The Excellent Statesman – Sir M Visvesvaraya

Sir MV

Sir M Visvesvaraya, popularly known as Sir MV, was a man who excelled at many different fields. He is remembered today as an engineer par excellence, a highly respected statesman and a visionary thinker.

His Early Life and Beginnings

Sir MV was born in Muddenahalli, a village in Karnataka, on 15th September 1860 to Srinavasa Sastry and Venkachamma. He completed his high school education from Wesley Mission High School and his graduation from Central College – both in Bangalore. He was a very bright student.

He went on to pursue a course in civil engineering in Pune, having received a scholarship for the same. While there, he was awarded the James Berkley Gold Medal for outstanding performance.

Lifestyle of Sir MV

He led a very simple life. He was a strict vegetarian and a teetotaler. He would go to sleep by 10 P.M. and wake up at 6 A.M. His diet included a very light breakfast, two slices of bread or chappatis, vegetables without spices, rasam, curds, Nanjangud bananas for lunch.

Engineering Feats and Achievements

Sir M Visvesvaraya’s first job was as an Assistant Engineer at the Public Works Department under the government of the erstwhile Bombay Presidency. He had a long and eventful career in the field of engineering, during which he also served as the Chief Engineer of the erstwhile State of Mysore.

Sir MV was the driving force behind the construction of many major dams and water supply schemes across the country. The famous Krishna Raja Sagar dam in Mysore is one of these.

The use of automatic sluice gates, an engineering innovation applied in many dams across the country, was Sir MV’s idea. He became the Dewan of the State of Mysore in 1912 and during his tenure; he took immense interest in shaping new developments in education and other fields.

He was instrumental in the formation of Mysore University as well as two other well-known educational institutions of Bangalore – University Vishweshwaraiah College of Engineering and University of Agricultural Sciences.

He also played an integral role in setting up the Mysore Iron and Steel Works, Bhadravathi, and the Bank of Mysore (now State Bank of Mysore). It is important to bear in mind, however, that these are just a few of his many achievements.

His book, Planned Economy for India, published in 1936 was the first attempt at nation building. He would work only on one project at a time. He would carry various engineering plans in his car.

Job Positions Held By Sir MV

Sir MV was the first-ever technocrat India saw.

Some of the job positions he held were

  1. Assistant Engineer, Bombay Government Service [in 1884]
  2. Chief Engineer, Hyderabad State [he served only for 7 months starting April 15, 1909]
  3. Chief Engineer in Mysore State [Nov 15, 1909]. He was also Secretary to the Railways.
  4. President of Education and Industrial Development committees in Mysore State
  5. Dewan of Mysore. [for six years starting 1912]
  6. Chairman, Bhadravati Iron Works
  7. Member of the Governing Council of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore
  8. Member of the Governing Council of Tata Iron and Steel Company [TISCO]
  9. Member of Back Bay enquiry committee, London
  10. Member of a committee constituted in 1917 to make recommendations regarding the future of Indian States.

Sir M.V. retired in 1908 and Sri Krishnarajendra Wodeyar, Maharaja of Mysore, was eager to secure the services of Visvesvaraya to serve Mysore.  He joined as Chief Engineer in Mysore because he wanted challenging opportunities. Sir M.V. had earned a reputation for his honesty, integrity, ability and intelligence. He had introduced compulsory education in the State which later was embodied as a fundamental right in the Constitution of independent India.

To name few of the many things he was responsible for:

  1. Architect of the Krishnarajasagara dam – or KRS or Brindavan gardens.  One of the biggest dams in India which irrigates a hundred and twenty thousand acres of land. This was built at a cost of Rs 2.5 crore. It changed a barren Mandya district into rice granary, provides drinking water to Mysore and Bangalore.
  2. Bhadravati Iron and Steel Works – as its Chairman he rescued it from becoming extinct.
  3. Mysore Sandal Oil Factory and the Mysore soap factory
  4. Mysore University – Sir M.V.’s question was “If Australia and Canada could have universities of their own for less than a million population, cannot Mysore with a population of not less that 60 lakhs have a University of its own?”
  5. State Bank of Mysore (it was first named The Bank of Mysore)
  6. Public libraries in Mysore and Bangalore
  7. Encouraging girls to attend school.
  8. Mysore Chamber of Commerce
  9. Kannada Sahitya Parishad or the Kannada Literary Academy
  10. Sri Jayachamarajendra Occupational Institute, Bangalore – funded by the ENTIRE money [Rs 2 lacs] he earned from rescuing Bhadravati Iron Works.
  11. In 1912 he set up Hebbal Agricultural School, now University of Agricultural Sciences.
  12. In 1903 he designed automatic, weir water floodgates, installed at Khadakvasla reservoir.
  13. He implemented irrigation system in Karnataka.

Sir M.V. was never interested in fame or publicity. But they came to him on their own. Every university in India sought him out to confer honoris causa. The universities of Allahabad, Andhra, Bombay, Calcutta, Jadhavpur, Mysore, Patna and Varanasi.

Some of the honours and laurels conferred on Sir M.V.,

Year
Award
1904Honorary Membership of London Institution of Civil Engineers for an unbroken period of 50 years
1906“Kaisar-i-Hind” in recognition of his services
1911C.I.E. (Companion of the Indian Empire) at the Delhi Darbar
1915K.C.I.E. (Knight Commander of the Order of the Indian Empire)
1921D.Sc. – Calcutta University
1931LLD – Bombay University
1937D.Litt – Benaras Hindu University (BHU)
1943Elected as an Honorary Life Member of the Institution of Engineers (India)
1944D.Sc. – Allahabad University
1948Doctorate – LLD., Mysore University
1953D.Litt – Andhra University
1953Awarded the Honorary Fellowship of the Institute of Town Planners, India
1955Conferred ‘Bharat Ratna‘ (The gem of India), the highest distinction of the country
1958D.Sc. Jadhavpur University Calcutta
1958‘Durga Prasad Khaitan Memorial Gold Medal’ by the Royal Asiatic Society Council of Bengal
1959Fellowship of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore

Sir M Visvesvaraya’s Memorable Persona

There is no dearth of interesting anecdotes about Sir MV.

Some of these revolve around him being a stickler for punctuality and a strict disciplinarian; there are others that dwell on his sense of honesty, integrity and professionalism. The fact that he was always impeccably dressed has also been well-documented.

When Sir MV was offered the position of Dewan of Mysore State, it is said that he invited his relatives for dinner. He told them that he would take up the offer on one condition: that they (the relatives) should not come and ask him to use his position as Dewan to help them get their personal work done.

Bank Balance of Sir MV

“Indian Express” on March 24, 2005 (by Arindam Bhattacharjee) carried an article which how simple Sir MV was and how diligently he maintained his accounts.

Sir MV maintained an account with Bank of Mysore, which is now State Bank of Mysore. Sir MV had Rs 990 on March 27, 1918, which increased to Rs 11,487 on March 3, 1919. His account had thrice attracted interests of Rs 14, Rs 66 and Rs 117 during this period. An entry in the passbook on Nov 18, 1918 reveals he got Rs 13,486 transferred to this current account from a fixed deposit account.

Sir MV And Mahatma Gandhi

Sir M.V. belongs to that small band of eminent Indians whose ideas and achievements have been among the truly creative and formative force of modern India. Sir M.V.’s slogan was Industrialize or Perish and Mahatma Gandhiji’s view was Industrialize and Perish.

In 1921 Gandhiji launched his non-cooperation movement which Sir M.V. did not agree with. Sir M.V. wrote to Gandhiji urging him to be better dressed in view of the upcoming Round Table Conference. Sir M.V. used to be immaculately dressed.

In August 1927 Mahatma Gandhi visited Mysore State (reported in September 1, 1927 issue of YoungIndia). In a speech during that visit Gandhi said,

Bhadravathi (Iron Works), like Krishnarajasagar Dam, is a tribute to the patriotism and constructive genius of Visvesvaraya, who has placed his talents, knowledge and industry and all his time and energy at the service of Mysore.  One thing that strikes us most here is that the whole undertaking is from top to bottom a self-contained one.  The originator is a Mysorean, at any rate, entirely South Indian. That is a thing about which you and India may well be proud.

Books Authored & Contributed By Sir MV

  1. Planned Economy for India, 1861-1962, Bangalore, Bangalore Press, 1934
  2. Memoirs of my Working Life, Bangalore (1954)
  3. Unemployement in India: Its causes and cure, Bangalore City, Bangalore Press, 1932
  4. Prosperity through Industry Move towards rapid industrialization (Second edition), Bombay, All-India Manufacturer’s Organization, 1943
  5. Post-War Reconstruction in India (Address at the quarterly meeting of the Central Committee, September 2, 1943), All-India Manufacturer’s Organization
  6. Nation building: a five-year plan for the provinces, Bangalore City, Bangalore Press, 1937
  7. District development scheme: Economic progress by forced marches, Bangalore, 1940
  8. A Brief Memoir of my Complete Working Life, Bangalore, 1960

Sir MV’s Final Years

Sir MV’s extraordinary feats resulted in the government of India bestowing him with the Bharat Ratna award in the year 1955.

The centenary of the birth of Sir M.V. was celebrated in Lalbagh in Bangalore. Prime Minister Nehru flew down to Bangalore by a special plane to honour the greatest son of India. Sri Jayachamaraja Wodiyar presided over the function.

Sir MV's house in Muddenahalli. Photographer Raghu

Sir MV’s house in Muddenahalli. Photographer Raghu

Sir. M.V. died on April 12, 1962 at the age of 102 years, 6 months and 8 days. As per his wish, he was cremated in his birth place, Muddanahalli.

The memorial at Muddenahalli is good but it is not taken care well. Not sure how he would react to the state of affairs in Karnataka or India in general if he was alive today. Government hesitates to release Rs 3 lakh for Karnataka’s icon [May 5, 2008 / Deccan Herald].