“The strongest reapeth the success, the speediest reacheth the goal” – is the set and simple formula of a super reasoning mankind. Sir Mohamad Usman’s colossal trunk and his comparatively tiny head are the favourite themes of the caricaturist, The weighty life and fortune of Mr.Usman are indeed wonderful. He fills the atmosphere with his physical presence. The warmth of love and the sunshine of smiles flee from his arctic presence. A pair of trousers. a long close-coat and a cylindrical cap are the sartorial hall-mark of this singular knight. A modest moustache supplemented by a beard of sparing growth, and a shining pair of spectacles are all that adorn his countenance.
The talented Habibullah had vacated his place in the Madras Cabinet and was called to adorn the Viceroy’s Cabinet at Delhi. The Madras Government were casting about for a loyal Muslim and the Justice Party was all agog to reward its ardent Muslim. adherent. The wishes of both met in Mr.Usman and made him lucky. All through the critical times which the Justice Party and the Government had withstood in combination, all the Muslims worth the name had arrayed themselves on the national front. But the loyal Mr.Usman stuck up to the Justice Party and stood by the Government heroically. He was the first Secretary of the South India Liberal Federation (S.I.L.F. ) and he presided over the Justice Party Conference held in 1919.
The dynamite of patriotism had not burst his being; the devouring fire of nationalism had not touched his soul. Unemotional and immobile by nature, Mr.Usman stood four-square and firm on the deck of reactionarism like Casabianca. In 1926 he was appointed a member of the Madras Cabinet. By sheer efflux of time, he became the very Leader of the House and the Vice-President of the Cabinet. What with the temporary absence of Sir George Stanley at Delhi, and the reason of his Vice-Presidency of the Cabinet, Sir Mohamad Usman was appointed the Acting Governor of Madras.
The first Indian Governor of Madras, a premier Province of India, Sir Mohamad shall ever be remembered as the creator of a precedent and constructor of History. It is his melancholy eminence that his acting Governorship will go down to history more as a conferment of that right over Indians than as a crowning of his individual genius. He represented on that seat his race and countrymen rather than himself. “Eminent posts” said La Bruyere, “make great men greater and little men less”. But the eminent post of the Governorship never made Usman greater. By virtue of his Indian birth every Indian rejoiced in his elevation. Because of his Islamic faith every Musalmam enjoyed his eminence. In so far as he was a Justicite, every Justicite felt the thrill of elation.
The lifeless member of the Legislature simply lifting hands, and the occupant of the Mayoral Chair by the accident of his political affinity, Sir Mohamad had never deserved such an elevation except for his passivity and simple-minded silence. Whenever he broke his silence and spoke, he mouthed only platitudes, And whenever his speech would lack in harm, it would certainly lack in form. It moves you to laughter whenever it fails to irritate. In a typical pre-election speech the other day, he extended an invitation to the Europeans of Madras to co-operate with the Justice Party to work the Constitution.
Sir Mohamad Usman is a Bachelor of the Madras University. And he has the additional qualification of an expert knowledge of the Unani system of medicine. He has a bucolic, unimaginative mind and a buoyant faith in the British Rule, at any rate had till 1937. He has no figures nor fantacies which -busy thought draws in the brains of men”. Success has not attended his life as per the Rule of Three, or the rigorous canons of logic. He is a classical example of the proverbial conspiracy between luck and lack of talents. It is the legendary crowning of the pet of Providence and the sport of chance. Soaring on the wings of patronage he swept the skies of office and power. From a humble Unani Doctor to the honoured Head of a Province it is indeed a rise and an elevation.
Sir Mohamad’s Home Membership was extraordinary in every sense of the word. He had the doubtful celebrity and unenviable privilege of passing his first term at a time of great national crisis. The burden of weathering that storm fell to his miserable lot. As a grateful recognition, his glorious term of office was extended twice. He spent in all nine years in office. He had nearly acquired a prescriptive right from the point of view of the length of period alone. And what is the record of his wondrous achievements? The Bucket Shops Act and the Brothels Act are the first and the last of his magnificent record. They exhaust the catalogue of his. legislative output. For nine long years a mountain was under labour and the net result of all is nothing but two mice. And even those mice are not “micky mice” The vice of betting that was extensive was intensified by the one and the offence of prostitution that was barefaced was driven underground by the other.
Barren though of achievements, the Home Membership of Usman was highly pregnant with sensation. When everything about Sir Mohamad from his cylindrical cap and his cigar to his celebrated office of the Governorship shall have been forgotten, it will be this aspect of his life that will ever be remembered. The Bill of Indictment against him for acts of omission and commission may swell into a volume. And the Grand Jury of posterity will certainly return a true Bill. But the fault is none of Sir Usman’s; it is all of his office. Anybody else ought to have acted similarly, if not worse in those circumstances. No one else could have escaped this blot on his escutcheon. Even the ‘patriotic’ Congress ministry has hardly escaped it to-day. With all the good-will in the world, no Home Member of those days could have possibly escaped sinning and come out unscathed. “Front Benches mean compromises, petty surrenders here, suppression of truth there, equivocation, legerdemain.” Love of office and baiting of the public seldom go together and if ever Sir Mohamad is guilty he must be convicted of a bit of stronger partiality for office than was consistent with and safe for his popularity.
But society is a strange judge. The Star Chamber procedure always suits its temper. The accused pronouncing judgment is unknown to jurisprudence. But often enough among nations that passes for justice. The Bill of Indictment is drawn up, the impeachment is made and ex parte sentences are passed-all in the twinkling of an eye, by an outraged and avenging mob. The Government and the concerned member are unceremoniously sent to the gallows of undying hatred. The seven vials of wrath are emptied over their heads, and their funeral obsequies pronounced. While the Government in the abstract escapes unaffected, the devoted head of the Member is turned into the bull’s eye. He has to assume an innocent attitude, speak nothing, nothing but sweet apologies, and stand on the battlements with stoic forbearance, If he does not, his business is elsewhere. If, however, he succeeds in shooting the wolves and yet ‘speaking the silk,’ he is surely a great bureaucrat, baked and burnt to perfection.
Identical was the crisis that occurred during Usman’s regime and all but the same was his fate. The Salt Satyagraha and the Civil Disobedience struck their sanguinary path across his term of office. He put heart into the Police and they in their turn put the bullet into their muskets. The painful process of preservation of peace prolonged its agonising course through blood and broken limbs. Sir Mohamad Usman simply crossed the” t”s and dotted the “i”s of the man on the spot and contented himself with mouthing callous apologies. He served as a weapon both offensive and defensive in the hands of the Government. He was a massy club to hit with and a mighty shield to ward off. Tottering and rocking under the tremendous impact of the Opposition, the Treasury Bench was safely panchored and steadied by the titanic weight of his physique and tongue. Not that he carried conviction to the Opposition nor that he escaped conviction from posterity. But it is to Sir Usman’s credit that he so successfully played at Strafford in singularly trying crises.
He cultivated callousness as a fine art. Cart-loads of caricatures, columns-full of billingsgate and the cursing roar of the thousands never touched his complacent soul, not so much as disturbed his equanimity. Abuses ran off his person like water off the duck’s back. “They say, what they say, let them say” he mumbled.
Mr.Usman has apparently faith only in two things in the world: God and the Government, whatever be the character and colour thereof. “If you would govern man-kind you must be superior to them or despise them” said Disraeli, a great master of men. Sir Mohamad, obviously lacking superiorty affected to despise and govern men. His mind shied and contracted at the slightest contact of liberal policies and democratic ideas. He had built his trust rather too much on the reeking tube and the Iron shod and left out of calculation the invincible passions of men. He threw his whole weight against the acceptance of the liberal program of Mr.E.V. Ramaswami’s Party. He resisted every item of improvement that was sought to be introduced by the Justice Party’s Sub- Committee. His Ignorance of his countrymen is astounding and amusing. On the eve of the last general elections, he solemnly advised the leader of the Justice propaganda not to waste the money and energy on propaganda but to preserve them that the people could be easily made to vote for the Justice Party. “For whom else do you think” he asked the people would vote except for the Justice Party?”.
The moment the Justice Party was routed and had fallen on evil days, Sir Mohamad began to play for safety and desert his party. He was nominated to the Legislative Council and he naturally sat as the Leader of the Opposition. It was given to Sir Mohamad alone of all the members in the opposition, to have broken the traditions of Parliamentary Government by supporting every measure of the Government. As Leader of the Opposition he called. for a division over a Government measure” and he himself walked into the Government lobby. By a strange metamorphosis or a process of mental alchemy Sir Usman began to see eye to eye with the Congress, all of a sudden on the questions of compulsory Hindi, Prohibition and so on. This piece of treacherous “Opposition” naturally enraged the Party-men who would have certainly voted him out of the Floor Leadership but he himself gracefully vacated the post and is occupying the cross benches. Thus we have to-day the strangest phenomenon of the one time persecutor of the Congress acting as its over-zealous palanquin-bearer.
The world is a book in which the chapter of accidents is not the least considerable. And the chapter of accidents of Sir Mohamad’s life is the most considerable of all. Except on the hypothesis of God’s playful perversion, the mystery of his career is difficult to unravel. A challenge to the intelligentia of this province and a shock to the arrogance of the West End of Mylapore, Sir Mohamad life is a marvellous romance of the Dyarchic era. Success in him presents its passive front. His is a success without spendour and a song without music.
Source : The South Indian Celebrities – Volume II
by K.M.Balasubramaniam, From the Archive of Periyar Rationalist Library & Research Centre, Chennai..