C. Rajagopalachari (Rajaji) was born on 10th December 1878 to Chakravarti Venkatarya Iyengar, munsiff of Thorapalli village and Singaramma into a devout Iyengar family of Thorapalli in the then Salem district of Tamil Nadu in the Madras Presidency. Rajaji was a constant worry to his parents who feared that he might not live long as he was a weak and sickly child. He was initially admitted to a village school in Thorapalli. However, when he was five years old, he moved to Hosur with his family where he got enrolled in the Hosur Government School.
He passed his matriculation examinations in the year 1891 and graduated in arts from the Central College in Bangalore in the year 1894. Rajaji also studied law in the Presidency College in Madras where from he graduated in the year 1897. Rajagopalachari married Alamelu Mangamma in the year 1897 and the couple had four children, two sons and two daughters. Mangamma died in the year 1916 and then Rajaji took sole responsibility for the care of his children. His son C. R. Narasimhan was elected to the Lok Sabha from Krishnagiri in the year 1952 and 1957 elections and served as a Member of Parliament for Krishnagiri from 1952 to 1962.
He later wrote a biography of his father. Rajaji’s daughter Lakshmi married Devdas Gandhi, the son of Mahatma Gandhi. Rajaji’s grandsons include biographer Rajmohan Gandhi, philosopher Ram Chandra Gandhi and former governor of West Bengal Gopalkrishna Gandhi.
Role in Indian Freedom Movement:
C. Rajagopalachari started legal practice in Salem in the year 1900 and gradually became prosperous. His interest in public affairs and politics began when he commenced his legal practice. He was inspired by Indian independence activist Bal Gangadhar Tilak in the early 1900s. In the year 1911, he became a member of the Salem municipality and in the year 1917, he was elected Chairman of the municipality and served from 1917 to 1919. During this time, he was responsible for the election of the first Dalit member of the Salem municipality.
Rajaji joined the Indian National Congress and participated as a delegate in the 1906 Calcutta session and the 1907 Surat session. In the year 1917, he defended Indian independence activist P. Varadarajulu Naidu against charges of sedition and two years later he participated in the agitations against the Rowlatt Act. After Mahatma Gandhi joined the Indian Independence Movement in the year 1919, Rajaji became one of his followers. He participated in the Non Corporation movement and gave up his law practice.
In the year 1921, he was elected to the Congress Working Committee and served as the General Secretary of the party before making his first major breakthrough as a leader during the 1922 Indian National Congress session in Gaya. During the time when Gandhi was in prison, Rajaji led the group ‘No-Changers’ individuals against contesting elections for the Imperial Legislative Council and other provincial legislative councils. When the Indian National Congress split up in the year 1923, Rajaji was a member of the Civil Disobedience Enquiry Committee. He was also involved in the Vaikom Satyagraha movement against untouchability during the year 1924-25.
During the early 1930s, Rajaji emerged as one of the major leaders of the Tamil Nadu Congress. When Mahatma Gandhi organized the Dandi March in 1930, Rajaji broke the salt laws at Vedaranyam near Nagapattinam along with Indian Independence activist Sardar Vedaratnam and was afterwards imprisoned by the British. Subsequently after that, he was elected president of the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee. Following the 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.
The Indian National Congress first came into power in the Madras Presidency following the 1937 elections. Rajaji was the first premier of the Madras presidency from the Congress party. He issued the Temple Entry Authorization and Indemnity Act 1939, under which restrictions were removed on Dalits and Shanars entering Hindu temples. He also issued the Agricultural Debt Relief Act on March 1938 to ease the burden of debt on the province’s peasant population. He also introduced prohibition along with sales tax to compensate for the loss of government revenue that resulted from the ban on alcohol. Rajaji’s tenure as the Chief Minister was largely remembered for the compulsory introduction of Hindi in educational institutions which made him highly unpopular.
This measure sparked off widespread anti-Hindu protests, which led to violence in some places. The unpopular law was finally repealed by the Governor of Madras on 21st February 1940. During the Second World War, Rajaji resigned as premier along with other members in protest at the declaration of war by the Viceroy of India. Rajaji was arrested on December 1940 and sentenced to one year in prison. Rajaji also opposed the Quit India Movement and instead advocated dialogue with the British. He also advocated dialogue with the Muslim League which was demanding partition of India.
He proposed talks with Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Muslim League which later came to be popularly known as C. R. Formula. During the last years of the war, Rajaji was instrumental in initiating negotiations between Gandhi and Jinnah. During the same year, he proposed a solution to the Indian Constitutional tangle. From the year 1946 to 1947, Rajaji served as a Minister for Industry, Supply, Education and Finance in the Interim Government headed by Jawaharlal Nehru.
Role as the Governor of India:
When India attained her independence, the British province of Bengal was divided into two, with West Bengal becoming a part of India and East Bengal being a part of Pakistan. As supported by Jawaharlal Nehru, Rajaji was appointed the first Governor of West Bengal. However, due to his criticism of Bengali revolutionary Subhas Chandra Bose, his appointment was highly opposed by Bose’s brother Sarat Chandra Bose. During his term as Governor, his priorities were to deal with refuges and to bring peace and stability in the after math of the Calcutta riots. He was also strongly opposed to proposals to include areas from Bihar and Orissa as a part of the province of West Bengal.
C. Rajagopalachari also served as an acting Governor General of India from 10th November to 24th November 1947 in the absence of Governor General Lord Mountbatten. Later, Lord Mountbatten made his second choice to succeed him after Vallabhbhal Patel as the Governor General. However, later it was Gopalachari who was chosen to be the first successor and his served in that position from June 1948 to 26th January 1950. He was not only the last Governor General of India, but also the only Indian national to hold that position.
Role in Indian Politics:
Later in the year 1950, on Jawaharlal Nehru’s invitation, Rajaji joined the Union Cabinet as a Minister without portfolio where he served as a buffer between Nehru and Sardar Patel. Following Patel’s death on 15th December 1950, Rajaji was finally made the Home Affairs Minister and went on to serve for nearly 10 months. He warned Nehru on the expansionist designs of China and expressed regret over the Tibet problem. By the end of the year 1951, the differences between Nehru and Gopalachari came to the forefront. Later, tired of being persistently overruled by Nehru with regard to critical decisions, Rajaji submitted his resignation on ‘ill health grounds’ and returned to Madras.
In the 1952 Madras elections, the Indian National Congress was reduced to a minority in the state assembly. Despite the fact that Rajaji did not participate, the Madras Governor Sri Prakasa appointed him as the Chief Minister after nominating him to the Madras legislative Council without consulting either Nehru or other ministers. Rajagopalachari during his tenure as a Chief Minister, a powerful movement for a separate Andhra state, comprising the Telugu speaking districts of the Madras states gained a foothold. On 19th October 1952, an activist Potti Sriramulu embarked on a hunger strike demanding inclusion of a Madras city within the proposed state. Rajaji however refused to budge.
The activist eventually died on 15th December 1952 and riots triggered throughout the state. This led to the creation of the Andhra State on 1st October 1953 from the Telugu speaking districts of Madras with its headquarters in Kurnool. On 31st May 1952, Rajaji put and end to sugar rationing and followed up by abolishing control over food supplies on 5th June 1952. He also introduced measures to regulate the running of universities of the state. In the year 1953, he introduced a new education scheme known as the ‘Modified System of ‘Elementary Education’ which reduced schooling for elementary school students to three hours per day. The plan led to protests and criticism by the Dravidian parties.
The rising unpopularity of his government forced parties to withdraw support for him and on 26th march 1954; he resigned as the President of the Madras Legislature Congress party. Rajaji eventually resigned as a Chief Minister on 13th April 1954. After his resignation as a Chief Minister, he took a temporary break from active politics and instead devoted his time to literary pursuits.
Formation of Swatantra Party:
On 26th January 1955, C. Rajagopalachari was honored with India’s highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna. He forwarded his official resignation from the Indian National Congress and organized the Congress Reform Committee along with other dissidents on January 1957. K. S. Venkatakrishna Reddiar was elected President/ the committee became a full fledged political party and was renamed as the Indian National Democratic Congress at a state conference held in Madurai on 28th to 29th September 1957. On 4th June, 1959, shortly after the Nagpur session of the Indian National Congress, Rajaji along with Murari Vaidya and Minoo Masani announced the formation of the new Swatantra Party at a meeting in Madras.
He outlined the goals of the party though twenty one fundamental principles. On 26th January 1950, when Hindi was adopted official language of India, the Government also introduced a provision that in the non-Hindi speaking areas, English be the second official language. However, from 26th January 1965, Hindi became the sole official language and people in non-Hindi speaking areas were compelled to learn Hindi. On 28th January 1956, Rajaji thereby signed a resolution along with Annadurai and Periyar endorsing the continuation of English as the official language. However, the stand stood Hindi being the official language.
In the year 1971, Annadurai’s successor M. Karunanidhi relaxed prohibition laws in Tamil Nadu due to the poor financial situation in the state. Rajaji pleaded with him not to do so but to no avail. This resulted in the Swatantra party withdrawing its support for the state government and instead allied with the Congress (O), a breakaway faction of the Indian National Congress led by Kamaraj.
Death of Rajagopalachari:
By November 1972, Rajaji’s health begun to decline and on 17th December he was admitted to hospital with multiple diseases. His condition gradually deteriorated in the following days and on 25th December 1972, he died at the age of 94.
Contributions to Literature:
Chakravarti RajagopalachariC. Rajagopalachari was an accomplished writer and he used to write both in his mother tongue Tamil as well as in English. He was the founder of Salem Literary Society and regularly participated in its meetings. In the year 1922, he published the Siraiyil Tavam, a day to day account of his first imprisonment by the British from 21st December 1921 to 22nd March 1922. He also started the Tamil scientific Terms Society in the year 1916 and coined new words. During the same time, he called for Tamil to be introduced as the medium of instruction in schools.
In the year 1951, he wrote an abridged retelling of the Mahabharata in English followed by the Ramayana in 1957. He also translated the Kambar’s Tamil Ramayana to English in 1961 and the Thirukkurai into English in 1965. He also wrote books on the Bhagavad-Gita and Upanishads in English as well as works on Socrates and Marcus Aurelis into Tamil. Rajaji used to regard his literary works as the best service he rendered to the people. In the year 1958, he was awarded the Sahitya Akademi Award for his works on Tamil language. He was also one of the founders of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan which was dedicated to promotion of Indian culture and education. Apart form writings, Rajagopalachari also composed a devotional song ‘Kurai Onnum Illai’ devoted to Lord Krishna/ this song is set to music and a regular at most Carnatic concerts.
Rajaji also composed a benediction hymn sung by M. S. Subhalakshmi at the United Nations General Assembly in the year 1967.
The Entire Nation
(FAN OF Mr. CHAKRAVARTI RAJAGOPALACHARI)
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