Chakravarti Rajagopalachari was born on 10 December 1878 in Thorapalli, Madras Presidency, British India & died on 25 December 1972 in Madras, Tamil Nadu, India, informally called Rajaji or C.R., was an Indian lawyer, Indian independence activist, politician, writer, statesman and leader of the Indian National Congress who was the last Governor-General of India. He served as the 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 was one of the first recipients of India’s highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna. Rajaji vehemently opposed the use of nuclear weapons and was a proponent of world peace and disarmament. He was also nicknamed the Mango of Salem.
Rajagopalachari was born to Chakravarti Venkatarya Iyengar and Singaramma in a devout Iyengar family of Thorapalli in the Madras Presidency. Chakravarti Iyengar was the munsiff of Thorapalli. He was the youngest of the couple’s three children, all sons, the others being Narasimhachari and Srinivasa. According to popular folklore, while Rajagopalachari 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.”
Rajagopalachari 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, he was admitted to a village school in Thorapalli. When he was five, the family moved to Hosur where Rajaji enrolled at Hosur Government School. Rajagopalachari 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, graduating in 1897.
In 1900 he started a prosperous legal practice. 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 Premier of Madras Presidency and served until 1940, when he resigned due to Britain’s declaration of war against Germany.
He later 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, Rajagopalachari 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. Rajagopalachari 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 controversial Madras Scheme of Elementary Education 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”.
When Mahatma Gandhi joined the Indian independence movement in 1919, Rajagopalachari 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 Indian National Congress session at Gaya in which he strongly opposed collaborating with the colonial administration and participating in the diarchial legislatures established by Government of India Act 1919.
In the absence of Gandhi who was in prison, Rajagopalachari led the group of “No-Changers” or those who were against contesting elections for the Imperial Legislative Council and other provincial legislative councils, against the “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. He was also involved in the Vaikom Satyagraha during 1924-25.
In 1971, Annadurai’s successor M. Karunanidhi relaxed prohibition laws in Tamil Nadu due to the poor financial situation prevailing in the state. Rajagopalachari pleaded with him not to repeal prohibition but to no avail. As a result, the Swatantra Party withdrew its support to the state government and allied with the Congress (O), a breakaway faction of the Indian National Congress led by Kamaraj.
In January 1971, a three-party anti-Congress coalition was established by the Congress (O), Jan Sangh and the Samyukta Socialist Party. On January 8, 1971, the national executive of the Swatantra Party took a unanimous decision to join the coalition. The dissident parties formed an alliance called the National Democratic Front and fought against the Indian National Congress led by Indira Gandhi in the 1971 Indian general elections. However, the alliance fared badly. The Swatantra Party’s tally was reduced to 8 seats from 23 in the 1967 elections. The decline of the Swatantra Party was also visible in the 1971 Tamil Nadu Legislative assembly elections in which it won just 19 seats down from 27 in the 1967 elections.
By November 1972, Rajagopalachari’s health had begun to decline. On 17 December 1972, a week after his 94th birthday, Rajagopalachari was admitted to General Hospital with uraemia, dehydration and urinary infection. At hospital, he was visited by Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, V. R. Nedunchezhiyan, V. V. Giri, Periyar and other state and national leaders. Rajagopalachari’s condition deteriorated in the following days as he frequently lost consciousness. Rajagopalachari died at 5:44 p.m. on 25 December 1972 at the age of 94. His son C. R. Narasimhan was beside him at the time of his death reading to him verses from a Hindu holy book.
ajagopalachari married Alamelu Mangamma in 1897. The couple had four children – two sons and two daughters. Mangamma died in 1916 and Rajaji took the sole responsibility of taking care of his children. Rajagopalachari’s son C. R. Narasimhan was elected to the Lok Sabha from Krishnagiri in the 1952 and 1957 elections and served as a Member of Parliament for Krishnagiri from 1952 to 1962. He later wrote a biography of Rajagopalachari. Rajagopalachari’s daughter Lakshmi was married to Devdas Gandhi, son of Mahatma Gandhi. His grandsons include biographer Rajmohan Gandhi, philosopher Ramchandra Gandhi and former governor of West Bengal Gopalkrishna Gandhi.