Purushottam Das Tandon biography

Purushottam Das Tandon

personal details

Born: August 1, 1882, Allahabad
Died: July 1, 1962
Awards: Bharat Ratna
Purushottam Das Tandon



Purushottam Das Tandon was born at Allahabad (U.P.) on 1 August 1882 in a middle-class family. His father, Salig Ram Tandon, was an accountant in government service. His mother, Saranpiari, was not much educated and was a traditional God-fearing Hindu lady. Purushottam started his education in a madarasa (Muslim school) near his home and learnt Urdu and Persian there. But soon after he joined the City Anglo-vernacular school from where he passed his eighth class in first division in 1895. He then joined Government School and passed the matriculation examination in 1897, again in first division. He graduated from Muir Central College in 1904. Subsequently, he got a degree in law in 1906 and also passed his M.A. history.
While still a student, he was married to Chandramukhi Devi in 1897, immediately after passing his matriculation. Early marriages of boys and girls were customary during those days. His happy married life did not interfere with his education or his political and social activities. He started his legal career in 1906 and joined the Allahabad High Court Bar in 1908, as a junior of Sir Bahadur Sapru. He had become a successful lawyer but on the advice of Madan Mohan Malaviya, he joined Nabha state in Punjab as law minister. He resigned after three years to devote himself to political and social activities, the important part of which was the propagation and development of Hindi. In fact, he had taken active part to get the status of one of the court languages for Hindi in U. The agitation had started in 1901 and the government agreed to accept applications in Hindi in Devnagari script in 1905. Propagation of Hindi became his life’s mission for which he devoted a major part of his time and energy. Besides Madan Mohan Malaviya, he had great respect and admiration for Lala Lajpat Rai who persuaded him to accept an executive position in the Punjab National Bank at Lahore. He worked there from 1923 to 1929, after which he became an active member of the Congress party
He had joined the Indian National Congress in 1899 when he was still a student. Due to his active participation in nationalistic activities, he was expelled from the Muir College for one year when he was an undergraduate student. He was an active member of the Seva Dal formed by Madan Mohan Malaviya to undertake social work during epidemics and religious gatherings at the Sangam. In 1906, he represented Allahabad at the All-India Congress Committee (AICC). In 1918, he organized the Allahabad District Peasants Committee for improving the economic condition of the farmers. In 1919, he was elected as chairman of the Allahabad Municipal Board where he did some valuable work providing essential services, like drinking water, for the common man. He displeased the white residents of the Cantonment area by compelling them to pay watertax like other residents, which they were not paying earlier. He took part in the Non-Cooperation movement started by Gandhi. He was arrested in 1921 and was imprisoned for eighteen months. He was emerging as an important leader of the Congress party not only in Allahabad but in Uttar Pradesh. He was elected president of the Gorakhpur District Congress Committee in 1923 and the same year he presided over the Provincial Congress Committee. In 1930, the Allahabad District Peasant Committee became very active and started a no-tax campaign on the lines of the Bardoli satyagraha led by Sardar Patel in 1928. About this campaign Nehru writes: I also functioned as a member of the Allahabad District Committee. This Committee under the leadership of its president Purushottam Das Tandon played an important part in the development of the agrarian situation. In 1930, it had given the lead in starting the no-tax campaign in the province." From 1932 onwards, Tandon was arrested several times for organizing peasant agitations through the Kisan Sabha. In 1937-38 he was elected speaker of the U.P. Legislative Assembly, a job which he did with great distinction. '
Purushottam Das Tandon is remembered most as a lover and propagator of Hindi. This was the greatest mission of his life and he devoted almost all his life for the success of his mission. In May 1910, writers and lovers of Hindi assembled in Banaras (Varanasi) as a result of which the Nagri Pracharni Sabha came into being. Its aim was to conduct research and the publication of seminal works in Hindi. For the propagation of Hindi, an auxiliary body, Hindi Sahitya Sammelan, was also formed with Madan Mohan Malaviya as president and Purushottam Das Tandon as secretary. After a. year, the office of the Sammelan was shifted to Allahabad, and Tandon started to develop this institution with a missionary zeal. During its fourth annual session at Bhagalpur, (Bihar) it was decided to conduct examinations and award degrees. For this, several branches of the Sammelan were opened in different places. For over twenty-Eve years, Gandhi was closely associated with the working of the Hindi Sahitya Sammelan. He presided over the 1918 session of the Sammelan at Indore. With the efforts of Purushottam Das Tandon a building was constructed for the Sammelan to house library and museum. While performing the opening ceremony of the library and museum on 5 April l936, Gandhi appealed for donations and was pained that the “response had to be so small in a matter which concern what India had declared was national language”, Up to this time Gandhi was very much involved in the propagation of Hindi. But soon after Gandhi changed his views and started supporting Hindustani (Hindi plus Urdu) to be written both in Devnagari and Persian scripts. To propagate this spurious language the Hindustani Prachar Sabha was formed with the blessings of Gandhi as a rival to the Hindi Sahitya Sammelan. But Hindustani, as a written language, could never become popular in a country illiteracy (people not knowing even one script) was as high as seventy percent. To expect them to learn two scripts was rather contrary to reason. When the question of national language came up in the Constituent Assembly in September 1949, Hindustani was also suggested as the national language. It was the greatest day for Purushottam Das Tandon when Hindi in Devnagari script was declared as the Rashtra Bhasha (national language). His single-minded devotion and love for Hindi bore fruit.
During the 1937 elections to the provincial assemblies Tandon was elected unopposed from the Allahabad constituency. The Congress won and formed a ministry with Govind Ballabh Pant as chief minister. Purushottam Das Tandon was elected speaker of the Assembly. With the start of the war (1939), the Congress ministries resigned in October 1939, Gandhi started the individual Satyagraha. Many leaders were arrested including Vinoba Bhave, Jawaharlal Nehru. Tandon was also arrested in 1940 and was sentenced for one year and was kept in Fatehgarh jail. In August 1942, started the Quit India movement. Most of the Congress leaders were arrested. Tandon was also arrested on 9 August and was sent to Naini Jail. This was his seventh imprisonment. Tandon had his first heart attack in 1939 and he did not recover fully when he was imprisoned. When his health deteriorated further, he was released in 1944 on health grounds.
The year 1947 brought the freedom of the country as well as the catastrophe of partition. The Muslim League had started Direct Action, resulting in communal riots in many parts of the country starting with Calcutta and Noakhali in Bengal. Hindus, wedded to the concept of nonviolence, bore the brunt. Only in Bihar they retaliated. In the Interim Government (1946-47) the Muslim League cabinet ministers saw to it that it did not function. The Congress leaders, including Gandhi, were now in favour of accepting the 3 June 1947 proposal of the British government which promised freedom along with partition of the country The All-India Congress Committee met on 1415 June 1947 to discuss the 3 June proposal as approved by the Working Committee, Among the opponents, the most impressive and impassioned speech was made by Purushottam Das Tandon. He said, Acceptance of the resolution will be an abject surrender to the British and the Muslim League, The Working Committee has failed you, but you have the strength of millions behind you and you must reject the resolution. The decision of the Working Committee was an admission of weakness and the result of a sense of despair. The Partition will not benefit either community – the Hindus in Pakistan and the Muslims in India would both live in fear”. However, the majority of members were for accepting the Partition Plan, and it came into force on 15 August 1947.
Purushottam Das Tandon was very distressed by the communal riots between Hindus and Muslims which had started in the early twenties and the frequency and intensity of which went on increasing. For Tandon, it was very painful that in spite of being in majority in many states, Hindus were at the receiving end most of the time. He advised Hindus to take up the sword t0 defend themselves which angered Gandhi. In the prayer meeting on l6 June 1947, Gandhi breached this topic, and criticized Tandon for going against preaching of non-violence, which had become the creed of the Congress. However, Purushottam Das could not accept the philosophy of Gandhi that getting killed without raising an arm was the highest form of bravery _ non-violence of the brave. The schism between Tandon and Gandhi widened. A similar skirmish occurred between Gandhi and K.M. Munshi in 1941 when after the Bombay riots Munshi advised Hindus to join akharas (gyms) to defend themselves. It so angered Gandhi that he advised Munshi to leave the Congress, which he did.
In 1946, Tandon was elected member of the Constituent Assembly where he was active in getting Hindi recognized as the national language. In free India, Nehru became the prime minister but the Congress party was controlled by Sardar Patel. The result was that many decisions which the Congress Party took were not to Nehru’s liking. In spite of Nehru’s opposition, Rajendra Prasad was elected as the first president of India in 1950. The same year Purushottam Das Tandon was elected president of the Congress party in spite of Nehru’s Opposition. Nehru’s choice was J.B. Kriplani. Nehru expressed his anger by writing a letter to Purushottam Das Tandon on 8 August 1950. Nehru wrote: “You have become t0 large numbers of people in India some kind of a symbol of this communal and revivalist outlook”. Nehru was not always in touch with the party feeling, but that did not prevent him from putting out his own view as that of ‘large number’. There is no doubt that Purushottam Das Tandon commanded a large following, and had the support of majority of the members. As Tandon was supported by Sardar Patel, his election also affected the relations between Nehru and Patel also. Nehru did not forgive Patel for lending support to Tandon and the last two months of Sardar’s life were spent in an uncomfortable position of receiving pinpricks from him whenever he could get an opportunity of giving them." Nehru refused to join the Working Committee while Tandon was president of the Congress and threatened to resign as prime minister. Being a true gentleman Tandon resigned as Congress president in 1951 and Nehru himself took over from him. This was the most agonizing and humiliating experience in Tandon's life. Besides his active participation in the Hindi Sahitya Sammelan and the Congress party, Tandon was actively involved in the functioning of the Servants of People's Society founded by Lajpat Rai and was elected president of the Society after Lajpat Rai’s death in 1928.
Tandon was elected member of the Lok Sabha in 1952 and of Rajya Sabha in 1956. But in 1956 due to his indifferent health he could hardly attend any meeting of the Rajya Sabha and almost retired from public life. Tandon did not write much but was a successful journalist. He edited the influential Hindi paper, Abhudaya for many years. On 3 October 1960, in a public ceremony at Allahabad, Tandon Abhinandan Granth was presented to him by Rajendra Prasad, president of India. The following year, in 1961, the Bharat Ratna was conferred on him. He died on 1 July 1961.
Tandon was a man of integrity and principles. He and his family suffered long spells of privation and suffering which they bore stoically He refused to accept monetary help from Seth Jamnalal Bajaj and Shiv Prasad Gupta of Banaras and preferred to live in poverty. In his personal life he was austere, almost ascetic, and did not wear Western clothes even when he was general manager of the Punjab National Bank at Lahore, the fashion capital of India at the time. For these qualities he was endeared by the people who started calling him Rajashri. He can be regarded as the lineal successor of Madan Mohan Malaviya and Lajpat Rai, who influenced him most in his life.

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