Saturday, March 11, 2017

Madras and the rise of the Indian National Congress Part I: The Mylapore Seventeen

True, the roots of the Indian National Congress are shrouded in mystery, because while  I doubt if any of the pioneers lived to taste freedom (not improbable, though, as many of the delegates of the inaugural 1885 session were in the thirties and a few, even in their twenties and had any, unbeknownst lived upto 1947, he would have been in his nineties), there is actually very little chance that a delegate or two had continued to remain in active participation  after Mahatma Gandhi took over the leadership of the movement and turned the Congress into an agitating body in the early 1920s. The last known survivor of the 1885 session was Gooty Kesava Pillai (1860-1933) who died on March 28, 1933.

The first session of the Indian National Congress was held at Bombay all right but its not known to many that the city of Madras played a significant role in its formation. In the last week of December 1884, seventeen prominent Indians from all parts of the country met at the house of Raghunatha Rao in Mylapore and resolved to form "a national movement for political ends". The seventeen were S. Subramania Iyer, P. Rangaiah Naidu and P. Anandacharlu from Madras, Norendranath Sen, Surendranath Banerjee and M. Ghosh from Calcutta, V. N. Mandlik, K. T. Telang and Dadabhai Naoroji from Bombay, C. Vijayaranga Mudaliar and Panduranga Gopal from Poona, Sardar Dyal Singh from Benares, Harishchandra from Allahabad, Kashi Prasad and Pandit Lakshmkinarayan from North-Western Provinces (present-day UP), Charuchandra Mitter from rural Bengal and Shri Ram from Oudh.  The list of names have come down to us through one of the delegates Norendranath Sen of Calcutta who handed it over for publication in the newspaper The Indian Mirror and these individuals have since acquired fame as the "Mylapore 17" but at that time the meeting was barely a sideshow to the more popular annual convention of the Theosophical Society in Adyar which the delegates had come to attend. Exactly a year later, a congregation of 72 notables that included the "Mylapore 17" met at the Gokuldas Tejpal Sanskrit College in Bombay in a meeting hurriedly organized after elaborate arrangements made at Poona were given up due to a devastating plague in the city, and formed the Indian National Congress. There were twenty two delegates from the Madras Presidency at the Bombay session and seven of them - G. Subramania Iyer, A. Sabapathy Mudaliar, Peter Paul Pillai, P. Anandacharlu, S. Subramania Iyer, S. A. Saminatha Iyer and P. Rangaiah Naidu spoke.

Their efforts bore fruit the following year when the Indian National Congress was formed with the seventeen participants of the Mylapore meeting, by now famous as the Mylapore 17 playing an active part in its early stages. The first session had a total of 72 delegatesof whom 22 were from the Madras Presidency, including eight from Madras city itself. Another significant event in the freedom movement had taken place just seven months earlier. It was the founding of the Madras Mahajana Sabha,from whose ranks the Congress not just in Madras but all of India drew much of its early leadership from.