The Life, Struggles & Accomplishments of Sir Siddappa Kambli


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by Dr. Prabhakar Kore

Sir Siddappa Kambli served as Education Minister in the Bombay (now Mumbai) Government in 1930 during the British regime. He was the member of Bombay Provincial Assembly for 25 consecutive years. Despite Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhabhai Patel attempting to ensure Kambli’s electoral defeat in 1937, he was elected to the Assembly with the highest number of votes. This indicates the tenacious and immensely popular nature of Kambli.

Not willing to bear the injustice meted out to non-Brahmins, Sir Siddappa Kambli formed a non-Brahmin party in 1921 and held its first convention in Hubli. Periyar, Dr.B.R.Ambedkar, Lohia, Mahatma Joytiba Phule led a similar struggle in other parts of India.

siddappa-kambli lingraj college Kambli too shared their progressive views and launched a struggle against Brahmin domination. Government jobs were out of bounds for non-Brahmins in those days. However, it is ironical that the very same non-Brahmins who secured government jobs with the help of Kambli, later ignored him. The determined Kambli, once addressing a public meeting in Hubli had said that he would rest only on the day when Brahmin women toiled in farmlands like women from any other community. Seeing the fire in him, Chatrapathi Shahu Maharaj of Kolhapur took part in the non-Brahmins’ convention organised by Kambli.

Coming from a very humble origin, Siddappa was the child of Thotappa and Gangamma and was born in 1882. The couple would eke out their living selling blankets (Kambli in Kannada). With the blessings of Sri Siddarudha, Siddappa developed a yearning for Kannada and evolved as a person who believed in serving the poorer sections of society. At a time when Marathi dominated even the Kannada speaking areas of Hubli and Dharwad, Siddappa finished his primary education in the historic town of Lakkundi. He then went to high school in Dharwad and completed his Degree in Pune. He got his Degree in Law from Bombay’s Government Law College, and became a well-known advocate in civil and criminal cases. As time went by, he championed the cause of the downtrodden and set up many Kannada educational institutions.

Siddappa Kambli was elected as the member of Hubli City Municipal Council in 1917. In 1921, he became the legal advisor to CMC, President of Advocates’ Association, President of District Board (196-1918) and ultimately, he became a member of the Bombay Provincial Council. His service in each of these positions is quite remarkable. A primary teachers’ training college was established in Dharwad in as early as 1856. But, the government closed it down in 1922 citing austerity measures. Kambli saw to it that the college was reopened. Kambli’s words used to carry weight in government, ostensibly on account of his clean image.

He organised a non-Brahmin council in Hubli for the first time, and gained popularity beyond Karnataka. He was elected President of Karnataka Ekikarana Samiti (Unification Council) in 1926 and Karnataka gained a representation in the government after Kambli became the Education minister. The British were awe-struck by the style of functioning, studiousness and dedication of Kambli. The government was planning to close down the Karnatak College in Dharwad to save expenditure but Kambli adopted a tough stand, stating that he would resign as Minister if the college was closed.

He defended this action by saying that the college had not been set up with government funds, but with the money contributed by people. He said people would not spare him if the college is closed down. At his insistence, the government dropped the move to close down the college. The institution progressed into one that offered a high standard of education in later days. The founders of K.L.E. Society were making attempts to establish Lingaraj College in Belgaum since 1927.

However, the Chitpavan Brahmins were throwing spanners into the efforts as they feared that Marathi would lose its dominance if the college is allowed to be established. But, there was no Kannada-Marathi divide in Belgaum then and speakers of both the languages lived in harmony. Several meetings were held at Shivanand theatre for establishing the Lingaraj College. Late B.N. Datar, D.V.Belavi, B.K.Dalvi, Y.B.Nadiger, Basappanna Kankanavadi were prominent among those who were taking part in these meetings.

As part of the Centenary Celebrations of the KLE Society, a statue of Sir Siddappa Kambli will be unveiled on Nov 15th 2016 at 10.AM in the beautiful garden of KLE Society’s Lingaraj College, Belagavi.

Around the same time, the Governor of Bombay was furious over a student throwing a bomb in Ferguson College at Pune. Consequently, the number of admissions to this college was scaled down to 800 from 1,200. The college management was worried and sought the intervention of Kambli, who was then Education minister, to restore the student intake. In those days, there were no government grants for the colleges and the managements had to run the institutions from the money they collected as fee from students.

In the first meeting, Kambli sent back the management representatives saying that the governor was angry with the bomb-throwing incident and he would convince him once the tension died down. During the second meeting, Kambli asked the management to raise the issue of Lingaraj College in the Senate meeting and told them to lend their support to the issue. Accordingly, the affiliation for Lingaraj College was granted unopposed in the Senate meeting. Kambli himself was present in the meeting.

The decisive vote by Vice-Chancellor V.N.Chandavarkar ensured approval for Lingaraj College. Later on, Kambli restored the student intake of Ferguson College to 1,200 from 800. Accordingly, the first degree college of the K.L.E. Society began functioning in Belgaum in 1933. Befittingly Sir Siddappa Kambli presided over the inaugural function. Governor Sir Fredrick Sykes inaugurated the college. Kambli also played a crucial role in establishment of Karnatak University as well. He ensured inclusion of Karnataka University in the resolution for setting up of Pune and Gujarat universities. Kambli served as Vice-Pesident of the K.L.E. Society for two terms (1928-29 and 1943-45). He was responsible for the rise in reputation of the K.L.E. Society and his efforts and service were inspiring, to say the least.

The unification of Karnataka was a long-cherished dream of Kambli. Unfortunately, he became bed-ridden following a paralytic stroke and after six years of illness, he passed away in April 1956. His dream was to come true a few months later when the unified Karnataka emerged in November 1956. It is indeed unfortunate that Kambli was not alive to receive the honour due to him on the occasion of the unification.

The message of Kambli for the youth planning an entry into politics should be recorded for posterity. “You plunge into politics only if you have the means to maintain yourself and your family. Otherwise, don’t ever dream of entering politics. A politician without a secure and sustainable source of income will become corrupt,” was Kambli’s view. He felt that the progress of the country was being hindered by corrupt politicians.

The Hubli-Dharwad Municipal Corporation has installed a statue of Sir Siddappa Kambli and named a road after him. A bronze statue of Kambli has been installed on the campus of Karnatak College in Dharwad.

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