Sardar Dyal Singh Majithia, one of India’s best-known 19th-century philanthropists, must surely be turning in his grave (to use a cliché) at the turn of events in the college that was named after him. The governing body of Delhi’s Dyal Singh (Evening) College has decided to rename the institution Vande Mataram Mahavidyalaya.
The new development makes a mockery of the founder’s slogan – ‘Gather ye the wisdom of East and West’ – that is enshrined in the college emblem.
Even as the change of name awaits final approval from Delhi University’s vice chancellor, pressure has begun to mount on college authorities to retain the original name.
Of course this should not to be too surprising; lately we have seen an acceleration in the culture of changing names of cities and roads across India. Educational institutions too now seem to be imbibing that culture.
What seems to be contributing to the growing row is the prestige attached to the name of the college’s founder, Majithia. In academic circles, Majithia is known as one of the greatest sons of Punjab, besides having the reputation of being a visionary scholar, nationalist and patriot.
The irony in the situation is difficult to miss. While the college in Delhi named after Majithia has fallen victim to pseudo-nationalism in secular India, the same institution in Lahore in Pakistan – a nation considered to be born out of “Muslim nationalism” – continues to be known as Dyal Singh College. It is perhaps no small tribute to Majithia that the Lahore college still bears the name of its founder, when many other buildings and institutions have undergone name changes.
Majithia was a strong advocate of building up a scientific temper. It is particularly tragic in this context that a shrill row around the institution named after him is assuming political and even religious overtones.
“Instead of this petty name-changing game, we need to preserve the legacy of the progressive visionary,” says Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh. Several scholars and NRIs too have protested the decision. The Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC) has threatened protests if the decision is not reversed. The committee has even lodged a police complaint alleging that the name change, besides violating the transfer deed, is illegal. According to DSGMC general secretary Manjinder Singh Sirsa, the transfer deed (from when Dyal Singh College was transferred to Delhi University on June 22, 1978) clearly mentioned, “the college, after its takeover by the University, will continue to be known as Dyal Singh College.”
The college’s governing body chairman, Amitabh Sinha, a BJP leader, claims that the governing body has changed the name in the “interest of students”. Only a few months ago, the evening college was turned into a regular morning college. Sinha argues that since there is already a morning college named after Dyal Singh, the evening-turned-morning college now needs to have a new name.
Besides these arguments, what we need to seriously consider is that the college’s new name – Vande Mataram Mahavidyalaya – is at odds with the founder’s thoughts, beliefs and deeds. Born to the family of a famous Sikh general in Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s army, Majithia became a highly successful businessman and banker. He was a connoisseur of diamonds and jewellery. Proficient in many languages, including Persian, Arabic, English and Hindi, he wrote Urdu poetry under the pen name ‘Mashriq’. Educated in both Indian and Western traditions, he studied various religious and social beliefs, finally becoming a member of the Brahmo Samaj.
A liberal philanthropist, Majithia bequeathed his property – including buildings in Lahore and land in Amritsar, Lahore, Gurdaspur districts – to three trusts. He founded The Tribune Trust (which runs The Tribune newspaper) in 1881. Started initially in Lahore, the newspaper subsequently shifted its headquarters first to Shimla, followed by Ambala and finally Chandigarh. The Tribune continues to be an important newspaper in North India.
Incidentally, Majithia was also instrumental in founding the University of Punjab in Lahore in 1882. He played a pivotal role in founding the Punjab National Bank in 1894.
Majithia’s vision, clearly reflected in his will, formed the template for starting a college at Karnal in 1949, and another in Delhi a decade later. The late Dewan Anand Kumar, an eminent educationist and former vice chancellor of Punjab University, played a key role in starting these colleges. The college in Delhi started as an evening college after taking over from the Punjab University (Camp) College that functioned in the evening hours. Dyal Singh (Evening) College was the first evening college under Delhi University. A year later, Dyal Singh College began to have morning classes as well. Spread over nearly ten acres in the heart of Delhi, the college is an institution in itself, entirely maintained and governed by the university since 1978.
Before the governing body decided to rename the college Vande Mataram Mahavidyalaya, the other name that had come up for discussion was that of Madan Mohan Malviya, former president of the Indian National Congress and also a well-known educationist. However, Malviya’s name failed to muster enough support.
Significantly, in its editorial on November 2, The Tribune said, “His (Dyal Singh Majithia’s) name should continue to adorn the institution that was founded by his trust”.
In the context of the college renaming row, one can’t but recall the words of Majithia himself. “Down with the shams and hypocrisies…pull down the false gods….march with the times…create a new India,” said Majithia at the launch of The Tribune in 1881. Unfortunately, the college’s governing body appears to be rolling back those very principles. Instead of following in his footsteps, the governing body is obliterating his name.
Kanwar Sandhu, a former executive editor of The Tribune, is a member of the Punjab legislative assembly.