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Filing his nomination from Baroda on Wednesday, Narendra Modi had words of praise for the city’s patron and benefactor, Sayajirao Gaekwad III.

The king was “known for his good governance and he focused mainly on three things—girls’ education, water supply and libraries. I have benefited from his good governance as I completed my primary school education from Vadnagar," Modi said. The prime ministerial candidate added that “Sayajirao’s book Minor Hints provides inspiration for good administrations. Whenever any IAS officer joins the services, I recommend to the person to read this book and take inspiration for good governance."

I also benefited from the patronage of the great king and my formal education consists of a diploma in textile technology, earned from Maharaja Sayajirao (MS) University in Baroda.

Modi is wrong in attributing the work to the king. Sayajirao did not write this booklet but was presented it by Sir T Madhava Rao. It is a manual on how a monarch must rule. It is alarming that Modi sees it as instructive because it is imperial in its form and outlook.

It contains chapters titled “Menials and intriguers" (Chap 3), “Anger" and “Firmness" (4 and 5), “How to avoid worry" (14) and “Maharaja’s absence" (8).

The other thing is that the work is addressed to a child. The book is based on lectures Sir Madhava Rao gave the king when he was in his teens. I keep writing of how Modi’s world-view is simplistic and it did not surprise me at all to learn that he was taken by this book. It contains gems like: “A real well-wisher aims at the good of the Maharaja and of the people."

Sayajirao fired Madhava Rao the year after he was delivered the lectures that comprise this book. This did not harm his education. Sayajirao was in my opinion the most enlightened of all the monarchs of British India. It is his money that paid for Ambedkar’s study at Columbia. Isn’t that a debt all of India owes the king?

Sayajirao famously (or infamously) turned his back on the emperor at George V’s great coronation in 1911.

The BBC reported that, “Each Indian ruler or native prince was expected to perform proper obeisance to the King-Emperor by bowing three times before him, then backing away without turning. The maharajah not only ignored royal etiquette by turning his back on the king and queen after formally introducing himself but compounded his perceived insolence by reportedly laughing disrespectfully as he departed from their presence. On reaching the shamiana (dais) he made a cursory bow from the waist, stepped backwards and then, wheeling around, turned his back on the royal couple and walked from their presence nonchalantly twirling a gold-topped walking stick."

The report describes the “Gaekwar of Baroda" as “second in importance only to the Nizam of Hyderabad". He apologized for his behaviour and was later knighted.

I was listening to Modi’s speech from the CNN-IBN studio and the reference to Sayajirao from him took me back to my teens. In the building (called Kala Bhavan) housing MS University’s engineering faculty is a small temple. It was tended to (at least till 1989 when I left) for decades by a Muslim man, who cleaned it daily and made the offering. Modi’s cavalcade would have gone past the gate and I hope he knows of this story.

And one bit of this book he likes he should certainly pay heed to: “One man, however able and experienced, cannot be sure of himself forming right conclusions in public affairs without consulting others. He may err in fact; he may err in his reasoning; he may err from disregard of local conditions and circumstances."

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