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Vol. XXXIV No. 4, June 1-15, 2024

V.S. Srinivasa Sastri down under, 1922

-- by Anantanarayanan Raman,

Most of us would know of the exceptional English-language command of V(alangaimaan) S(ankranarayana) Srinivasa Sastri, customarily prefixed with ‘Right Honourable’ – because of his membership in the Privy Council, a privileged body of advisors to the crown of the United Kingdom – also entitling him to use the letters ‘P.C.’, after his name, in formal contexts. He started his life as a school master, but his interest in public causes and oratory powers together bolstered him to a status of being a national and international luminary. He was admiringly described as the Empire’s silver-tongued orator by Thomas George Smart (Jagadisan, T.N., V. S. Srinivasa Sastri, Publication Division, Government of India, New Delhi, 1969, p. 231).

In her PhD thesis submitted to the Shreemati Nathibai Damodar Thackersey Women’s University (SNDT Women’s U.) Bombay, entitled Indian eloquence in English, 1974 (, accessed 2 March 2024), Usha Pathak speaks of Sastri as follows (Chapter XII):

‘Though Mahatma Gandhi and Srinivasa Sastri, political thinkers and public speakers, differed from each other in many ways, they had at least one similarity as far as their eloquence was concerned. Both of them did not show enthusiasm for public speaking during their early years, yet later on they became prominent public speakers. Srinivasa Sastri came into the limelight as a public speaker after he was forty. Yet his contribution to eloquence in English was as immense and varied as that of any other prominent public speaker. He was a remarkable master of the English language. His life-long devotion to Webster’s Dictionary began as soon as he joined the teaching profession’. [Note: The Webster’s Dictionary has been in use from 1806, first produced by the American lexicographer Noah Webster, Jr. A delightful history of the work of Noah Webster and how it has presently transformed into Merriam-Webster’s can be read at, accessed 2 March 2024].’

A vibrant Srinivasa Sastri. (Source:

Usha Pathak continues:

‘His (sic. Srinivasa Sastri’s) sensitiveness to correctness in grammar and pronunciation was surprising. Once Srinivasa Sastri respectfully pointed out Principal Hall’s [Note: Principal, Teacher’s College Saidapet, 1890s] errors in pronouncing ‘magnificent’, ‘formidable’, ‘execrable’, and established the principal’s incorrectness with the help of dictionary. On another occasion he and his friends successfully challenged the correctness of some passages in the book English Grammar by Nesfield [Note: John Collinson Nesfield, English Grammar, Past and Present, Macmillan & Co., London, 1898, p. 470], which was a text-book in High Schools. It created a sensation that Indians should correct the English grammar of an English grammarian. No wonder, during the later years Sastri’s speeches were specially praised for his mastery over the English language, Srinivasa Sastri’s zeal for correct pronunciation and grammar was an ideal equipment for his future success in eloquence.’

Many of the present-day generation of Madras need not be aware of the virtuosity of Srinivasa Sastri. Vineet Thakur (a contemporary academic at the Institute for History & International Relations, Leiden University, The Netherlands) eloquently speaks of the ambassadorial functions Srinivasa Sastri did in the early decades of the 20th century in India’s First Diplomat – V.S. Srinivasa Sastri and the Making of Liberal Internationalism (2023, Bristol University Press, Bristol). In that context, I am recounting here Srinivasa Sastri’s diplomatic travel to Australia in 1922.

Srinivasa Sastri landed in Fremantle, a seaport suburb of modern Perth, Western Australia, on June 1, 1922 for a stay until July 11, 1922. Sastri was the official guest of the Commonwealth of Australia. He was greeted by the acting premier of Western Australia and by a representative of the office of the Prime Minister; the latter was to accompany Sastri throughout Sastri’s Australia trip. The dictate to Sastri was to persuade the Australian people and the government to accord ‘full citizenship’ to those from India settled in Australia. This meant ability to vote in both state and federal elections, freedom to enter any occupation, and to own property. The above dictate for Sastri arose from the Imperial Conference in London–1921, a gathering of state leaders of the British Empire and representatives of the British Government, in which Sastri was an Indian delegate. His visit to Australia was to be followed by visits to New Zealand and Canada. South Africa was the only white dominion that refused to accept the mission. While in Australia, true to being a diplomat, he did not address the contentious issue of the White-Australia policy prevalent then.

Sastri’s near 6-week stay enabled him to meet with many leaders of Australian political arena. Most of his meetings made them to open up and turn favourable towards the desires of the immigrant Indians seeking social and civic equality.

The Indian population in Australia was a little more than 3,000 in the 1920s, who had come as free immigrants in the late 19th century, mostly to work as labour and sugarcane-field workers. To them, as British subjects, freedom of free movement within the British Empire was fair and just. They protested because the colony (later ‘state’ and ‘territory’) governments in Australia restricted them in the 1890s, followed by the Immigration Restriction Act, 1901. Discrimination was a force for them to reckon with.

Sastri’s speeches and his visit were extensively covered by Australian press. Most coverage was positive; captions such as ‘A Striking Personality’, ‘Distinguished Delegate’, ‘Stirring Speeches’ and a ‘Remarkable Address’ featured in leading dailies. The West Australian (the state newspaper of Western Australia, printed and published in Perth) of 3 June 1922 reported on Sastri’s speech: ‘A speech Miltonic in dignity of phrasing and charged with rare eloquence’. Sastri sought better instincts from his audience. The Advertiser, an Adelaide based newspaper, of 8 June 1922) reported:

‘Knowing the great enthusiasm, which Australian people felt for peace, equality and brotherhood and knowing the broad-based and justice-loving democracy upon which Australia was founded, it would be unfair if I entertained any other anticipations than those of brotherly and honourable treatment’

Because of certain earlier agreements made at the 1918 Imperial Conference, Sastri was cautious in voicing his personal opinion especially on the White-Australia policy, which he considered was ‘somewhat inconsistent with the integrity of the British Empire’. When questioned by the reporters of diverse newspapers about Mohandas K. Gandhi and Swarajya movement, Sastri was frank in criticising Gandhi’s non-cooperation and preferred to stay away.

At the conclusion of his Australia trip, Sastri writes to Rukmini, his daughter on 8 July 1922, (Letters of the Rt. Honourable V. S. Srinivasa Sastri, edited by T. N. Jagadisan, Asian Publishing House, London, 1963, p. 95):

‘They (sic. people in Australia) treated me very well in Australia. Everywhere the best hotels. Special carriages on the railways … Ministers to escort and look after me; grand banquets and receptions; crowded meetings; giddy applause; photographs, interviews, autographs.’

One notable transformation Sastri could achieve was that the Australian Prime Minister William Morris Hughes wrote to Sastri, in July 1922, that legislation would be shortly introduced granting old-age pension to Indian residents. Hughes further commented that Sastri had achieved wonders. In Hughes’s opinion Sastri had removed those prejudices, which formerly prevented the admission of Sastri’s compatriots residing in Australia to the enjoyment of the full rights of citizenship (Report by the Right Honourable V. S. Srinivasa Sastri, P.C., Regarding His Deputation to the Dominions of Australia, New Zealand and Canada, Government Central Press, Simla, 1923). Leaders of the Federal Country Party (presently, the National party) and the Australian Labour Party assured their concern and support to Sastri.

Sastri considered his Australia tour was successful. He appreciated Australian egalitarianism, its democratic spirit, and its prosperity. He says to Rukmini (Letters of the Rt. Honourable V. S. Srinivasa Sastri, 8 July 1922, edited by T. N. Jagadisan, Asian Publishing House, London, 1963, p. 95):

‘The Indians say they already feel several inches taller, while the whites declare their eyes have been opened. … Indians I met did quite well in Australia: nearly all look prosperous, in spite of economic prejudices, the remuneration for manual labour for each person is at least 12 shillings per day. Of social prejudice I saw little trace. A good many Indians have married Australian wives from whom they have children and live in friendship and harmony with their neighbours. I visited a few families and was assured by the wives that they suffered from no social disabilities.’

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  1. Rajee Thyagarajan says:

    I enjoy Madeas Musings immensely! Would like to send a donation of Rs. 500/-. Please send information as to how I can donate.
    I am Rt.Hon. Srinivas’s Sastri’s brother, Ramaswami. sasttri’s granddaughter!! This issue of MM is enlightening to me!
    Rajee Thyagarajan.

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