by Jyotsna Kamat
First Online: August 02, 2004
Known as C.R. or 'Rajaji' to millions, Chakravarti Rajagopalachari was close to Gandhiji. In fact Gandhiji referred to him as, "the keeper of my conscience". A stalwart who imbibed Gandhiji's ideology and practised it privately, and publicly, he worked for the Congress Party for more than half a century. Same Rajaji, fell out of Congress, formed his own 'Swatantra' Party, because he was more than convinced that the ruling Congress had totally deserted Gandhi's principles and was turning 'despotic'. He symbolizes the disillusionment, the close associates of Gandhi witnessed two decades after gaining independence.
© K. L. Kamat
Rajaji was born in Thorapalli village of Salem District, Tamilnadu on 10th of December 1878. His father Chakravarti Venkataraya Iyengar hailed from Tamilnadu. His mother Singaramma came from Kuppam in Chittoor, in Andhra Pradesh. Rajaji himself had his schooling in Hosur and higher education in Central College of Bangalore of Karnataka. Even by birth and bringing up, he represented South India and fitted in with the title of Gandhi of South India!
As a student he developed great love for literature and later bloomed into a distinguished writer in Tamil and English. As was the custom, Rajaji had to marry early. His wife passed away after giving birth to three sons and two daughters. He started the legal practice at Salem after obtaining Law degree from Madras. His entry into politics, coincided with zeal for social reforms. He became Chairman of Municipal Council of Salem and started a crusade against caste system, and drinking of alcohol. He faced opposition from both ends, conservatives and the oppressed. But he was successful in introducing civic reforms.
His entry into national politics followed. In 1906 he attended Indian national Congress held at Surat. He actively supported Lokamanya Tilak. By 1918, the rift between moderates (Gokhale group) and extremists (Tilak group) was conspicuous. Rajaji had leaning for the latter. He worked for Tilak and Dr. Annie Besant.
With Tilak's death in 1920, leadership of freedom movement, passed on to Gandhiji. Rajaji by then had moved to Madras to practice at High Court and had built up a lucrative practice in no time. In the city, he could organize a whole team of radicals for social and political reforms.
Rajaji had met Gandhiji on earlier occasions, and soon became a member of his inner circle. He gave up legal practice and plunged into freedom movement. He organized provincial congress on sound footing. He was one of the first to court arrest as 'Satyagrahi'. Next quarter of a century he suffered jail-term, five times. He wrote several books during his internment, and edited 'Young India' during Gandhiji's imprisonment. He toured the entire country for the propagation of Gandhiji's constructive programs. Very soon his name reckoned among forefront leaders.
According to Gandhi's wish, he established an ashram in the famine-stricken village of Pudupalayam in Salem district and started swadeshi i.e., production of khadi cloth, campaign of eradication of untouchability and drinking. The Dandi March had a replica in the south led by Rajaji. The March from Tiruchi to Vedaranyam was an eye-opener to British Government. The freedom movement had caught the masses. The government order not to supply food and water to marchers went unheeded. Village after village welcomed the satyagrahis. Such was the organizing skill of Rajaji. He was acknowledged provincial leader of Madras after his jail-term.
Gandhi-Irwin pact and Government of India Act 1935, followed. Partial provincial autonomy and self rule was declared. Rajaji became premier of Madras Presidency.
Now, he had powers to implement the social reforms, he was striving for. The famous Meenakshi Temple of Madurai was opened to Harijans. Prohibition followed. He rescued farmers from the clutches of the land-lords by bringing in Agriculturists' Debt Relief Act. Sales tax, an innovation in revenue collection in India was introduced by Rajaji.
Quit India movement was declared and Rajaji resigned only to be arrested. He was released only after the Second World War was over.
India became free. He became the first Indian Governor General after Lord Mount Batten in 1948. Nehru wanted Rajaji to become the first President of free India as well. But Rajaji wanted 'retirement' from active politics and returned to Madras.
But, there could be no retirement to a leader of his stature, transparent personality and unquestionable caliber. Under pressure from admirers and followers he again had to seek election and served as Chief Minister for two years (1952-54).
Rajaji was a visionary. He knew what were India's prime ailments. He was against the formation of linguistic states. He thought, that would weaken India. He recommended manageable administrative zones. He was for retaining of English language as Official medium of Indian Union. He thought that for a country of multilingual existence, English was the remedy. He was also against the 'permit-license-quota-raj' which was taking roots.
We all know very well how the three factors Rajaji spoke against, worked havoc. The third one had the ugliest picture during Indira Gandhi's emergency period (1975-77).
As a great humanist, Rajaji could not bear the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In his later years he became a vehement opponent of Nuclear Weapon Tests. He wrote a book, 'Mankind Protests' which became quite popular. Mr. Khruschev as Head of Soviet Russia got it translated into Russian for wide circulation in his country. At the age of eighty-four, Rajaji undertook his only trip abroad, to plead with world statesmen to give up nuclear testing. He also met President Kennedy in this connection.
Rajaji was a prolific writer. He has written stories for children, He wrote about religion, philosophy, history, world events etc. He has translated Ramayana and Mahabharata. His analysis of Hinduism, Bhagavad-Gita and Indian Culture make an absorbing reading.
Rajaji knew Kannada well. One of his closest friends was Navaratna Rama Rao, also a well known writer and civil servant. Ram Rao has written some intimate memories of Rajaji in his memoirs, 'Kelavu Nenapugalu' a modern Kannada classic.
Rajaji breathed his last on 25th December 1972 at the age of 94.
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