Chakravarti Rajagopalachari

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Rajagopalachari Chakravarthi

Also Known As: "Rajaji"
Birthplace: Krishnagiri, Tamil Nadu, India
Death: December 25, 1972 (94)
Immediate Family:

Son of Chakravarti Venkatarya Iyengar and Singaramma Iyengar
Husband of Alamelu Mangamma Rajagopalachari
Father of Chakravarti Narasimhan; Lakshmi Gandhi; Krishnaswamy CR; Ramaswami CR and Namagiri Ammal CR
Brother of Narasimhachari and Srinivasa

Occupation: Last Governor-General of India
Managed by: editoravs
Last Updated:

About Chakravarti Rajagopalachari

He was informally called Rajaji or C.R., was an Indian lawyer, Indian independence activist, politician, writer, statesman and leader of the Indian National Congress who served as the last Governor-General of India. He served as the Chief Minister or Premier of the Madras Presidency, Governor of West Bengal, Minister for Home Affairs of the Indian Union and Chief Minister of Madras state. He was the founder of the Swatantra Party and the first recipient of India's highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna. Rajaji vehemently opposed the usage of nuclear weapons and was a proponent of world peace and disarmament. He was also nicknamed the Mango of Salem.

Rajagopalachari was born in Thorapalli in the then Salem district and was educated in Central College, Bangalore and Presidency College, Madras. In 1900 he started a prosperous legal practise. He entered politics and was a member and later President of Salem municipality. He joined the Indian National Congress and participated in the agitations against the Rowlatt Act, the Non-Cooperation movement, the Vaikom Satyagraha and the Civil Disobedience movement. In 1930, he led the Vedaranyam Salt Satyagraha in response to the Dandi March and courted imprisonment. In 1937, Rajaji was elected Chief Minister or Premier of Madras Presidency and served till 1940, when he resigned due to Britain's declaration of war against Germany. He advocated cooperation over Britain's war effort and opposed the Quit India Movement. He favoured talks with Jinnah and the Muslim League and proposed what later came to be known as the "C. R. Formula". In 1946, he was appointed Minister of Industry, Supply, Education and Finance in the interim government. He served as the Governor of West Bengal from 1947 to 1948, Governor-General of India from 1948 to 1950, Union Home Minister from 1951 to 1952 and the Chief Minister of Madras state from 1952 to 1954. He resigned from the Indian National Congress and founded the Swatantra Party, which fought against the Congress in the 1962, 1967 and 1972 elections. Rajaji was instrumental in setting up a united Anti-Congress front in Madras state. This front under C. N. Annadurai captured power in the 1967 elections.

Rajaji was an accomplished writer and made lasting contributions to Indian English literature. He is also credited with composition of the song Kurai Onrum Illai set in Carnatic music. He pioneered temperance and temple entry movements in India and advocated Dalit upliftment. Rajaji has been criticized for introducing the compulsory study of Hindi and the Hereditary Education Policy in Tamil Nadu. Critics have often attributed his pre-eminence in politics to his being a favorite of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. Rajaji was described by Gandhi as the "keeper of my conscience".

Rajagopalachari was born to Chakravarti Venkatarya Iyengar and Singaramma on 10 December 1878 in a devout Vadagalai Iyengar family of Thorapalli in the Madras Presidency. Chakravarti Iyengar was the munsiff of Thorapalli.He was the third and youngest of the couple's three children, all sons, the elder being Narasimhachari and Srinivasa.According to popular folkore, while Rajaji was a child, an astrologer told his parents that he would have the "fortunes of a king, a guru, an exile and an outcaste. The people will worship him; they will also reject him. He will sit on an emperor's throne; he will live in a poor man's hut."

Rajaji was a weak and sickly child and was the subject of constant worry to his parents who feared that he might not live long. As a young child, Rajaji was admitted to a village school in Thorapalli. When Rajaji was five, the family moved Hosur where Rajaji enrolled at Hosur Government School.Rajaji 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, completing his graduation in 1897.

Indian Independence Movement:

Rajaji's interest in public affairs and politics began when he commmenced his legal practice in Salem in the year 1900. In the early 1900s, he was inspired by Indian radical Bal Gangadhar Tilak. Rajaji became a member of the Salem municipality in 1911. In 1917, Rajaji was elected Chairman of the municipality and served from 1917 to 1919.As Chairman of the Salem municipality, 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 1908, he defended Indian freedom fighter P. Varadarajulu Naidu from the charges of sedition levelled against him. He participated in the agitations against the Rowlatt Act in 1919.Rajaji was a close friend of V. O. Chidambaram Pillai. He was also highly admired by Indian independence activists Annie Besant and C. Vijayaraghavachariar.

When Mahatma Gandhi entered the Indian independence movement in 1919, Rajaji became one of his followers. He participated in the Non-Cooperation movement and gave up his profession as a lawyer. In 1921, he was elected to the Congress Working Committee and served as the General Secretary of the party. His first major breakthrough as a leader was the 1922 Gaya session of the Indian National Congress in which he strongly opposed council-entry.In the absence of Gandhi who was in prison, Rajaji lead the group of "No-Changers" or those who were against council-entry against "Pro-changers" or those who advocated council entry.When the motion was put to vote, the "No-changers" won by 1748 to 890 votes resulting in the resignation of important Congress leaders including Pandit Motilal Nehru and C. R. Das, the President of the Indian National Congress.When the Indian National Congress split in 1923, Rajaji was a member of the Civil Disobedience Enquiry Committee.

Rajaji was one of Gandhi's chief lieutenants during the Vaikom Satyagraha. It was during this time, that E. V. Ramasamy functioned as a Congress member under Rajaji's leadership. The two later became close friends and remained so till the end despite their political rivalry.

In the early 1930s, Rajaji emerged as one of the foremost 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 Sardar Vedaratnam and suffered imprisonment. Rajaji was subsequently elected President of the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee.When the Government of India Act was enacted in 1935, Rajaji was instrumental in getting the Indian National Congress to participate in the general elections.

Madras Presidency 1937-39:

Main article: Chief Ministership of Rajagopalachari

Premier Rajagopalachari at a rally in Ootacamund, 1939

The Indian National Congress was elected to power in 1937 election for the first time in Madras Presidency (also called Madras Province), a province of British India; with the exception of the six years when Madras was in a state of Emergency, ruled the Presidency until India became independent on 15 August 1947.Rajagopalachari was the first Chief Minister of Madras Presidency from the Congress party.

In Nehru's Cabinet:

In 1950 Rajaji joined the Union Cabinet as Minister without Porfolio, at Nehru's invitation.In the Union Cabinet, Rajaji served as a buffer between Nehru and Home Minister Patel and occasionally, offered to mediate between the two. Finally, with Patel's death on December 15, 1950, Rajaji was put in charge of Home Affairs, serving as the country's Home Minister for nearly 10 months. He warned Nehru about the expansionist designs of China and expressed regret over the Tibet problem, his views being shared with his predecessor Sardar Patel. He also expressed concern over demands made to establish new linguistically-based states, arguing that they would generate differences amongst the people.

By the end of 1951, the differences between Nehru and Rajaji came to the fore.While Nehru perceived the Hindu Mahasabha to be the greatest threat to the nascent republic, Rajaji held the opinion that the Communists posed the greatest danger to the nation. Rajaji also strongly opposed Nehru's decision to commute the death sentences awarded to those involved in the Telengana uprising and his strong pro-Soviet leanings. Tired of being persistently overruled by Nehru in making critical decisions, Rajaji submitted his resignation on "grounds of ill-health" and returned to Madras.

Contributions to literature and music"

Cover of a 2009 reprint of Rajagopalachari's Mahabharata published by the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan

See also: Works of Chakravarthi Rajagopalachari

Rajaji was an accomplished writer both in his mother tongue Tamil as well as English. He was the founder of the Salem Literary Society and regularly participated in its meetings. In 1922, he published a book Siraiyil Tavam (Meditation in jail) which was a day-to-day diary about his first imprisonment from 21 December 1921 to 20 March 1922.

In 1916, Rajaji started the Tamil Scientific Terms Society.This society coined new words in Tamil for terms connected to botany, chemistry, physics, astronomy and mathematics. At about the same time, he called for Tamil to be introduced as the medium of instruction in schools.

In 1951, Rajaji wrote an abridged retelling of the Mahabharata in English,followed by one of the Ramayana in 1957.Earlier, in 1961, he had translated Kambar's Tamil Ramayana into English.In 1965, he translated the Thirukkural into English. He also wrote books on the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads in English and Socrates, and Marcus Aurelius in Tamil.Rajaji often regarded his literary works as the best service he had rendered to the people.In 1958, he was awarded the Sahitya Akademi Award for Tamil for his retelling of the Ramayana - Chakravarti Thirumagan. Rajaji was one of the founders of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, an organisation dedicated to the promotion of education and Indian culture.

Apart from his literary works, Rajaji also composed a devotional song Kurai Onrum Illai devoted to Lord Krishna.This song was set to music and is a regular in most Carnatic concerts. Rajaji composed a benediction hymn which was sung by M. S. Subbulakshmi at the United Nations General Assembly in 1967.


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