top of page

"Sir Lallubhai Samaldas - A Portrait", by Aparna Basu, National Book Trust, India (2015)

Presidential Speech of Dr. K. M. Munshi at the Public Meeting held on Monday, October 14,1963 at Andheri, Bombay to celebrate the Birth Centenary of the late Sir Lallubhai Samaldas

Dr. Kanaiyalal Maneklal Munshi founded Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, an educational trust, in 1938. Munshi wrote his works in three languages namely Gujarati, English and Hindi. KM Munshi held several important posts like member of Constituent Assembly of India, minister of agriculture and food of India, and governor of Uttar Pradesh. In 1959, along with Chakravarti Rajagopalachari (Rajaji), he founded the Swatantra Party.

"Lallukaka" - I could never think of him as Sir Lallubhai Samaldas, Kt., C.I.E. - was a bridge between the intrigue-ridden Kathiawad and the new age. He had his roots in the old world of Gaga Ojha and flourished in the new world of Gandhiji.


Whenever I think of him, I see his figure standing before me, tall and well-built, with flowing moustaches, immaculate long coat, spotless dhoti, silk stockings and shining shoes -- all crowned by the ponderous Bhavnagari  turban. At all times he had a friendly smile; eyes ever twinkling with kind­ness. His aristocratic bearing was never tinged by arrogance. His manners had the old-world charm.


He had, besides, an unfailing fairness of approach which ever sought to do justice to the other side; an affectionate nature which converted strangers into friends and an unfailing capacity to radiate goodwill.


He belonged to the caste of Nagar Brahmans, which has had an honoured place at least for a thousand years in the history of Gujarat- in politics, business, learning and high orthodoxy, and even in war during the Medieval Period.


Such was the hold of the Nagar Brahmans over the imagination of Gujarat that an eminent author of another caste wanted to marry a Nagar Brahman widow to make good his hereditary deficiency. And when I, an obscure person, gate crashed into the literary world of Gujarat, for long the presumption amongst literary men ran that I was a Nagar Brahman.

In the 19th century a few families enjoyed the monopoly of supplying Dewans to the rulers of Kathiawad for generations. Lallukaka's family was one of  them. It was associated with the rise and growth of the extraordinarily well-run State of Bhavnagar; in fact they were the architects of its status and prosperity.


Lallukaka's grandfather, Parmanandas, was the Diwan of Bhavnagar from 1828 to 1847; his maternal uncle, Gaurishanker Udayshankar (shortly termed Gaga Ojha), from 1847 to 1879; his father Samaldas, on whom Govardhanram modeled the character of Buddhidhana in-his great novel ‘Saraswatichandra’, from 1879 to 1884; his eldest brother Vitthaldas, from 1884 to 1889. All of them were  accomplished men, well versed in Persian, Sanskrit and English, and each, in his own way, was a master of the old world diplomacy.


Kathiawad State of the day required Machiavellian skill to survive. Lallukaka's maternal uncle, Gaurishanker Ojha for instance, was a master craftsman of the art. The character of Shathray in Saraswatichandra is believed to be his pen-portrait, though it is a gross caricature. In my boyhood I had heard interesting stories of his uncanny greatness. He held the fortunes of Bhavnagar in the hollow of his hands for over a quarter of a century. He enriched the State, gave it prosperity and position. My grand-father happened to be a great friend of his, and my father - good judge of men- who was his guest often when he was posted at Gogha- loved to tell us of his versatility, learning and statecraft and the ruthless manner in which he dealt with his enemies. A portrait of his as a Sanyasi hung in my father's room for years.


Every orthodox Brahman, after reaching a certain age, took to sanyas; whether he gave up rasa, bhava and krodha was another matter.


Born in 1863, Lallukaka joined the hereditary cadre of officers in the Bhavnagar State at the Age of 18, cutting short a promising academic career. In the course of years, he specialized in several branches of administration -- famine relief, revenue, railway, cooperative movement, and even education. He was temperamentally incapable of breathing freely in the murky atmosphere of Kathiawad and resigned the office he held in 1899, when his brother Vitthaldas fell out of favor of the ruler.


In spite of the old world in which he lived, Renaissance lit up the horizon of Lallukaka. He studied English and Continental literature, metaphysics, history, philosophy and mathematics. He came to be influenced by the agnosticism of John Stuart Mill and swung back later to positive faith-- as twenty years later some of us did too. He was responsible for sponsoring the first Arts College in Bhavnagar, the second one in the Gujarati speaking areas then; it was associated with his father's name.


Astrology or no astrology, the month of October had come to be associated with the ups and downs in Lalukaka's life. He was born in the month of October. In the same month, in subsequent  years, he resigned from the state service, migrated to Bombay and departed from that kind of life.


Arriving in Bombay in 1900, he found himself too open minded to be a good politician and soon struck out an independent path for himself. At the time a bitter controversy was raging over the Land Revenue Amendment Bills the opposition being led by the formidable Sir Pherozeshah Mehta. Lallukaka knew the implications of the revenue administration too well to be a party to the agitation. His brilliant note on the bill, while it made the politicians angry, at once established his reputation as an expert in revenue administration.


The way was now open to him. He was nominated a member of the Legislative Council by the Government for several years, was a Revenue Member for some time. He sponsored a scheme for an agricultural bank and devoted himself to the co-operative movement. Rightly was he termed "the father of co-operative movement in India”.


Soon he won for himself an honored place in the business and commercial world of Bombay. His long years of work in the cooperative field earned for him the Chairmanship of the Board of Directors of the first Bombay Provincial Land Mortgage Bank. He was also associated with many ventures in industry and commerce; with Walchand Hirachand in founding the Scindia Steam Navigation Company, the first shipping venture in the country; with industries of cement electric power, banking and insurance. In 1908, he founded the Bombay Life Insurance Company, of which he continued to be the Chairman till his death in 1936. He was associated with the founding of the Indian Merchants' Chamber, of which he became the President in 1918. In 1925, he presided over the first Indian Economic Conference held at Banaras. His interest in education was also unfailing. He was a member of the Senate of the Bombay University from 1918 till his death in 1936.


His attitude on all questions was characterised by sanity of outlook. In politics he was a liberal by temperament and outlook. --- liberal in the sense of being able to see both sides of the question, of being fair even to the antagonists, of examining every question with dispassion. He, therefore, could never become an active politician, though on occasions he lent his support to public agitation --- for instance in the matters of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre and of the Bardoli Satyagrahs.


'Lallukaka’ lost his first wife soon after he joined the service of the Bhavnagar State. Then he was married to Satyawati, a gifted daughter of the well-known Divatia family distinguished learning and culture. And between the husband and the wife, there soon sprang up a camaraderie of the spirit, rare in those days.


Satyavati's life was prematurely cut off in 1907. She left three sons, all whom have distinguished themselves. in their respective walks of life, and a daughter Sumati. Four years later, Sumatiben was cut off in the bloom of life and a promising literary career ended. She was the first creative woman writer of modern Gujarat. Her work Hriday Zarana has rightly acquired a high place in Gujarati literature. Many in those years know Lallukaka as Sumatiben's father.


Lallukaka was greater in what he was than in what he did. He had the rare gift of making whoever came to him feel at home. His live sense of kinship endeared him to all who came in contact with him.


I  came in  contact with him for the first time in 1926 when I was elected to the Senate of the Bombay University. Till then I knew him only by name, but very soon, with the spirit of human kinship which characterized him, he began to take an interest in me.


I cannot forget how he adopted us as members of his family. During the months that my wife and I were in jail in 1930 for Salt Satyagraha --- a time when most friends were not very over solicitous of showing friendliness to those who were considered guilty of breaking the law --- Lallukaka, week after week, scrupulously enquired of my brother as to how she and the children were getting on. And on our coming of the goal, he adopted my wife as a daughter.


I also remember how he decoyed me into business. I had and have no pretensions to business ambition, but he talked me round to becoming one of the Directors of the Bombay Life Insurance Company. It was perhaps as a result of his wish that the co-Directors induced me to accept the Chairmanship of the Company after his death - an office which I had to give up when I was called to the office of the Home Minister of Bombay in 1937.


Further, Lallukaka had the gift of creating an atmosphere of friendliness even where none existed. However acrimonious the atmosphere, however bitter the differences, no sooner Lallukaka stepped into the room, the atmosphere would change. His broad smile would invite a smiling response all round. He would begin to talk on something unconnected with the subject. By the time his talk was finished, everyone would have forgotten their difference and spirit of goodwill would dominate the room. No difference could possibly survive under the thawing influence of his genial smile and eyes beaming with goodwill.


Lallukaka had the greatest of human gifts -- ­the gift of increasing the orbit of family relations. He adopted as many people as he could within the orbit of his affection, including the Directors of the Company end even members of the staff.

As I said, Lallukaka was a bridge between old Gujarat and the new, between Gaga Ojha and Gandhiji. But he was unique in his own right. He combined in him the old world graciousness and the graces of a perfect gentleman. Then this, no man can covet a greater tribute.

- KM Munshi

bottom of page