The State of Public Interest Litigation — Discussion Session at the Bangalore International Centre, 28th July 2017

[Last Friday, 28th July 2017, I introduced a discussion session at the Bangalore International Centre (BIC;, centered around the recent book whose photograph is attached and featured.  It was an interesting conversation and much discussion ensued.  Many thanks to each of the participants.  My brief, opening remarks are here set out.]

Dear fellow members of the Bangalore International Centre; distinguished guests and visitors; ladies and gentlemen,

When I spoke with Anuj a few months ago, it was with the intention of having him come over to Bangalore to address the BIC on his recent, first book (image featured); almost, but not quite, a book launch, considering that it had already been released officially a few months ago.
What we instead have this evening is a panel discussion on an important subject of contemporary importance, daresay also of significance for the immediate and near term future of India’s polity.  The conversation today promises to be both in-depth in terms of its content, as well as cutting-edge as regards an analysis of the themes involved.  That I can sure of because we have a stellar panel this evening.
Before I hand over, something in Anuj’s book caught my attention to demonstrate the benefits as well as, indeed, the pitfalls of PILs — setting, perhaps, the stage for this evening.
Its between pages 128 and 130, in a chapter entitled “Good Judges, Bad Judges” where Anuj discusses what he calls the “devastating parody” inflicted by Justice Markandeya Katju of the SC on PILs.
Hearing a PIL in 2009 that had been languishing for eight years, on the need for urgent action to be taken to protect our disappearing wetlands, Justice Katju usually critical of PILs, insisted that the petition be heard by him month-on-month, and proceeded to expand its scope to solving India’s water shortage problems including converting sea water into fresh water and the use of water in snow cap peaks.
This surprised Counsel for the Petitioner, and my good friend Gopal Shankarnarayan, who nonetheless was — as he told me — happy for the attention his petition was finally getting after a long delay.
Much money was spent on the various plans, schemes and reports drawn up and submitted (several crores as I understand from Gopal), but then Justice Katju retired.  Not much came of this PIL — Anuj wryly commenting: “Perhaps nothing brings home the dangers of PIL as much as the fact that it gave free rein to a judge as mercurial as Katju”.
Until that is, February of this year, when, as Gopal tells me, another bench of the SC has finally passed an order granting a legally enforceable right, as well as a series of clear-cut measures, aimed at protecting and reinvigorating water bodies over a certain size — and that includes, Bellandur lake!  Still though concrete action on the ground, is as we know, missing still.
Our panel this evening represents a broad and varied spectrum of perspectives.  Anuj Bhuwania is an academic teaching at the South Asian University in New Delhi.  Like me, Anuj is an alumnus of the National Law School of India University, before going on to the School of Oriental and African Studies in London and then doing his Ph.D in Anthropology at Columbia University, New York.  He has held visiting positions at the Centre for Modern Indian Studies at the University of Goettingen, at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies in New Delhi and at the Centre for the Study of Law and Governance, JNU.  This is his first book.
Jayna Kothari is the Executive Director of the Centre for Law and Policy Research in Bangalore.  She practices as a Counsel at the Karnataka High Court as well as at the Supreme Court, in many cases of grave public importance, including, significantly, the ones relating to transgender rights and those of the LGBT community — Jayna has a large public interest law practice.  Armed with a BCL from Oxford, Jayna is a Visiting Fellow under the Wrangler D. C. Pavate Fellowship in Cambridge University.  Her book “The Future of Disability Law in India” published in 2012 is one for the first books on the subject in this country.
Sridhar Pabbisetty is a public policy and urban governance specialist and the CEO of Namma Bengaluru Foundation, which has been at the forefront of initiating citizen centric PILs.  Earlier with the Bangalore Political Action Committee (BPAC), Sridhar is an Expert Committee member on the lakes issue in Bangalore, including Bellandur.  He has an MBA from IIM-B and a BE-Computer Science from Bangalore University.
Finally, but not in the least, our moderator for the evening is T M Veera Raghav, the Resident Editor of The Hindu in Bangalore.  He was Senior Editor and prime-time anchor with CNN IBN, a TV journalist since 1999.
Sincere request to all to switch-off your mobiles or put them in silent mode.  Thank you.

Of Pomp and Circumstance: Indian Princely States & Empire – A Glimpse Into How Colonial Britain Underscored Its Suzerainty –

[Recently, I had the distinct privilege and honour to be a part of the BBC Series, “Great Continental Railway Journeys” profiling, with Michael Portillo, the famous Mysore – Bangalore – Madras train line: the programme will be on air in September 2017, I am told.  My preparation for the programme lead me to a strange and fascinating tit-bit of our colonial past — how much pomp and ceremony really mattered in the reinforcement of the unequal, yet vital (for Empire!), relationship between “Native State” and “British India”, that lead to and shored-up such colonial pretences.  Here are my detailed notes, that I have written-up in a consistent narrative; too esoteric and, indeed, obscure for most publications, this is the kind of material I love and which I think, makes for fascinating reading on my own blog.  Hope you will enjoy reading this!

The photograph accompanying this article (quite grainy) is of the Mysore Darbar, taken from the Mysore Palace website, which I found at this URL, with thanks and acknowledgement:]

Edward Elgar may well have written his “Pomp and Circumstance” marches to epitomise and re-emphasize Britian’s colonial rule, especially in India; it was certainly composed at the height of Empire.  With much fanfare and a splendid show of military pageantry, these compositions have gone on to become Britain’s ‘unofficial’ national anthem.  In an era long gone, they hark back to that which Empire stood for and, in particular, to the elaborate rituals involved in keeping that Empire together, especially when it came to underscoring the Colonial State’s domination over the nominally independent Native Indian, or Princely, States.  A good example of that ‘pomp and circumstance’, well certainly the latter, can be seen in the Princely State of Mysore in conjunction with that surest sign of ‘modernity’, the Railways; as well as in the deft use of “State” visits by the Viceroy, the representative of the King-Emperor or the Queen-Empress, to such Native States.

As the Mysore Gazetteer of 1930 notes: “The first railway to be constructed in [the Princely] State [of Mysore] was the broad gauge section of the Madras-Bangalore line lying in the Mysore territory and this was opened for public traffic in August 1864 during the administration of Mr. L. B. Bowring, C.S.I….The Mysore State provided the land required for the line, but had no financial interest in it.”

The station at Bowringpet – named in honour of the Chief Commissioner having at the time, the direct administration of the Princely State – was the principal railway station in the Mysore territory upon the main train line from the Madras Presidency entering that State; that line, extending fifty-five miles, lies within the limits of the Princely State as the Mysore Gazetteer notes.

His Excellency, the Viceroy and Governor General of India, the Rt. Hon’ble Frederic John Napier Thesiger, 1st Viscount Chelmsford, representing the King Emperor, paid a state visit to the Princely State of Mysore in 1919 taking the Viceregal train from Madras and arriving in Bangalore on the morning of 27th November 1919, where he had a few official engagements.

The next day, 28th November 1919, Lord Chelmsford unveiled the statue in Bangalore – which still stands majestic between Cubbon Park and the Chinnaswamy Cricket Stadium – of the late King-Emperor, Edward VII, expressing on the occasion his thanks to His Highness, Krishnaraja Wadiyar IV, the Maharaja of Mysore for “his generous contribution to the cost of the statue, the canopy and the completion of the surroundings”; and, in particular, stated quite emphatically:

“Representing as we do all classes and creeds of the Mysore State and of British India, officials and non-officials, British and Indians, we are assembled here to-day to do honour to the pious memory of His late Imperial Majesty and in honouring him we honour too those ideals with which his memory is indissolubly associated.”

But, I digress from the topic of this particular article, and I have let my narrative run ahead of an interesting aspect of colonial protocol; and, indeed, the associated circumstance accompanying such state visits of the Viceroy of India to the Native States, nominally sovereign nations owing their allegiance to the British Crown, of which Mysore was one of the key Princely States.

Since the Viceregal train was traversing from British territory (namely, the Madras Presidency) into the Princely State of Mysore, protocol required that the senior British official in Mysore – the Resident, as agent for, and delegate of, the Viceroy to the Maharaja’s Darbar and State – depute himself or another senior British official in the Resident’s Office to receive the Viceroy on board his train as it entered Mysore territory.  After all, the senior most British representative of His Imperial Majesty was paying a state visit to Mysore that mandated his, the Viceroy’s, representative in that princely State receive him the Viceroy, with due honour and accord.

Consequently, the evening before Lord Chelmsford was to arrive in Bangalore, the Assistant Resident in Mysore, Major C. T. C. Plowden, I.A., Secretary to the Resident, Mr. H. V. Cobb,  C.S.I., C.I.E., O.B.E., took a train from Bangalore to Bowringpet in the Kolar Gold Fields to spend the night – quite a lonely one as can be gathered from the records – at the Inspection Bungalow not far from there, in order to awake early to meet and board the Viceregal train at Bowringpet as it came into the Mysore territory.  The National Archives in New Delhi has a fascinating letter forming part of the official record, written by Major Plowden to his boss, the Resident, the Hon’ble Henry Venn Cobb, describing this official trip of his arriving late at night in a desolate Oorgaum after motoring down from the train station and noting that, while he spent a comfortable night, quite clearly the staff at the Inspection Bungalow had been rushed to get the place in order for him and to serve him a late dinner!  He also notes that the local administration had taken pains to ensure a motor car was available to pick him up at Bowringpet station and bring him back early the next morning to board the Viceregal train!

Major Plowden went on to become the British Resident himself in Mysore, as Lt. Col. in 1934.  Cobb demitted office as Resident in Mysore in 1920 after a distinguished career in several Princely States including Kashmir, Jaipur, Gwalior and Baroda; an I.C.S. officer forming the backbone administrative framework of British India and, daresay, the entire Empire.

After unveiling the statue of Edward VII in Bangalore, Lord Chelmsford continued onward on his train journey to Mysore, the capital of the Princely State, arriving there from Bangalore on the morning of 1st December 1919.  The arrival of His Excellency, the Viceroy in the capital of the Mysore State meant further pomp, ceremony and protocol.

His Excellency was met at the Mysore Railway Station, as he detrained and in the ceremonial reception area of the train station by His Highness Yuvaraja Sri Sir Kanthirava Narasimharaja Wodeyar Bahadur, the Yuvaraja or Heir Apparent to the Mysore thrown, accompanied by senior officials of the Mysore State administration, including the Dewan or the Prime Minister.  Interestingly, the representative of His Excellency, the Viceroy, would first meet the Mysore reception party at the train steps and then accompany His Excellency up to where the formal reception by the Yuvaraja was to take place in the train station itself.  Protocol required that the serving senior royal in Mysore, after the Maharaja himself, had to meet His Excellency, the Viceroy as he arrived in Mysore such the Viceroy and his entourage could be escorted with due ceremony and in procession through the city of Mysore to where the Viceroy would spend his days in Mysore, at one of the Royal Palaces.  The record notes that the streets were thronged with many people who had come out to greet and wave to the Viceroy and his entourage.

Once safely ensconced in what would become temporarily, the Viceregal residence in Mysore, there would occur a very interesting gift ceremony harking back to the Mughal and Persian times, known as “mizaaj (or, “mijaz”) pursi”, loosely translated as “the wishing of health” ceremony.  Some background first.

When the British had established their suzerainty over India, they utilised time tested methods to seek allegiance to them from those they had subordinated, akin to what the imperial Mughal rulers had themselves utilised to demonstrate their authority.

In a fascinating article entitled “Gift, Greeting or Gesture: The Khatak and the Negotiating of its Meaning on the Anglo-Tibetan Borderlands” (Himalaya Vol. 35, No.2 Fall 2015), Prof. Emma Martin notes (albeit in the Tibetan context) that the colonial administration “relied on a fixed inventory of Persian terms; a practice commonly applied to ceremonial etiquette and its construction by British Residents based in the Princely States”.

In this construct, there are two principal types of such etiquette or ceremony — namely, “nazr”, the Persian term for a tribute or gift of money, in short a tangible, financial thing as Prof. Martin notes, which was understood in British circles as a subordinate act often proffered by a subsidiary power to the paramount British power; and, “mizaaj pursi” or the wishing of health ceremony that the British often employed – as in this instance in Mysore – between a nominally sovereign entity and the British colonial state so as to keep up the appearance that, despite the subsidiary nature of the alliance between the two, the “mizaaj pursi” was (in Prof. Martin’s words) “regarded as a simple salutation, a lesser, non-binding offering” – unlike a “nazr” – which also sidestepped any issues of reciprocity.

In the evening of 1st December 1919, once the Viceroy’s party had settled into their temporary residences in Mysore, the Princely State of Mysore had drawn up an elaborate protocol sheet describing the “mizaaj pursi” ceremony to take place at such temporary Viceregal residence, fascinating highlights of which are as follows:

  1. Four of the Maharaja’s principal officers will call at the Viceregal residence to enquire after His Excellency’s health.
  2. They will be received by the Principal Secretary, the Military Secretary and one of His Excellency’s Aides-de-Camp.
  3. At parting, “itr” (a perfumed essential oil typically derived from botanical sources) and “paan” (betel leaf and areca nut, sometimes with tobacco) will be given to the Maharaja’s principal officers by His Excellency’s Political Secretary.

Another good example of this “mizaaj pursi” ceremony can be found in the State visit by none other than His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VIII), to the Princely State of Baroda in 1922 (emphasis added):

“A most pleasing function, peculiar to Indian states took place a little after the arrival of the Prince of Wales at the Laxmi Villas Palace.  The ceremony of Mizaj Pursi or enquiry after health, is a custom handed down to the present from time immemorial, and is very scrupulously observed.  It takes place when Royal visitors, or very high dignitaries, visit a city of an Indian potentate.  A deputation consisting of four State officials waited on His Royal Highness, and were received by two officers of His Royal Highness’s staff.  They enquired about the Prince’s health, and after exchange of a few civilities, withdrew”.

Returning to our story: there then followed in Mysore, the next day 2nd December 1919, an official state banquet for the visiting State dignitary, His Excellency The Viceroy, preceded by a formal reception at the Mysore Place, at which a ‘nazar’ of five gold mohurs (coins) each would be offered, which will be touched and remitted.  This was in keeping with the order of the practice of such ceremonial etiquette; since the “mizaaj pursi” had already been employed in favour of the Viceroy, wishing him well, it appears that the offering of such a ‘nazar’ would be the culmination of the felicitation by the host Princely State of the visiting representative of the King-Emperor.  The question of reciprocity does not seem to have arisen, or was quietly, perhaps, side-stepped.

At the end of this state visit, Lord Chelmsford addressing the banquet of all the prominent personages of the Princely State of Mysore, including the Maharaja himself, said, with much respect and grateful thanks, as follows:

“Mysore rendered most valuable help by supplying hides, tanning materials, blankets and fodder for the use of His Majesty’s armies.  Again at the outbreak of war with Afghanistan Your Highness unhesitatingly placed all the resources of your State at the disposal of the Government of India….I think I have said enough to show that in the great crisis [World War I] the Maharaja of Mysore and the Mysore State proved once again to the fullest extent the strength of their traditional friendship and loyalty to the Crown”.

* * * * * * * *

Siddharth Raja

Co-founder, Nandi Valley Walks, Heritage Walking Tour Company, Bangalore & Local Historian.