Remembering C Rajagopalachari (Raja ji)
My life’s proud moments can be related to two incidents without knowing what they meant then, later as narrated by my family. In the first incident, my father took me to a house on Thirumalai Pillai road, where men had gathered and were talking in hushed-hushed tones. The main reason for taking a small child to such a place comes with a hidden reason of giving my mother some respite from me and my tantrums. My father carried me to the room where the person he was supposed to meet was. One look at my father and me, asked immediately calling him by his name, so we have a young visitor today? The answer from my father was, couldn’t be managed at home, hence this outing. He asked me to be brought near him, took me, and perched me on his lap. The moment I went closer to him and changed hands, one look at him I started howling to my heart’s content. Readers, this was none other than our great leader Sri Kamaraj ji who sported a big mush and eyes so big. I am sure that those who saw him for the first time would definitely be daunted and intimidated by his physical aura.
The second incident, my father’s most visited frequent place on Bazulla Road, he took me there with a strict warning I should be quiet, and no tantrums, for which I shall be rewarded with goodies on our way back home. The person I saw as a very young child, was seated on a wooden easy chair, very frail looking, sporting dark glasses, next to him was the wooden walking cane. Thankfully, there were no tantrums at all as I wasn’t taken near him. I remember having met Raja ji at his home date vividly. Writing about him gives me immense pleasure and honour. I want to reveal the many facets of him both in the personal and political arena. Many great scholars have written about him and I would like to share with my readers Raja ji as I see and admire him. The family was called “Chakravarthy” which means king of kings for their services to humanity, even when they were treated as outcasts by their own brahmin community, be it for conducting the last rites of a Harijan by one of his ancestors or for serving food to a Harijan by Raja ji in his younger days for which he was also punished.
As a student, Raja ji (C Rajagopalachari) was way ahead of his peers, and he was looked upon as a scholar, eminent speaker, and articulator, and the timing of his comments was legendary. So much so that when he was a student at law college, an interesting incident happened. Swami Vivekananda chose to visit Madras then, he was homed in the same hostel where Raja ji was staying. Swami Vivekananda wanted to have a look around and came into the room where Raja ji stayed. Immediately Swami asked Raja ji who had hung a picture of Lord Krishna, “Why is Krishna always blue in hue? Pat reply from Raja ji was “the sea is limitless, so is the sky, so both are blue, God is also boundless so his hue is also in blue”. That day the thought that came into Swami Vivekananda’s mind was that this young boy would rise to eminence and would become very famous. A soothsay that came true.
As we travel back to his start of a bright career as an independent lawyer, at Salem, he started handling criminal, most difficult cases of those times. Owing to his immense knowledge of the law combined with natural intelligence, and fearlessness, brought him seemingly great fame, success, and wealth. One such incident reported was when he represented as a counsel Varadarajulu Naidu, who was arrested for speaking against the government, Raja ji when on every day of the hearing stood up to speak for his client, he was asked by the judge then humbly, be seated. The next day Raja ji politely stood up at the outset and said. “I have and hold you in great respect Honourable Judge sir, but if like a teacher in a classroom, Your Honour asks me to sit down, I shall not be able to discharge my duty and it will not add to the dignity of this court”. Immediately realizing his folly, the Honourable Judge apologized to Raja ji, which was a rare phenomenon then, and won the case for his client with his undeniable arguments’.
As a young and prominent person in Salem, his intense thoughts followed by his actions were towards the betterment of the Harijans and downtrodden people is highly commendable, when he saw people treating them with hatred. I see him as a CRUSADER OF ALL EVILS, when he started adult education, night schools for factory workers, and schools for Harijans were all opened. During this time, he set up a committee to prepare a glossary in Tamil for science subjects so that they could be taught in the same language. He also ensured that a plan was made for water to reach the Harijans. Education is the only way, which can stop people from being stuck at what they are and that’s the only way to redeem themselves from their society and look forward to a changed and better lives, this was his foresight.
Raja ji’s travel on ERADICATION OF UNTOUCHABILITY, remained after he became a politician, and he admitted Harijans into the hostel much to the chagrin of others. The NO TEMPLE entry for Harijans was fought by Raja ji with such severity that once when Harijan ash smeared on his arms and forehead, singing hymns on God, was shooed away from entering a temple and was prosecuted by some fanatics, on reading about this from a daily newspaper, Raja ji took the case on himself and fought for his cause. He tried very hard to bring in a bill to remove this evil in the society rampantly present then, though he brought it to the floor of the assembly he didn’t succeed, he was the first person to work for legislation for the removal of untouchability. He admitted lots of Harijans into his Gandhi Ashram and his cook was a washerman.
While talking about friends and friendship for life his camaraderie with fellow human beings remains unbeatable to this day. Gandhiji called Raja ji always his CONSCIENCE KEEPER, this was owing to his steadfast, firm belief in what ideology he believed in and practiced. A Khadi lover all his life, led a simple life this may be said as a common factor between Gandhi ji and Raja ji. Raja ji was the Governor of Bengal way back in 1947-48 for about ten months only, Gandhiji was camped at Beliaghat and he would go over to his camp breaking all the protocols that the position demanded. He had unflinching faith in Gandhiji’s philosophy and principles.
Another incident that Raja ji was said to have done surpassing all the protocols was, he wasn’t the likened person by the people of Bengal for the position of Governor of Bengal though he was appointed just to ease the BENGAL partition and its aftermaths. This was so when he was appointed as the Governor of Bengal, which was vociferously opposed by Sarat Chandra Bose whose words were “outrage on Bengal’s sentiments”. This was because of Raja ji’s choice of Gandhi ji’s militant non-violent cooperation over Chitaranjan Das’s promotion of council entry. His barbs against the Bengal party at the banks of the Narmada river in later years, where he openly said its better to travel on a boat whose captain is Mahatma Gandhi and the other boat however seemingly it may look attractive with new paint, the flag will drown the people in the middle of the river as it has too many holes. He made amends with the irked Sarat Chandra Bose by visiting him in person and getting himself endeared by the Bengalis, who asked him to preside over their cabinet meetings.
His long-term friendship turned familial and political connections with Gandhi ji is no surprise at all that, when Gandhi ji died he was the Governor of Bengal, he attended the last rites of Gandhi ji and brought back his ash urn to immerse it in Hooghly river. The day he travelled by boat almost to the middle of the river, as he got up to throw the ashes into the river, his body swayed forward, and immediately two people standing close to him held him back. Later when questioned about what had happened to him, he said “the ashes were pulling him forward and he couldn’t stop himself from leaning forwards”.
Raja ji’s verbal duels with Nehru ji which still talk about his political prowess, and people’s welfare. He was against the LICENSE-PERMIT RAJ, the Nehruvian idea in 1956, thought to be a completely leftist idea. Raja ji was averse to this idea for the simple reason it would take away the individual right to decide what, how, when to produce, and the pricing of the same. All the industries would be state-controlled and lose the individual free-thinking, and implementing rights and definitely would take away the individual’s movement and freedom. Another issue was the leftist idea of Nehru to make all the lands commonly owned was also met with the same negative aplomb by Raja ji that he went on to say, that countries like Russia and China cultivated commonly but did not take away the ownership of the farmers. At times Nehru’s blind thoughts and actions, not considering the impact they would have on peoples’ lives bothered Raja ji so much, that, at one stage he seemed to be opposing what Nehru stood for. It was so obvious in the political arena.
He opposed Nehruvian leftist inclination throughout that he was appointed as a leader for the newly founded party SWARAJYA PARTY in the year 1959, only as a counter to Nehru. He tried forming small opposition groups but nothing worked out. As a mark of respect and friendship on hearing the news of Nehru’s death, these were his words, it read “Eleven years younger than me, 11 times more important for the Nation and eleven hundred times more beloved to the Nation, Sri Nehru has suddenly departed from our midst and I remain alive to hear the sad news – and bear the shock…I am unable to gather my wits. I have been fighting Sri Nehru all these 10 years for what I consider faults in public policies. But I knew all along that he alone could get them corrected…A beloved friend is gone, the most civilized person among us all. God save our people”.
Nehru was always quick to react and nipped in the bud when the opposition faced him. Raja ji’s presence of mind is immaculate that when there was a proposal by Lord Mountbatten to make him the High Commissioner to Britain to help Nehru, Raja ji immediately retorted back, “You and Edwina are so intensely interested in Jawaharlal Nehru that, may I say, you have no eyes to see or mind to think about others”.
In the years between 1935 and 1937 Raja ji then the proverbial predictor ahead of his times, as the Prime Minister of Madras, wanted Hindi to be included as part of the school curriculum, the then justice party and DK ideology people strongly protested and conducted severe agitations that he had to withdraw later. Likewise, in 1952-1954, when he brought in “kula kavli thittam” that’s the students got to spend only three hours a day instead of six hours of six-day school, go back home after three hours so sons help their fathers’ in learning their family arts, crafts, profession, and the girls get to learn household chores. This was opposed strongly because the time they get to spend in school for socialization gets reduced as propagated by Gandhiji. This was included in the 2020 New Education Policy and is worth mentioning.
He was a loner who fought all his battles all alone, had he gotten more support from people each and every decision of his would have been long implemented. He even included people, and politicians who came from different strata and different ideologies in the year 1972, he touched the forehead of Karunanidhi and blessed him when he had come to meet him after he won the elections and became the Chief Minister.
Having been born into an orthodox Brahmin family, he never thought of himself to be great by birth, or status, as he proved time and again that his thoughts, intellect, and actions, were greater than the man himself. He led such a simple life, that when his postings went up and down position wise he hardly gave them another thought but did his best for the position he was asked to take over. His post-independence position as the last Governor General of India lasted from 1948 to 1950 exactly for 20 months till India became a republic on January 26th, 1950. 1952-54 saw him as the Chief Minister of Madras.
His wife died very young and he became a widower at the early age of 35 with five children to be looked after, when relatives started to pressurize him to get married again, pat came his reply, “I will get married then, I will have another kid and I will have to look after all the six of them”. His sense of dry humour had never lost its charm or got misplaced with people who understood him correctly for what he was.
Having died on 25th December 1972, at the age of 94, the three most important traits I admire in Raja ji are, his fearlessness be it expressing his thoughts, and actions. He did them with undaunting courage. The second trait would be his extraordinary genius. The third important trait would be his service-mindedness. Though brahmin born he had to take in his stride the wrath, and snide remarks from his own clan for all that he was doing for the betterment of the lives of the Harijans and Dalit. Some writers say that he was way too fond of Christ and Christians equally to Hindus that he died on 25th December, why it didn’t happen on any other day?
1. Text in Blue points to additional data on the topic.
2. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.
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