Madras played host to the 19th Session of the Congress in 1903. The venue this time was Spring Gardens, Teynampet where a Pandal accomodating nearly 6000 persons was put up.An Industrial Exhibition was also inaugurated with it(the Industrial Exhibition being in its 3rd edition) by the Maharajah of Mysore. Interestingly, Burma was represented for the first time in this session. Lal Mohan Ghose was elected President of this session.
Two notable matters discussed in this session were the Coronation Durbar held in Delhi earlier that year and the Madras Municipal Bill which was to be introduced. On the subject of the Coronation Durbar, the Congress took strong exception to the treatment accorded to the Indian Princes-"Subject to a humiliation they had never known before under the British Government" and the Indian visitors, who returned with "bitter memories of the different treatment received by Indians and Europeans". The Madras Municipal Bill was called "retrograde and reactionary" by the President and a resolution was passed condemning its introduction. The Bill evoked strong criticism as it proposed to reduce the number of popular representatives to 16 (from the 24 that was existing) and gave 8 to associations wholly or mainly composed of Europeans.
Strong exception was also taken to the Bill due to the fact that it was not in consonance with the principles of Local Self Government laid down in the time of Lord Ripon.
I have not been able to place the exact location of Spring Gardens. This seems to have been the residence of the Rajah of Pithapuram, Rajah Ram Venkata Kumara Mahipati, Surya Rao Bahadur Garu as is seen from a book published in 1915. It is interesting to note that a Maharajah Surya Road exists even today in the Alwarpet-Teynampet area.
The 23rd Session of the Congress was held in Madras in 1908. This session was held in exceptional circumstances, having been adjourned from Surat where it was originally held in 1907. The move to Madras was caused due to a split in the party over the election of the President. Dr.Rash Bihari Ghose had been elected President for the session but it was suggested that Lala Lajpat Rai be elected President. Matters came to a head when Bala Ganagadhara Tilak made an attempt to move a motion, either for adjournment or for the Presidential election. Chaotic scenes followed as he attempted to address the delegates who had refused to listen to him. A riot broke out and in perhaps one of the early instances of its kind, a shoe was flung at the dais and the unfortunate recipient was Sir Pherozeshah Mehta, the famous Parsi lawyer and political figure!!. The meeting was declared adjourned and police had to clear the hall.
Following the drama, the Convention Committee met at Allahabad in April 1908 where a Constitution was drawn up for the Indian National Congress. Thus, Madras had the distinction of playing host to the first session held under a Constitution, in December 1908.
The session was held at Elphinstone Grounds, Mount Road and was held in far more pleasant circumstances than the earlier one.
More in the next post...