Purushottam Das Tandon

Purushottam Das Tandon

Purushottam Das Tandon पुरुशोत्तम दास टंडन August 1, 1882 – July 1, 1962), was a independence fighter from Uttar Pradesh in India, of Khatri descent. He is widely remembered for his efforts in achieving the "Official Language of India" status for Hindi. He was customarily given the title Rajarshi (Etymology: Raja + Rishi = Royal Saint).

Early life

Purushottam Das Tandon was born at Allahabad. After obtaining a degree in law and an MA in history, he started practising in 1906 and joined the bar of Allahabad High Court in 1908 as a junior to Tej Bahadur Sapru. He gave up practise in 1921 to concentrate on public activities.

Freedom struggle

He was a member of Congress Party since his student days in 1899. In 1906, he represented Allahabad in the AICC. He was associated with the Congress Party committee that studied the Jallianwala Bagh incident in 1919. He was also a part of the "Servants of the People Society." In the 1920s and 1930s he was arrested for participating in the Non-Cooperation movement and Salt Satyagraha respectively. He and Nehru were among the people arrested even before Mahatma Gandhi returned from the Round Table Conference at London in 1931. He was known for his efforts in farmers’ movements and he served as the President, Bihar Provincial Kisan Sabha in 1934. He worked as the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of the present-day Uttar Pradesh for a period of 13 years, from July 31, 1937 to August 10, 1950. He was elected to the Constituent Assembly of India in 1946.


He tried for the position of the President of the Congress Party unsuccessfully against Pattabhi Sitaramayya in 1948 but contested successfully against Acharya Kriplani in the controversial and difficult 1950 election to head the Nagpur session. He was elected to the Lok Sabha in 1952 and the Rajya Sabha in 1956. He retired from active public life after that due to indifferent health. He was awarded the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award in 1961.


Religious tolerance

Several controversies and contradictions abound in the life of Purushottam Das Tandon. While he emphasized the similarities between Hindu and Muslim cultures, he is regarded to have carried the image of a "soft" Hindu nationalist leader. He was not as successful as Mahatma Gandhi in summoning religious ideals to aspects of Public Service despite being associated with the moderate Radha Soami cult. He and KM Munshi were among those who strongly opposed religious propagation and conversion of a people of one religion to another; they strongly argued in the constituent assembly for a condemnation in the constitution of religious conversion.

Partition of India

On June 12 1947, the Congress Working Committee met and passed a resolution accepting the Partition of India. When the same had to be ratified on 14 June by the AICC, one of the dissenting voices came from Tandon. On that occasion, he said, "“Acceptance of the resolution will be an abject surrender to the British and the Muslim League. The admission of the Working Committee was an admission of weakness and the result of a sense of despair. The Partition would not benefit either community – the Hindus in Pakistan and the Muslims in India would both live in fear.”" Thus, it can be argued that he was against partition. However, another school of thought believes that his reluctance in sharing power with the Muslim League in the provinces after the 1937 elections with the argument that the Congress Party has achieved majority on its own may have precipitated matters towards partition.

Relations with Nehru

He and Nehru had good relations in the beginning; Nehru who commended the “No Tax” campaign started by Tandon in 1930. In the 1940s the differences between them increased. While Tandon was not perceived to be power-hungry, his relation with Nehru was not on good terms and he was believed to be a protégé of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. In 1950, his successful election to the post of Congress President against Acharya Kriplani, who was widely believed to be backed by Nehru, put the latter in a tight spot. The relations between the party and the government suffered during that period. Subsequently, it became a sort of unwritten norm for the leader of the government to also be the party president or at the least, have a pliable candidate in the post.

Advocation of Hindi

While it is acknowledged that he brought Hindi to the forefront through his activities in the "Hindi Prachar Sabhas", his exclusion of other alternatives bordered on chauvinism despite Mahatma Gandhi and other leaders advocating the adoption of Hindustani, a mixture of Hindi and Urdu as the National language. He insisted on the usage of Devanagari script and the rejection of the Urdu script as well as words with Arabic-Persian roots. This led to him being called a political reactionary by Nehru. His attitude towards the Sanskritisation or making the language more formal was also controversial. His insistence on the usage of numerals of devanagari script over the international system and his debates in the constituent assembly on adoption of Hindi as the official language irked Dravidian leaders. His stand became all the more inexplicable since he held a conviction that mother-tongue is the most ideal as a medium of instruction.


* A Speaker is supposed to be impartial and hence, speakers generally do not participate in their party meetings. Tandon, however, used to participate actively in his party meetings, as he was clear in his conscience that since he could separate these into different compartments, there should not be any issue. When he was questioned on this stand on the floor of the house, he offered to step down if any of the members of the house lacked confidence in him. No member pressed the issue.

* As a staunch believer in ahimsa, he started using rubber chappals to avoid usage of leather.

* Rajarshi Purushottam Das Tandon was at the time a Member of Parliament. Once, when he went to collect his salary cheque in the Parliament Office, he asked the clerk there to transfer the amount directly to a “Public Service Fund”. The officials over there were pleasantly surprised by his generosity. One of his colleagues standing nearby said: “There are hardly four hundred rupees as your allowance for the whole month. And you are donating the entire amount for social service?” Tandon ji humbly replied – “You see, I have seven sons and all are earning sufficiently to raise their families; each one sends me one hundred rupees per month. I spend only about rupees three to four hundred from that and the rest goes to some philanthropic causes. This allowance as a Member-of-Parliament is again extra for some one like me. Why should I save it for my self or my family? It was because of this natural austerity and detachment from selfish possessions that he was called a “Rajarshi”.

External links

* [http://indianpost.com/viewstamp.php/Alpha/P/PURUSHOTTAM%20DAS%20TANDON An article on Purushottam Das Tandon]
* [http://www.india9.com/i9show/33412.htm A brief write-up on Purushottam Das Tandon]
* [http://www.searchforlight.org/lotushall/towardsfreedom/towardsfreedom_kittu_13.htm Opposition to Partition]
* [http://www.cpiml.org/liberation/year_2005/August05/path_to_partition.htm Path to Partition]
* [http://www.premshankarjha.com/articles/articles_o_112.html A snippet on the relation between Nehru and Purushottam Das Tandon]
* [http://www.cpsindia.org/manas_part2.html Article saying that Purushottam Das Tandon shifted to Rubber Chappals]
* [http://www.gandhi-manibhavan.org/main/quiz.htm Arrest of Nehru and Purushottam Das Tandon]
* [http://uplegassembly.nic.in Official Website of the Legislative Assembly of Uttar Pradesh]
* [http://parliamentofindia.nic.in Official Website of Indian Parliament]
* [http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/1132615.cms In a time warp]

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