Remembering Freedom Fighters – C. Rajagopalachari: Gandhiji’s ‘conscience keeper’ –

via V.N.Gopalakrishnan published on July 15, 2011

Chakravarti Rajagopalachari popularly known as Rajaji or C.R. was an independence activist, ardent patriot, eminent statesman, astute politician, incisive thinker, pioneering social reformer, profound scholar, able administrator, lawyer and author. He personified the ideal of simple living and high thinking. He was the only Indian Governor General of independent India. Rajaji was a proponent of world peace and disarmament. A master of Sanskrit and Tamil literatures, he was a keen student of Hindu philosophy. He was a pious Hindu and was deeply religious. In the words of Jawaharlal Nehru, “Rajaji represents fundamentally the highest type of mind in India.” Richard Casey, Governor of Bengal regarded Rajaji as the wisest man in India. Gandhiji described him as the “keeper of my conscience”. He was one of the first recipients of Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award.

Considered as Gandhiji’s heir, Rajaji was regarded as one of the top five leaders of the Indian National Congress along with Jawaharlal Nehru, Rajendra Prasad, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. Of the five, Rajaji, Nehru and Patel were christened the “head, heart and hands” of Gandhiji, in whose shadows they remained till his death.
Rajaji commenced his legal practice in Salem in 1900. He became a member of the Salem Municipality in 1911 and was elected as Chairman in 1917. During his two-year tenure, he was responsible for the election of the first Dalit member of the Salem Municipality.
After Mahatma Gandhi joined the Indian independence movement in 1919, Rajaji became one of his followers. He participated in the agitations against the Rowlatt Act, Non-Cooperation movement, the Vaikom Satyagraha and the Civil Disobedience Movement. During this time, he gave up his law practice. In 1921, he was elected to the Congress Working Committee and served as the General Secretary. Rajaji was a staunch advocate of prohibition and was elected Secretary of the Prohibition League of India in 1930.

Rajaji emerged as one of the leaders of the Tamil Nadu Congress in the early 1930s. In response to the Dandi March, Rajaji led the Vedaranyam Salt Satyagraha in 1937 and was imprisoned. Subsequently, he was elected as the President of the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee. Following enactment of the Government of India Act in 1935, Rajaji was instrumental in getting the Indian National Congress to participate in the 1937 general elections. He was elected Premier of the Madras Presidency and served till 1940. At the outbreak of the World War II, Rajaji resigned as Premier in protest against Britain’s declaration of war on Germany. However, he later advocated dialogue with Britain’s war efforts and opposed the Quit India Movement. He also advocated dialogue with the Muslim League which was demanding the partition of India.

Rajaji served as the Minister for Industry, Supply, Education and Finance in the Interim Government headed by Jawaharlal Nehru. When India attained independence on August 15, 1947, the British province of Bengal was divided into two, with West Bengal becoming part of India and East Bengal part of Pakistan. Rajaji was appointed first Governor of West Bengal and his priorities were to deal with refugees and to bring peace and stability.

In the absence of Lord Mountbatten, Rajaji served as Acting Governor General of India from November 10, 1947 till November 24, 1947. He led a simple life in the Viceregal Palace, washing his own clothes and polishing his own shoes! Later, he served as Governor General of India from June 1948 until January 26, 1950. He joined the Union Cabinet as Minister without Porfolio in 1950 at the invitation of Jawaharlal Nehru. After the death of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Rajaji was made the Home Affairs Minister on December 15, 1950. By the end of 1951, the differences between Nehru and Rajaji surfaced and Rajaji submitted his resignation on the “grounds of ill-health” and returned to Madras.

From 1952 to 1954, Rajaji served as Chief Minister of Madras State. During his tenure, Rajaji issued the Temple Entry Authorization and Indemnity Act 1939, under which restrictions were removed on Dalits entering Hindu temples. His tenure as Chief Minister of Madras is largely remembered for the compulsory introduction of Hindi in educational institutions. At the same time, he called for Tamil to be introduced as the medium of instruction in schools. However, he was accused of being pro-Sanskrit and pro-Hindi, despite his vehement protests against the imposition of Hindi. He also introduced Prohibition in the state. Attributing poor health, Rajaji resigned as Chief Minister on April 13, 1954 and took a temporary break from active politics.

On June 4, 1959, Rajaji, along with Murari Vaidya and Minoo Masani, announced the formation of the Swatantra Party representing coalition of interests opposed to the Congress. The Party was fundamentally conservative and anti-Communist, supporting free enterprise and the reduction of the Central government’s control of the states. He sharply criticised the bureaucracy and coined the term “License-Permit Raj”. The Party stood against the Congress in the 1962, 1967 and 1972 elections.

Rajaji was an accomplished writer who made lasting contributions to Indian literature. He wrote a Tamil re-telling of the Sanskrit epic Ramayana which appeared as a serial in the Tamil magazine Kalki. The episodes were collected and published later as Chakravarthi Thirumagan, a book which won Rajaji the 1958 Sahitya Academy award in Tamil language. In 1922, he published Siraiyil Tavam (Meditation in jail), an account of his first imprisonment by the British. In 1951, he wrote an abridged retelling of the Mahabharata in English. He had also translated Kambar’s Tamil Ramayana into English. In 1965, he translated the Thirukkural into English and wrote books on the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads in English as well as works on Socrates and Marcus Aurelius in Tamil. He is also credited with composition of the song Kurai Onrum Illai devoted to Lord Krishna, set to Carnatic music. He composed a benediction hymn sung by M.S. Subbulakshmi at the UN General Assembly in 1967.

Rajaji was also one of the founders of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, an organisation dedicated to the promotion of education and Indian culture. In 1959 the Bhavan published his book: “Hinduism: Doctrine and Way of Life”. He was also the founder of the Salem Literary Society and the Tamil Scientific Terms Society in 1916.

Rajaji was born into a devout Iyengar family of Thorapalli in the Salem district of Tamil Nadu on December 10, 1878. His father was Chakravarti Venkatarya Iyengar and mother Singaramma. As a young child, he was admitted to a village school in Thorapalli, and then at the age of five moved with his family to Hosur where Rajaji enrolled at the Hosur Government School. He passed his matriculation examinations in 1891 and graduated in arts from Central College, Bangalore in 1894. He also studied law at the Presidency College, Madras from where he graduated in 1897. Rajaji married Alamelu Mangamma in 1897 and the couple had two sons and two daughters.

During his lifetime, Rajaji also acquired the nickname ‘Mango of Salem’. Referring to Rajaji, Sarojini Naidu remarked that ‘the Madras fox was a dry logical Adi Shankaracharya while Nehru was the noble, compassionate Buddha’. Rajaji died on December 25, 1972 at the age of 94.

(Author is Freelance Journalist and social activist. He can be contacted on [email protected])

Welcome to Haindava Keralam! Register for Free or Login as a privileged HK member to enjoy auto-approval of your comments and to receive periodic updates.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 characters available

11 + 13 =

Latest Articles from Bharath Focus

Did You Know?