Dutt, Romesh Chunder

Romesh Chunder Dutt

Dutt, Romesh Chunder (1848-1909) civil servant, politician, political and economic thinker and writer. Better known as RC Dutt, he was born on 13 August 1848 in the well-known Dutt family of Ramnagar, Calcutta. His parents were Isan Chunder Dutt and Thakamani. In December 1864 Dutt passed the Entrance Examination Two years later he passed the First Arts Examination from the Presidency College. In 1868 he sailed for London along with surendranath banerjea and Behari Lal Gupta. The next year he passed the ICS Examination.

Dutt started his administrative career in 1871 when he was appointed Assistant Magistrate, Alipore. Later he served as Relief Officer in Meherpur (Nadia) and then in Dakhin Shahbazpur (Bakerganj), as District Magistrate in Bankura, Balasore, Bakerganj, Pabna, Mymensingh, Burdwan, Dinajpur and Midnapore, and as Divisional Commissioner of Orissa. Divisional Commissionership was the highest position ever reached by an Indian till that time. He retired in 1897 at the age of 49. In the normal course he had nine more years to serve.

In a letter written to his brother he indicated that he had resigned because his juniors had been promoted to higher posts and because the government was not ‘disposed to repose to any real trust and confidence’ in him. Therefore, he was ready to utilize his ‘power and abilities ... to the benefit of my  [his] country in other ways’. As it turned out, these “other ways” included active participation in politics, writings, and persistent efforts to create public opinion in India and England in favour of ‘reforming’ the government of India.

Despite the hard labour that Dutt had to put in as an ICS officer, he found time even in the early phase of his career to indulge in what he called his 'first love', literature. He pursued the various branches of literature with great devotion throughout his life. The first publication of Romesh Dutt was his 'Three Years in Europe', which appeared in 1872. His next work was Bengal Peasantry (1875). In this work he championed the cause of the raiyats and urged that their rent rate should be fixed. Two years later he published his history of Bengali literature entitled Bengali Literature. Not content merely to record the history of literature, he also wanted to make substantial contribution to it. The inspiration came from bankimchandra chattopadhyay, a friend of his father. The result was four historical novels: Banga Bijeta (Conqueror of Bengal), Madhabi Kankan (Bracelet of Flowers), Rajput Jiban Sandhya (Evening of Rajput Life), and Maharastra Prabhat (Dawn of Maharastran Life). The first two tell the story of the conquest of Bengal by akbar, the third is based on the heroic struggle of Rana Pratap Singh and the fourth describes the rise of Maratha power under the leadership of Shivaji. These novels were all published in 1879. He also wrote two social novels: Samaj (1885) and Sangsar (1893). One advocated widow re-marriage and the other inter-caste marriage. Another important work by Dutt was his translation of the Reg Veda to Bangla (1885). He also translated the Ramayana and Mahabharata in English verse in 1898 and 1899. Earlier in 1894 he had published his Lays of Ancient India, also in English verse. Another of his publication dating from this time was his History of Civilisation in Ancient India.

Three publications by Dutt dealt with the economic effects of British colonial rule in India. These were England and India (1897), Famines in India (1900) and the two volumes of the Economic History of India. England and India touches upon several features of British rule in India, which he developed in greater detail in his subsequent publications. In 1900 he published his Famines in India. The book began with a brief history of famines in India from 1770 to the end of the nineteenth century and contained five 'Open Letters' to the Governor General and the Viceroy, lord curzon. This was followed by the publication in England of the first volume of the Economic History of India (1757-1857) early in 1902. The second volume appeared in 1904 and this one carried the story of India's economic history to the beginning of the twentieth century. The Economic History was his most famous work. In it he described the various aspects of the economic administration of British government, de-industrialization of India through unfair competition with machine made goods of England, neglect of industrial and agricultural development, high rate of revenue, the consequent impoverishment of the peasantry, the outbreak of famines, the drain of resources through the payment of 'Home charges', financing of expensive wars beyond Indian borders for British imperial interests etc. Dutt, of course, was not the sole exponent of the views expressed in this publication. Nor was he the pioneer. But his criticisms were the most influential.

Meanwhile in 1899 Dutt joined active politics. In December of that year he presided over the annual conference of the indian national congress held in Lucknow. As mentioned earlier, he announced this decision in a letter written to his brother on the occasion of his retirement from administrative service. But his political thinking was much less radical than his analysis of the economic impact of British rule in India. Like other 'Moderates' (Dadabhai Naoroji, Suredranath Banerjee, WC Bonerjee, Justice Ranade) Dutt believed that British rule was essentially for the good of the country. He was interested in 'reforming' the existing government by pointing out its 'mistakes' and by suggesting measures, including gradual institutional changes and greater participation of Indians in all branches of administration, which were necessary to ensure that these mistakes were not perpetuated. In his Economic History he had moved very close towards the conclusion that colonial government per se was wrong and had quoted with approval JS Mill who had said, 'Such a thing as government of one people by another does not and cannot exist'. Nevertheless, he could not contemplate independence for India. Thus, though his criticisms of the economic policies of the British government contributed to the growth of political radicalism (or 'Extremism'), he did not himself practice a radical politics.

After the publication of his Economic History Dutt returned to India. In August 1904 he became the Revenue Minister of Baroda. Incidentally, he visited England several times during his career. After three years of service, he left Baroda and became a member of the Royal Decentralisation Commission. The work of this Commission over, Dutt returned to Baroda and took charge of the state as its Diwan. It was while serving in this capacity that he expired on 30 November 1909. [M Mofakharul Islam]