Kengal Hanumanthaiah was born on 10 February 1908, to a Vokkaligga family in the small village of Lakkappanahalli in present day Ramanagara district, located on the outskirts of Bengaluru. The eldest of four sons, he grew up poor and had to rely on the benevolence of others to complete his school education from Kengeri, and later Bangalore.
Role in India’s Independence Movement
Hanumanthaiah attended the 1927 Madras Session of the Congress as a student. The event was pivotal in his development as a student political leader. A year later, he was on the streets leading student protests against the Simon Commission.
In 1933, he returned to Bangalore and joined the Bar Council. Though he was a staunch nationalist in his college days, Hanumanthaiah did not immediately join the Brahmin-dominated local Congress on his return. Instead, he associated with a circle of non-Brahmin lawyers and other professionals in Mysore who were deeply invested in the shifting politics in the Princely State, particularly the new push towards a responsible government and political agitations similar to the ones in the British provinces.
Unsurprisingly, Hanumanthaiah’s politics was greatly defined by his life in the Princely State of Mysore. Snippets from his diary from the 1920s reveal his passionate views on the recognition of the rights of the people of the Indian States. He was deeply critical of the Butler Committee set up by the British to carve out its relationship with the Princely States. He believed that the people of these States were ‘politically less educated‘ than their peers in the Provinces and yet had to fight two tyrants – first, the British and second, the Princes. He did not see a free India without the cooperation of people of the Princely States. In fact, he pressed the Congress to take as much interest in these States as they did in the Provinces.
After the Congress’ electoral victory in the Provinces in 1937, the Mysore State tried to crush all political opposition as a preventive measure against similar shifts in their territory. This provided the impetus for Hanumanthaiah’s non-Brahmin circle to merge with the Mysore Congress and thereby, fashion itself into the primary opposition against the State. Thereafter, Hanumanthaiah’s growth in the Congress was remarkable. He served as the President of the Bangalore District Congress Committee for 10 years. In 1942 he was elected President of the Bangalore Municipal Council. He was also a member of the Mysore Congress Working Committee, the Mysore Pradesh Congress Committee and the All India Congress Committee.
Hanumanthaiah was the leader of the Congress Party in the Mysore Representative Assembly from 1944-49. In 1947, the Maharaja of Mysore briefly set up a Constituent Assembly to frame the Constitution of the Mysore State. He was the deputy leader of the Congress Party in this Assembly.
Hanumanthaiah was part of significant movements in the Indian freedom Struggle and faced imprisonment seven different times. Once, he spent 18 months in jail for sedition after he made a stinging remark on the Maharaja of Mysore.
Contribution to Constitution Making
Hanumanthaiah was elected to the Constituent Assembly from the Princely State of Mysore on a Congress party ticket. In the Assembly, he was a formidable force and unafraid to take contrarian positions. He staunchly advocated for decentralisation, believing that the federal scheme of the Constitution went against Gandhi’s ideals. In a debate on emergency powers provided in the Constitution, he lamented, “…It is a sad commentary upon the psychology of most of us that we completely ignore the provincial legislatures and the people in the provinces and attribute all virtues to the Centre and to the Government that exists in Delhi…”
Commenting on the Draft Constitution that Ambedkar had just presented to the Assembly, he expressed concern over the complexity and number of provisos in the chapter on fundamental rights. He warned that this could lead to unprecedented levels of legal disputes. It appeared that Hanumanthaiyya, being a lawyer, ironically was skeptical about litigation itself, telling his Assembly colleagues the English meaning of a Kannada proverb: “…a successful party in a case is as good as defeated and a defeated party in a case is as good as dead…”
As the Constitution-making process was drawing to a close, Hanumanthaiyya summed up his reflection on the soon-to-be-enacted Constitution of India in the following famous lines: “We wanted the music of Veena or Sitar, but here we have the music of an English band.” He believed that the Constitution was not indigenous enough and did not sufficiently reflect Indian values. Instead, it reflected the Anglo-Saxon legal training of the Drafting Committee members.
After independence, Hanumanthaiah’s political life was quite dramatic. He twice attempted to depose the first Chief Minister of Mysore, K.C. Reddy. He was openly critical of many Government bills and was also successful in creating dissension among fellow Congressmen against the incumbent Congress cabinet. To rein in Hanumanthaiah, the Mysore Congress took him into its Working Committee in 1950. He was also elected to the Provisional Parliament and subsequently resigned from the Mysore Assembly. Soon, he became the President of the Mysore Congress, serving in this position for 2 years until 1952. But none of this was successful in restraining Hanumanthaiah from challenging the Chief Minister’s seat. Finally in 1952, with the hard-won support of Nehru, Hanumanthaiah triumphed in the State elections and came to power as the Chief Minister of Mysore State.
It was during his tenure as Chief Minister that the Vidhana Soudha, which currently houses the Karnataka Legislature, was built. This was a culmination of Hanumanthaiah’s vision anticipating the arrival of democracy, its impact on State administration and the need he saw in establishing the ‘transfer of power from the Maharaja to the Legislature’. In 1955, before the unification of Karnataka, he fell out of favour with other legislators in the Assembly and lost the position of Chief Minister. He remained a member of the Mysore State Legislature until 1962.
Through the 1960s and 70s he was active in Central politics. He was a Lok Sabha member from 1962-70. He was a Delegate to Inter-Parliamentary Union Conferences at Stockholm (1949), Dublin (1950), and Brazillia (1962). He was also leader of the Indian delegation to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference in Ottawa in 1966. Between 1967-70 he was Chairman of Punjab Administrative Reforms Commission, and the Administrative Reforms Commission, Government of India. He also served as the Deputy leader of the Congress Party in Parliament between 1967-68. Later, he became a member of the Union Cabinet, serving as the Law and Social Welfare Minister in 1970 and Railways Minister in 1971.
Hanumanthaiah passed away on 1 December, 1980.
- Hanumanthaiah was against the provision for a bicameral legislature in the states, arguing pragmatically that the system of responsible government adopted in India would function under a party system. Thus, there was no question of checking of hasty legislation as the party in power would dominate both chambers.
- He made the suggestion that Delhi was not suitable to be the capital of the country, arguing that a location in the Central Provinces would be better.
- He was extremely critical of the centralising tendencies of the Constitution, in particular the Emergency provisions.
- He felt that the Fundamental Rights provisions were too complicated in their wording, with too many exemptions, which would lead to unnecessary litigation.
- Eminent Parliamentarian Series: K. Hanumanthaiah (Karnataka Vidhansabha Sachivalaya, 1998)
- “Kengal Hanumanthaiah in Mysore: The Style and Strategy of Individual Leadership in the Integration of a Region’s Politics“ by James Manor (South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, 1974)
- History of Freedom Movement in Karnataka by G.S. Halappa (Government of Mysore, 1964)
- Kengal Hanumanthaiah by Karnataka Information Department