A far-sighted visionary (1883-1959)
There is a road in Bangalore named Sampige Road. Sampige stands for the flowering tree Magnolia Champaca or champak tree. Apparently the road was once full of these sweetly scented flowers, and hence the name. And this was all thanks to the then Diwan of Mysore – Sir Mirza Ismail.
Mirza Ismail was a visionary, an eminent personality, who gave much focus to administrative reforms, beautification of the city and to industrialisation. During his tenure as Diwan of Mysore and Jaipur, he got involved in developmental activities and earned praise from the Maharajas as well as British officials.
Mirza Ismail was born in Bangalore in 1883. He did his schooling at St. Patrick’s School and in Wesleyan Mission High School, before he was selected to study with Maharaja Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV of Mysore. He graduated from Central College Bangalore. After a series of appointments at the Mysore Police Service and Civil service, and later as assistant secretary and Huzur secretary, he became the private secretary to the Maharaja in 1923. In 1926 at the young age of 42, he was made the Diwan of Mysore, a post which he held until 1941. A far sighted leader, a lot of development works were taken up in the city during his time. He built the central bus station in the city complete with all amenities – restaurants, washrooms, drinking water etc., for the convenience of the public. The Chamaraja Reservoir came up during his time. It helped tide the city in case of monsoon failures. He gave much importance to minor irrigation works of the state. The ganjam figs grown near in the village of Ganjam near Srirangapatna were famous in Tipu Sultan’s times and were gradually vanishing due to scarcity of water. These were revived during his tenure.
He worked for the upliftment of villages, focusing on electricity, good roads, hospitals and educational institutions. He established the Mysore Medical College. During his tenure, Mysore was the first state to provide electric power to around 500 villages. His love of gardens was well known. He established the famous Brindavan gardens at Mysore. He was of the opinion that all government institutions should present a clean appearance and boast of a garden with flowering trees.
He started many commercial enterprises. Several industries related to steel, sugar, fertilisers, porcelain, glass, aircrafts etc., came up during his tenure. Two hydroelectric projects at Shimsha and at Jog falls were also undertaken during his times. The construction of Irwin Canal brought in much prosperity to Mandya. He also set up a sugar factory in Mandya.
His faith was not a barrier for progression. He refused to lend his support to the Muslim League’s demand for a separate nation. He promoted Sanskrit language and supported institutions such as the Sanskrit College of Mysore. It was during his time that the 21st World Conference of Student Christian Institution was held in Mysore – the first in Asia.
After his retirement he became the Diwan of Jaipur in 1942 and served the city for four years. Here too he got involved in town planning and beautification. The Maharaja of Jaipur named a road after him seeing the efforts he had put in improving the city.
In Hyderabad he was a Diwan for a period of ten months. He was one of the eminent personalities to participate in the Round Table conferences happening at London He believed that local governments should be given powers to handle the day to day affairs, and a strong central government should look after the national interests.
He was a people’s man. He started ‘meet the people’ sessions twice a week where the common man could meet him and tell him their troubles. It was also a means to check corruption in the higher ranks. He also inspected the city weekly, visiting people from all communities and hearing their problems. Today’s leaders can take a cue from him. His farsightedness, zeal, commitment to his duties and loyalty to the country serve as an inspiration for future generations. He died in 1959 at his Bangalore residence.