Madan Mohan Malaviya, a Congressman for half of his life, and a member of the Hindu Mahasabha for half, on Wednesday may just have been given the Bharat Ratna posthumously as a shrewd political move.
Malaviya (1861-1938) was the founder of the Banaras Hindu University (BHU) which happens to be a landmark in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s parliamentary constituency, Varanasi. Malaviya, himself the son of a kathavachak and a teacher, was forced to leave teaching and embrace law when driven by poverty. He became a millionaire from his practice of law but gave it all up when he reached 50, to ‘serve’ his country. Although he was a Congressman, he embraced Hinduism and its propagation as an article of faith.
Malaviya’s mission was to set up a university for Indians, regardless of faith or caste, and the BHU was born from donations big and small. There is no greater saintly beggar than Malaviya Ji’said Mahatma Gandhi, who was extremely fond of him. Recording his drive for funds to build the university, a contemporary wrote: The Maharajas of Darbhanga, Bikaner and many other states not only donated funds, but accompanied him during his fund collection tours. A Sadhu gave him his chadar, a beggar a rupee, a poor 80 year old widow a rupee, a mail runner 2 annas, a herdsman 8 annas, poor chaprasis, patwaris and mudarrises their salaries. That made him also the beggar of the beggars!”
Malaviya was, during the freedom movement, a bridge between the Extremists and the moderates – as the followers of Gokhale and Tilak were respectively called. In 1930, when Mahatma Gandhi launched the Salt Satyagraha and the Civil Disobedience Movement, he participated in it and courted arrest.
He plunged into the political arena immediately after his inspiring speech at the second Congress session in Calcutta in 1886. He went on to serve Congress for almost 50 years. He served as Congress President for four times- in 1909 (Lahore), in 1918 (Delhi), in 1930 (Delhi) and in 1932 (Calcutta).
The Bharat Ratna to him comes at a time when Godse, a member of the Hindu Mahasabha at one time who murdered Mahatma Gandhi, has become an unparliamentary word. The Mahasabha is virtually extinct but the BHU stands out as a beacon to the liberalism of another era.