New Delhi: Madan Mohan Malaviya, who was awarded the Bharat Ratna on Wednesday, 68 years after his death, was a multi-faceted personality.

Malaviya was the freedom fighter credited with popularizing the slogan Satyameva Jayate (the truth alone shall triumph) and the lawyer who defended the 172 accused in the Chauri Chaura case of 1922, when an anti-British protest in a north Indian town of the same name turned violent.

He was the journalist who started the newspaper The Leader and chairman of the Hindustan Times; the visionary who introduced scouting for Indian boys, together with justice Vivian Bose, Dr. Hridaya Nath Kunzru, Annie Besant and George Arundale.

But it is as an educationist that Malaviya, who died in November 1946 less than a year before India won independence from British rule, is remembered. He gave India one of its premier institutions, the Banaras Hindu University (BHU), which he founded in 1916. BHU marked fulfilment of Malaviya’s desire to create an institution that blends ancient Indian traditions with modern education.

Malaviya personally collected funds for setting up the university, travelling from city to city. While soliciting donations, he would often sing the song composed by Urdu poet Brij Narayan Chakbast—“Faqir qaum ke aaye hain jholiyaan bhar doa (the faqirs of the nation have arrived, fill our bags). Malaviya believed that technology and science were the means to improving the lot of Indians. “In the present economic condition of India, there is no branch of education for which there is greater need than scientific and technical instruction," he said once. It was this belief that led to the establishment of one of the country’s first engineering colleges in BHU. “In this regard, you could say he was one of the architects of modern India, a true visionary," says his grandson, retired judge Giridhar Malaviya.

Malaviya was popularly known as Mahamana, a title that most probably Rabindranath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi came up with. He served as the president of the Indian National Congress four times, between 1909 and 1933.

Although he channelled his energies into education, Malaviya also championed the right of the “untouchables", or low castes, to enter temple premises. Espousing the cause earned him the wrath of many religious figures, but he persisted.

“It was he who fought for the use of devnagari script in court papers though the language was to be Urdu. Till then the notifications were in English. He said that people needed to know what was being written in matters related to them," recalls Giridhar Malaviya, whose childhood memories consist of his grandfather’s poetry recitation sessions.

“His favourite was ‘Khoob ladi mardani, woh toh Jhansi waali rani thi’, the poem about the exploits of the Queen of Jhansi," the grandson recalls.

The country hasn’t had many occasions to remember Malaviya, may be partly because he died before India became independent.

V.P. Mishra, a professor and director of Malaviya Bhavan in BHU, insists that people like him can never be forgotten. But the conferment of the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honour, will go a long way in prolonging the legacy of the man for the generations to come.

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