Pandit Shyamaji Krishna Verma
by V. Sundaram
‘Revolutions are like the most noxious dung-heaps,
which bring into life the noblest vegetables‘ – Napoleon
Mazzini (1805-1872), the great Italian revolutionary, stated ‘Great revolutions are the work rather of principles than of bayonets, and are achieved first in the moral, and afterwards in the material sphere.’
Great revolutions begin in the best heads and run steadily down to the populace. A fierce and fearless revolutionary cast in this grand mould was Pandit Shyamaji Krishna Verma (1857-1930) who served the cause of India’s freedom from outside the country. Like Mahatma Gandhi, he also hailed from Gujarat. Like Gandhi fighting for the cause of rights of Indians in South Africa from 1893 to 1914, Shyamaji Krishna Verma too played an important role during the most crucial period of India’s struggle for freedom mainly operating from Europe from 1899 to 1930. It was he who founded the famous India House in London in 1904 which became the nerve centre and nucleus for India’s revolutionaries like Veer Savarkar, Madame Cama, Sardar Singh Rana, V V S Iyer, Lala Hardayal and Virendranath Chattopadhaya and Madhanlal Dhingra. Madhanlal Dhingra became the first Indian martyr on the British soil. He murdered Sir Curzon Vyllie on 1 July 1909 and was hanged in the Pentoville jail on 17 May 1909. Shyamji Krishna Verma was the political guru of Veer Savarkar, V V S Iyer and many other freedom fighters in this period.
Shyamji Krishna Verma was born on 4 October, 1857 at Mandvi village of Kutch district in Gujarat. He lost his mother during his early childhood. He had his primary education in the village school at Mandvi and high School education at Bhuj. He was an extraordinarily brilliant student. He acquired a deep knowledge of Sanskrit for which he was awarded the title of ‘Pandit’. He was married to Bhanumati, the daughter of a rich merchant, Seth Chhabildas Lalubhai of Bombay in 1875.
Shyamji Krishna Varma was greatly influenced by Swami Dayanand Saraswati (1824-1883) and became the first President of Bombay Arya Samaj. He later joined the Oxford University and was appointed assistant professor of Sanskrit at Balliol College in Oxford. Subsequently, he entered Temple’s Inn and was the first Indian Bar-at law. He returned to India in January, 1888 and served for a short time as Diwan of Ratlam. He started practice at Ajmer and made his name as an advocate. He became a member of the Municipality of Ajmer city, served as Diwan of Ajmer and later as Diwan of Junagarh.
In 1899, he returned to England and became the unquestioned leader of all the young men and revolutionaries who were then fighting for our national freedom in England. He started the publication of a monthly journal called ‘Indian Sociologist‘ which became a vehicle of revolutionary ideas. In February 1905, he established the Indian Home Rule Society to raise his voice against British domination in India. He established ‘India House’ in London to help Indians visiting England. Freedom fighters like Vinayak Damodar Savarkar and his brother Ganesh, Lala Hardayal, Biren Chattopadhyaya and V V S Iyer were some of the direct beneficiaries who lived in ‘India House’ at that time. Shyamji Krishna Verma raised strong protests against the British rule in India by publishing pamphlets, writing books and delivering speeches.
What inspired Shyamaji Krishna Verma to establish India House in London is by itself an inspiring story. He was already an admirer of Herbert Spencer and came under the spell of his inspiring words: ‘Resistance to aggression is not only justifiable but also imperative.’ This became Krishna Verma’s Jap-Mantra (Motto). In September 1904, standing before the grave of Herbert Spencer at his first death anniversary, he announced a few scholarships to outstanding students but on one condition that they would not accept any service under the government, which was exploiting and suppressing Indians. To facilitate his activities, the India House was formally founded on a freehold land at High Gate in February 1905. A galaxy of luminaries was present on the occasion – Dadabhai Naoroji, Lala Lajpat Rai, and Madame Cama.
Shyamaji Krishna Verma instituted several scholarships and fellowships to attract Indian students to study in England staying in India House. Many of them did not take long to join the institution and work wholeheartedly for the coming revolution. The most outstanding amongst them was Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, who arrived in the middle of 1906. Weekly meetings of Abhinav Bharat Mandal were held on Sundays. The tone of Shyamaji Krishna Verma’s speeches became more and more inspiring, even inciting. Those less interested in revolution slowly dropped out.
Though an ardent patriot, Shyamaji Krishna Verma was not happy with the Congress right from 1899. Even while in England, he did not join the British Committee of the Indian National Congress. When the Boers launched their struggle for freedom from British rule in 1899, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (not yet a Mahatma), practicing as a barrister in Natal in South Africa, came forward to organize a pro-British Volunteer Corps. The Boers were pained by this gesture. Shyamaji Krishna Verma publicly declared: ‘I am ashamed as an Indian and as a Gujarati that Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi should have chosen to support the British imperialists against the Boers fighting for their liberty and freedom.‘
It is amazing to note a revolutionary like Shyamji Krishna Verma should have given the name of Indian Sociologist to his nationalistic journal – a one-penny pamphlet – he started to expound and propagate his political ideals. The cover page of this Avant Garde journal carried the banner words: ‘An Organ of Freedom and of Political Social and Religious Reform.’ In addition it also contained the slogan: ‘Resistance to Aggression is not simply justifiable but imperative.’ Long before the UNESCO Preamble wrote the immortal words that ‘War starts in the minds of men’, Shyamji Krishna Verma proved through his journal that ‘revolutions also start in the minds of men’, and came out with his one-penny pamphlet.
In the July 1907 issue of Indian Sociologist, Shyamaji Krishna Verma wrote: ‘Our advocacy of the rights of the Indian people has created for us a large number of enemies among Englishmen in general and Anglo-Indians in particular. Lately, there have appeared numerous articles in the leading English Journals and Magazines adversely criticizing our propaganda and showering choice epithets on us for no other reason than that we hold strong views on the hypocritical and bloodthirsty rule of England in India.’
The pamphlet continued its publication, with many obstacles on its way in its way till the middle of 1914. The paper, in English and French, continued till it stopped regular publication due mostly to the First Great war. But some occasional publication had been there even when he shifted to Geneva. But due mainly to the infirmity of age, the publication was finally stopped in 1923.
On account of his political activities, he was forced to leave England in 1910. He went to Paris, where he continued his activities supporting India’s liberation. Due to the outbreak of the first World War, he could not stay in Paris and had to go to Geneva in Switzerland, where he spent the rest of his life. He died in Geneva on 31 March, 1930.
The Government of India issued a postage stamp on Shyamaji Krishna Verma in 1998 – fifty-one years after independence!! His only fault was that he did not belong, like Sanjay Gandhi, to the Nehru family! In 2003, seventy-three years after Shayamaji Krishna Verma’s death in Geneva in 1930, Chief Minister Narendra Modi covered himself with glory by bringing back to Gujarat the urns containing the ashes of Shyamaji Krishna Verma and his wife Bhanumati. The sacred ashes were taken in a ‘Veeranjal Yatra’ and the State government directed the administration of 17 districts through which the Yatra was to pass to render all assistance to the public participating in the yatra. The procession ended in the coastal town of Mandvi in Kutch District where Shyamaji Krishna Verma was born in 1857.
Narendra Modi’s efforts to honour a freedom fighter like Shyamji Krishna Verma was decried in a section of the press citing Shyamji Krishna Verma’s opposition to Gandhiji during the days of the Boer War. All the pseudo-secular mercenaries in the Congress Party and other parties would like to disown our pre-Gandhian Congress leaders like Bipin Chandra Pal, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Lala Lajpat Rai, Aurobindo Ghosh and Madan Mohan Malviya because they were unapologetically Hindu. Shyamaji Krishna Verma had raised the voice of India for Independence in the last decade of the 19th century, more than 25 years before the arrival of Gandhiji on the Indian scene.
In fact, even the idea of Satyagraha came from him much before Gandhiji developed it into political action. He wrote in 1905: ‘It is not necessary for Indians to resort to arms for compelling England to relinquish its hold on India… If the brown man struck work for a week, the Empire would collapse like a house of cards… If anyone refused to buy or sell any commodity, or to have any transaction with any class of people, he commits no crime known to the law. It is, therefore, plain that Indians can obtain emancipation by simply refusing to help their foreign master without incurring the evils of a violent revolution.’
Thus there is no doubt that it was Shyamji who first advocated non-violent means of getting rid of the British and using withdrawal of cooperation with the colonial administration as the most effective weapon for this purpose. Gandhiji built on this and evolved Satyagraha as a tool to oust the British much later.
Life and Work in England