Darbhanga & The Congress

Updated: Sep 16

Yet to be updated.

 

The conquest of Subah Bengal by the British East India Company in 1764 led to a transcendental change in the socio-economic-political conditions of India. Slowly, after an accurate survey of the fertility of land and other available resources, the British East India Company introduced the Permanent Settlement Act in 1793. This act transformed the status of not only the ryots or peasants but also the erstwhile ruling chiefs of the region. The ruling chiefs became zamindars who were accountable for collecting land revenue of their respective region and got 10% as administrative cost and 15% as remuneration. The ryots became just tenants as far as the land was concerned.


The introduction of the Permanent Settlement Act was not digested by the ruling chiefs leading to a revolt. Prominently amongst these chiefs [1] were Hussepur [2], Darbhanga, Bettiah, Ramgarh, Benaras, Tikari, and Dumraon. The fight continued both on the battlefields and in the court and ultimately by 1848, a working truce was established with some give and take. However, the aggrieved ruling class were not satisfied and kept looking for an opportune moment. Concurrent with the Permanent Settlement Act came an introduction of agro-industries such as sugar and jute mills, Indigo and opium manufacturing units and saltpetre production.


Darbhanga, though not happy with the change in status, realized that the world order was changing and the economic status of a person or state would determine its power in future. On one hand the industrial sector was growing but the atrocities of the British led to a war of independence in the middle of the 19th century. The disgruntled ruling chiefs now turned into zamindars got another opportunity in 1857 to overthrow the British East India Company rule. However, scattered revolts and lack of proper leadership failed them, not leading to freedom. On the contrary, with the defeat of Indian rulers, the British Crown took over India from the British East India Company. The Crown tried to please the Indians by doing away with the atrocious rules brought into practice by the East India Company. However a few years after the war in 1857, a need was felt to bring people together for a mass awakening in order to throw away the British rule.


Proceedings of the Eight Indian National Congress held at Allahabad in 1892 reports of the loan of the castle by Maharaja Lakshmeshwar Singh for the meeting.

Darbhanga was not aloof and the failure of the 1857 war made the zamindars of Darbhanga realize the need for a mass awakening and a movement to get the desired freedom for India. The young Maharaja of Darbhanga Lakshmishwar Singh by 1880 had good economic status. So, he started to get in touch with literary and social institutions all over India. The one in Pune attracted him the most by their subtle patriotic leanings.


​In due course, Maharaja Lakshmishwar Singh was in touch with Mr Octavious Hume, Dadabhai Naoroji, Surendra Nath Banerjea, Romesh Chunder Dutt and others. Maharaja Lakshmishwar Singh immediately held onto the proposal of creating a political outfit known as Congress to take up political and social issues with the government. He not only supported the establishment of Congress in 1885 but also started contributing Rs 10,000/- annually to its fund [3].


In this way the Maharaja of Darbhanga took forward the cause of freedom through the Congress Party. Not only did the Maharaja support the Congress, financially but also through other means. At a time when the Lieutenant governor had gone against a meeting organised by Congress in Allahabad, the Maharaja of Darbhanga had openly helped the Congress organisation committee by providing shamianas or tents for the reception of delegates [4]. Similarly, for the 1892 session of the Congress at Allahabad, the Maharaja had lent Lowther castle which was later called Darbhanga castle for the meeting [5].


The members of the Congress had a cordial relationship with Maharaja too. At the fourteenth session of the Congress held at Madras in 1898, a resolution expressing grief at the passing away of the Maharaja was issued [6]:


That this Congress deeply mourns the great loss the country has suffered by the sad and untimely death of the late Maharaja of Darbhanga, Sir Lakshniessur Singh Bahadur, G.C.l.E. The Congress places on record its high appreciation of his ready and enlightened public spirit and his liberal and catholic benefactions, and desires to give expression to its feeling of gratitude for the generous and unfailing support which the Congress movement received at his hands; and that a copy of the foregoing resolution be forwarded to Maharaja Rameshwar Singh, the brother of the deceased Maharaja.


After Maharaja Lakshmishwar Singh, his brother Maharaja Rameshwar Singh also had cordial relations with the Congress. So much so that in 1906 at the Indian National Congress Meeting, he had offered his palace in Calcutta for hosting meetings [7]. Apart from this, he also tried to bridge between the British authorities and Indian leaders. In 1917, when Gandhiji visited Champaran the local British authorities sought permission from the Governor to take strict action. The Governor sought the counsel of Maharaja Rameshwara Singh who in turn dissuaded the Governor from taking any strict action against Gandhiji [8]. The Indian National Congress benefited from the benevolence of Maharaja Rameshwara Singh throughout his lifetime.


Seated in the centre is Maharaja Rameshwara Singh of Darbhanga. Third from right seated next to the Maharaja is Dadabhai Naoroji, the grand old man of India. This photo has other dignitaries of the Indian National Congress like Gopalkrishna Gokhale - standing second from left.

When Maharaja Kameshwar Singh ascended the throne, Gandhiji was the dominant face of the Indian National Congress. The relationship of Gandhiji with the Darbhanga Raj which started in the time of Maharaja Lakshmishwar Singh, got strengthened by the time Maharaja Kameshwar Singh took over the Raj. Although the two were well acquainted, it was only after the Earthquake of 1934 that Mahatma visited Darbhanga.


It was during Gandhiji’s tours in the earthquake affected areas in Bihar that he had a meeting with Maharaja Kameshwar Singh. The decade of the 1930s was very crucial for the Congress and the Mahatma. During this time, Gandhiji’s clay feet got exposed and on the other hand, it was exposed that the Congress leaders had put their self-interests above the nation as can be inferred from the incident below.


Although Gandhiji’s tour was claimed as a great success by the Congress and to some extent it had helped the relief committee to gather some fundings, the Congress party itself was not in order. On one hand the members professed of khadi and home spun cotton but on other hand they tried to gain some profit from the foreign cloth sales [9]. The Congress party had even resolved to tactics of blackmailing as they were reported to have done in reference to the Maharaja’s trip to London. The leaders had threatened to wave black flags when the Maharaja would board train for his voyage to London [10].


The relationship of the Congress leaders with Maharaja Kameshwar Singh is depicted nicely through the incident reported by the then governor of Bihar in his personal notes of 1939. Governor Hallett of Bihar put a personal note on an album of photographs taken on the occasion of the House Warming Party of the house of Maharajadhiraja of Darbhanga at Ranchi.


High tea at Darbhanga House, Ranchi with Maharaja Kameshwar Singh as host, Governor of Bihar Maurice Hallett, Congress leaders and other zamindars of Bihar.

He writes:

This volume of photographs was presented to me by the Maharajadhiraja of Darbhanga after a party which he had given to celebrate the completion of his house in Ranchi. The Congress Ministry was then in office and they had received instructions from Mahatma Gandhi not to accept any hospitality from the Governor or from any members of the civil service and not to attend any parties at which they were present. The Maharajadhiraja however managed to persuade them to attend the dinner party which he gave on the opening of his new house and to get round the veto, and the photographs show how much the Ministers enjoyed the evening which was the first time some of them had met any English ladies. I warned the Maharajadhiraja that it might be desirable to avoid the press notices appearing at the function as it might cause the Congress leaders to find fault with the Bihar Ministers; actually a paragraph did appear in the papers merely mentioning my personal name and my official title! [11]


Maharaja Kameshwar Singh, on many occasions stood in support of the Congress party. He was well respected by the old generation of the Indian National Congress. Writing his obituary in 1962, late Jankinandan Singh, President of Darbhanga District Congress Committee and Member of Legislative Council in Bihar, wrote that


Once Mahatma Gandhi came with Mahamana Malaviyaji and Dr. Rajendra Prasad to Darbhanga for collecting funds. They met the Maharaja and were expecting a donation of rupees one lakh but the Maharaja overwhelmed them by donating Rupees Seven Lakhs [12].


​The Congress party had a very complex relationship with the Maharajas of Darbhanga. The party which had benefited from the Darbhanga Raj in its early days had taken a stand against the Maharaja post independence maybe because the politics in India had changed on social as well as economic level after 1947.

 

References

  1. Old Zamindari Records of Bihar (In 2 Volumes) - K K Dutta, Directorate of Bihar State Archives, 2014.

  2. Raja Fateh Sahi of Hussepur revolted against the English and established a new line which later came to be known as Tamkuhi. The younger branch settled at Hathwa.

  3. History of Darbhanga Raj, Jata Shankar Jha, Journal of Bihar and Orissa Research Society, Vol.XLVIII, Parts 1-4, Patna, Bihar, Pg.87.

  4. How India Wrought For Freedom - Annie Besant, 1915, pg 54 - 55.

  5. Report of the Eighth Indian National Congress held at Allahabad on the 28th, 29th, and 30th of December 1892.

  6. Report of the Thirteenth Indian National Congress held at Madras, on the 29th, 30th, and 31st December 1898.

  7. Indian Nationalism and the Early Congress - John R McLane, 2015, Princeton University press: page- 367.

  8. This file is kept in the notebook number 4 of Rameshwara Singh at Maharajadhiraja Sir Kameshwar Singh Kalyani Foundation, Darbhanga, Bihar.

  9. A Confidential letter from the officials to the Governor, Mr Hallet, on 18th July 1930, from Laheriasarai, D.O.No.175., says ​“My dear Hallett, Kindly refer to your D.O.No.3908C, dated 16th July 1930, regarding one Babu Parmanand Daruka and his association with the Civil Disobedience Movement. This Babu Parmanand Daruka was replaced from the 1st of July, 1930. He represented the firm of Than Mull Chuni Lall, the leading cloth merchants of Darbhanga who are also the Khazanchee of the Imperial Bank. Babu Parmanand Daruka has always been a sympathiser of the Congress. He had successfully brought about an arrangement with the Congress Committee last May for convenience to dispose of all foreign cloth in stock if there had not been the intervention of Babu Rajendra Prasad in person who overruled the Committee in spite of Babu Parmanand’s protest.”

  10. Another extract from a report of Mr A. P. Middleton, D.O.No. A.B./1. Dated the 28th October, 1930, says ​“From Darbhanga, the Superintendent of Police, reports that when the Maharajadhiraja left for England, he boarded his special at the level crossing beyond the station to avoid demonstration. ....It was reported by a Special Branch Inspector that the Maharaja of Darbhanga, yielding to a threat by Harinandan Das, President of the Darbhanga Congress Committee, that unless he subscribed to the Congress fund the Congress would display black flag at the time of his departure for England, actually paid Rs. 5,000/-..... This is certain that Harinandan Das had a private interview with the Maharaja. Raj Kumar professes to know nothing about the matter at all.”

  11. Album along with a Note by Sir Maurice Hallet, Governor of Behar in 1938-39 preserved under Hallet Collection at British Archives, London (Archives Source). A copy of Album also in private collection of the Author received as a family heirloom.

  12. Courage and Benevolence : Maharajadhiraja Kameshwar Singh of Darbhanga, ed. Hetukar Jha, Kameshwar Singh Heritage Series – 10, Kameshwar Singh Kalyani Foundation, Darbhanga, 2007, Pg. 372.

 

Credits

This contribution is edited by Ahna Sahi & Vaidurya Pratap Sahi. Images were provided by Tejkar Jha.


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