By Dr. Anil Shetty
Mangaluru, March 1, 2019: What if I told you that a Mangalorean was once a Prime Minister and was also one of the principal framers of the Constitution of India? And that his equally accomplished brother was the longest serving Governor of the Reserve Bank of India? The headline might sound like click bait, but all of it is true - this is the incredible true story of Mangalore’s Benegal brothers.
Our city has had many eminent and distinguished citizens but probably the most illustrious family ever in Mangalore and probably one of the most illustrious in this country was the Benegal family. But sadly, hardly anyone knows that these super achievers were Mangaloreans nor is Mangalore associated with their numerous accomplishments, something this article hopes to remedy. The sons of Benegal Raghavendra Rau an eminent doctor in Mangalore, the eldest son and probably the least well known among the siblings, Benegal Sanjiv Rau, was a Dean of Benares University.
Sir Benegal Narsing Rau, Sir Benegal Rama Rau and Benegal Shiva Rao
The second son Sir Benegal Narsing Rau, was born in 1887 in Mangalore. He studied at Canara School and was the topper in the Madras Presidency and joined Presidency College, Madras. There he earned degrees in English, Sanskrit, Physics and Mathematics. He then obtained a scholarship which enabled him to study at Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1909 he returned to India and cleared the Indian Civil Service Examination and joined the Civil Service but shortly thereafter shifted to the judiciary. Due to his stellar work he was awarded the Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire in 1934. In 1935 he was appointed as a judge of the Calcutta High Court. He also chaired the Indus Water Commission on the sharing of river water between Punjab and Sind.
He was knighted in 1938, retired from service in 1944 and was then appointed as the Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir! Yes, I am not making any of this up. He was appointed the Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir from February 1944 to June 1945 by the Dogra Kings. The chief executive of Jammu and Kashmir was called the Prime Minister and this continued even after Independence until March 1965, when the elected post was re-designated as the Chief Minister after a constitutional amendment. In 1945 Sir Benegal Narsing Rau resigned from the post of the Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir following major differences with the Maharaja of Kashmir.
In 1946, he was invited by U Aung San, the Prime Minister of Burma to assist in drafting their constitution. After completing his task there, he began working at the reforms office of the Government of India and was subsequently appointed as the constitutional advisor to the Constituent Assembly. So the first draft of the Indian constitution was prepared by a Mangalorean! Sir BN Rau prepared 243 articles of the constitution. Later the drafting committee headed by Dr B. R. Ambedkar expanded it to 315 articles. Dr Ambedkar himself credits Sir Benegal Narsing Rau for doing a major portion of the work of drafting the Constitution. From 1949 to 1952 he served as India’s permanent representative at the United Nations and was the President of the United Nations Security Council in 1950. In 1952 he began to serve on the bench of the International Court of Justice but a year into his tenure he succumbed to ill health and died at Zurich in 1953.
The third brother, Sir Benegal Rama Rau was born in 1889. Like his elder sibling he too studied at Presidency College in Chennai, and then further at King’s College in Cambridge. Following his brother’s career path, he joined the civil service in 1919, worked as undersecretary and then deputy secretary to the Government of Madras and subsequently as Secretary to the Government of India first at the finance department and then the industries department. Later he was the Deputy High Commissioner for India in London from 1934 to 1938 and High Commissioner of India to South Africa from 1939 to 1941. In 1939 before he was elevated to High Commissioner he, like his brother earlier, was knighted.
An Indian currency note bearing B. Rama Rau’s signature as the Governor of Reserve Bank of India. He is the longest serving governor of RBI and also the second to resign.
He was appointed the first ambassador to Japan in 1947, and in 1948, the Indian ambassador to the U.S. From July 1949 to January 1957 he served as the 4th Governor of the Reserve Bank of India. Among all the Governors of the RBI, past and present, he holds the longest tenure. Sir Benegal Rau resigned from the post of the Governor of the RBI because of serious differences with the then Finance Minister of India T. T. Krishnamachari, the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru sided with his Finance Minister and this made the Governor s position untenable and he gracefully resigned.
Sir Benegal Rama Rau’s wife, Lady Dhanvanthi Rama Rau, was as illustrious as her RBI Governor husband. A Kashmiri pandit raised in Hubli, she had first met her husband in Madras. She founded the Family Planning Association of India and served as the President of the International Planned Parenthood Federation. She was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1959.
The youngest brother, Benegal Shiva Rau was born in Mangalore in 1891. He graduated like his brothers from Presidency College in Chennai, worked as a journalist for the Hindu and then the Manchester Guardian. He was a member of the Constituent Assembly and a member of the Lok Sabha from 1952 to 1957 and the Rajya Sabha from 1957-1960. He was awarded the Padma Bhushan. He died in 1975.
The family name ’Benegal’ comes from Benegal a small village between Karkala and Mangalore. The Raus were Chitrapur Brahmins. Like the Jews and Parsis, this small community of 30,000 people has had an overwhelming influence on society. Today it seems we have consigned to oblivion our city’s and its citizens’ history. Nostalgia often renders a rose tinted perspective of the past, but sometimes we have to look back at our glorious past to realize the accomplishments and contributions of our forefathers, the great deeds and significant actions that shaped our present and will determine our future.
Dr Anil Shetty is a Professor of Pediatrics at Father Muller Medical College, Mangalore. He is an avid chronicler of Mangalore’s past.