Sasipada Banerjee, a prominent Bengali Brahmo and his wife Rajkumari Banerjee were on a tour to England in 1872 when Albion Rajkumar Banerjee was born to them. Thus he become the first, and perhaps the only Indian member of the ICS to have such an ‘intimate birth connect’ with Britain.
Although he came back to India for his school and collegiate education, he went on to earn his Masters at the Balliol College, Oxford. In fact, in all his writings on India, he says that he given his Brahmo background, education in England, formative years as a Madras civilian, Diwanship in the princely states of Mysore, Travancore and Jammu & Kashmir, he was eminently qualified to offer a political commentary on the issues which confronted India .
After his selection in the ICS in 1894 he was assigned to the province of Madras where he learnt Malyalam, Kananda, Tamil and Telugu – for Madras was then a multilingual state.
However within a decade or so, he realised that there was a glass ceiling within the ICS, and when he got an opportunity to join Cochin state as a Diwan (a ministerial appointment on the civil and revenue side) he accepted the offer, and introduced the Cochin State Manual on the lines of State and District Gazetteers in the areas under British administration.
This was published in 1911, and is the first comprehensive record of the archaeological and historical sites, royal lineage, history, land tenure system and general administration of the princely state of Cochin. This is acknowledged in the preface by the author C Achyuta Menon.
In 1914, he joined the cabinet of Diwan Sir M. Visvesvaraya’s in Mysore. Under the enlightened and forwardlooking ruler, Krishna Raja Wadiyar IV, Mysore was making great strides in every field – education, health, infrastructure and social reform. After the resignation of Visvesvaraya as Diwan on the issue of reservations in public services, Banerjee became the First Councilor in Diwan Sir M.
Kantaraj Urs’s Cabinet, and tasked with the responsibility of conducting examination for public services which reserved seats for all communities, except the Tamil Brahmins and Anglo Indians – as these were considered to be educationally far ahead of the others .After the resignation of Sir M. Kantaraj Urs on account of his poor health, he became the Diwan of Mysore from 1922 to 1926. , and it was in this capacity that that he signed the 1924 Cauvery Accord with Madras Presidency which gave a boost to agriculture in the region . Soon thereafter, he moved to the North and became the Prime Minister of Jammu & Kashmir in 1927 under Maharaja Hari Singh.
He found the affairs of the state in a complete mess, but more than that, he found that the Maharaja was not interested in pursuing reform. This led to his resignation in 1929, for he could not reconcile the opulent lifestyle of the Maharaja in the midst of extreme poverty and distress. He wrote: “Jammu and Kashmir state is labouring under many disadvantages, with a large Mohammedan population absolutely illiterate, labouring under poverty and very low economic conditions of living in the villages, and practically governed like dumb driven cattle. There is no touch between the government and the people, no suitable opportunity for representing grievances… The administration has at present no or little sympathy with people’s wants and grievances.”
The next two decades were a time of prolific writing and commentary, and he was acknowledged as a public intellectual – for this was the period during which he wrote most of his books and articles which were published in the leading journals, both in India as well as England.
(The author is a historian, columnist and Festival Director, Valley of Words: International Literature & Arts Festival, Dehradun)