that he was told that several Carnatic kutcheries were held in the premises of the Devakottai mansion in its heyday and that at the end of World War II several surplus Jeeps bought by the family’s agent used to be parked in the gardens, but “overall the house was an unlucky one for the family”.

* 14 Casa Major Road, the Spauldings’ home in the late 1940s (Miscellany, December 5), was, he thinks, opposite the Guild of Service campus, at the Casa Major Road-Hall’s Road junction, S.B. Prabhakar Rao tells me.

* M. Desikan points out how wrong I was about Srinivasa Ramanujan’s birthday (Miscellany December 5). He was born on December 22, 1887. Mea culpa; quite careless of me.

* Several readers have written to say I had let my typewriter run away with me and state that it was Rous Peter, not Place, who was buried in Madura (Miscellany, December 5). Mea culpa, and quite careless of me again.

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