Madan Mohan Malaviya was born in Allahabad on 25 December 1861. His ancestors were poor but had a social status and were known for their Sanskrit scholarship.
Madan Mohan's education began at the age of five when he was sent to Pandit Hardeva's Dharma Gyanopadesh Pathshala. Mohan who was a diligent boy, matriculated in 1879 and joined the Muir Central College and finally graduated from the Calcutta University in 1884.
He was appointed as a teacher in his old school on forty rupees a month and soon became popular amongst his pupils. As there were no rules in those days preventing government servants from attending political meetings he attended the second Congress session held in Calcutta in 1886 and delivered a speech which held the audience spell - bound.
AO Hume the General Secretary of the Congress made a very appreciative reference to it in his annual report. Soon after his return from Calcutta he was offered the editorship of the Hindi weekly, the 'Hindustan'. He also edited another weekly, the 'Indian Union'.
Malaviya wanted to devote himself entirely to the service of the country. The legal profession did not attract him though he studied law and passed the LL.B. examination in 1891. With few exceptions he regularly attended the annual Congress sessions from 1886 to 1936.
In 1887, he invited the Congress to Allahabad. During the session great enthusiasm prevailed among the delegates and its success was phenomenal. Malaviya was the Secretary of the Committee. He invited the Congress to Allahabad again in 1892, and again its success was largely due to his devoted efforts.
In the Congress sessions he spoke generally on the political subjection of the country, the poverty of the masses owing to the British economic policy and the monopoly of the higher posts by officers recruited in England. On account of his services to the Congress he was elected its President in 1909, 1918, 1932 and 1933, but owing to his arrest by the Government of India, he could not preside over the 1932 and 1933 sessions which had been banned.
Perhaps, he tried to popularise the national cause more than many other leaders. Although he was a strong supporter of the Congress he founded the Hindu Mahasabha in 1906. It was established, according to its supporters, to oppose not the just claims of the Muslim community but the "divide and rule" policy of the British Government.
Malaviya became a High Court Vakil in 1893. He always gave preference to public work over his legal work. He virtually withdrew from the legal profession in 1909 but he made an exception in 1922 in regard to the appeal of 225 persons condemned to death in connection with the Chauri Chaura riots (Gorakhpur District, U.P.) on account of which Mahatma Gandhi suspended the civil disobedience movement, and saved 153 accused from the gallows.
Malaviya's zeal for public work made him realise the necessity of starting newspapers particularly in Hindi, for the education of the public. He started the 'Abhyudaya' as a Hindi weekly in 1907 and made it a daily in 1915. He also started the 'Maryada' a Hindi monthly in 1910 and another Hindi monthly, in 1921.
He started the 'Leader' an English daily in October 1909. He was the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the 'Hindustan Times' from 1924 to 1946. In consequence of the active work that he did as Senior Vice - Chairman of the Allahabad Municipality, he was elected to the Provincial Legislative Council in 1902.
The ability and independence which marked his speeches in the Council led to his election in 1909 to the Imperial Legislative Council, of which he soon became one of the most important members. He participated in the debates on important resolutions, e.g. those relating to free and compulsory primary education, the prohibition of recruitment of Indian indentured labour to the British colonies, nationalisation of railways, etc.
He took a keen interest in the industrial development of the country and was therefore appointed a member of the Indian Industrial Commission in 1916. In view of the non-cooperation movement started by Mahatma Gandhi in 1920, he did not seek election to the Indian Legislative Assembly in 1921. But he was a member of the Assembly from 1924 to April 1930.
He resigned shortly after the salt satyagraha started by Mahatma Gandhi and took part in it. He supported the demand for the grant of full Dominion Status to India put forward by Pandit Motilal Nehru. He was invited to the Round Table Conference in 1931, but he inevitably returned dissatisfied with the attitude of the British Government.
The Benares Hindu University is a showcase of the keen interest that he took in the education of the mind and the spirit. The importance that he attached to the economic development of the country made him combine the teaching of science and technology with that of religion.
Malaviya was a conservative in social matters. He believed in the 'Varnashrama Dharma' (caste system). He was, however, prepared to adjust himself to social changes in the country to a limited extent, but wanted to take the leaders of the Hindu community and the Benares pandits with him in matters of social reform.
He felt strongly the injustice done to the depressed classes in connection with temple entry and pleaded their cause before the pandits in 1936. He also favoured the raising of the position of Hindu women. He occupied a very high position in Indian public life and his public activities were numerous.
The freedom struggle, the economic development of the country, promotion of indigenous industries, education, religion, social service, the development of Hindi and other matters of national importance continued to occupy his attention as long as he lived.
He was the President of the All India Seva Samity from 1914 till 1946. He was known for his gentleness and humility but he did not yield where principles were concerned. He had the courage to differ more than once with the Mahatma even at the risk of becoming unpopular.He opposed, for example, the boycott of schools and colleges, the burning of foreign cloth and the boycott of the visit of the Prince of Wales in 1921. It will be true to say that he considered responsive co - operation a better policy than civil disobedience.
“I appeal to my countrymen to wake up to the reality of the situation. I take it that every Indian wants that we should have complete freedom for the management of our own affairs. The attainment of this freedom will become easier if we unite and work with one mind and purpose to achieve it.
I implore all Hindus and Mussalmans, Sikhs, Christians and Parsees and all other countrymen to sink all communal differences and to establish political unity among all sections of the people. In the midst of much darkness, I see a clear vision that the clouds which have long been hanging over our heads are lifting. Let every son and daughter do his or her duty to expedite the advent of dawn of the day of freedom and happiness.
Truth is on our side. Justice is with us. God will help us. We are sure to win. Vande Mataram.”
From the Presidential Address - Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya I.N.C. Session, 1933, Calcutta.