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Chakravarti Rajagopalachari biography

Chakravarti Rajagopalachari

(1879-1972)

biography

Chakravarti Rajagopalachari
Chakravarti Rajagopalachari
Rajagopalachari was the most maverick of all the national leaders. Something of a rebel, he ended as a tragic hero. His political career was like a roller-coaster; from a chief-minister of a state to governor of a state, to governor general of India, to a minister in the Central Government and ending up again as the chief minister of Madras.
He has been praised for his sharp intellect and power of analysis. However, his political career as well as the type of causes for which he worked during his life time, do not demonstrate the kind of intellect for which he has been praised. He was a divisive leader; revered by some and bitterly resented by others.
Chakravarti Rajagopalachari (C.R.) was born in a middle-class family on 10 December 1879 to Singarammal and Chakravarti Iyengar. His father was a village munsiff in Thorapolli in Salem district. The family was orthodox Vaishnav Brahmin. Rajagopalachari had two elder brothers. He went to school in their village Thorapolli; then to an English school at Hozur taluka. Later, he joined a high school at Bangalore and moved thereafter to Central Hindu College, Bangalore. However, he graduated from the Presidency College, Madras at the age of eighteen. He could not be Outstanding in academics because he suffered from acute myopia. The blackboard was a blur in the distance and the teacher’s writing on it was not visible at all. His father, a stern, self-willed person would not let the boy use glasses till he was thirteen. ‘It must go to the credit of Rajagopalachari that in spite of this handicap he continued his studies and passed the matriculation examination only a year after he started wearing glasses and could read and write properly. In 1897, at the age of eighteen, he was married to Alarmalu Mangammal, a girl of thirteen. By 1912, they had five children, three sons and two daughters. Manga, his wife died in 1915, when C.R. was thirty-seven. When some relatives brought a proposal for a second marriage, he curtly replied: “I don't want a sixth child.” C.R. remained a widower for the rest of his long life.
After graduation, he studied law for two years and started practicing as a lawyer at Salem. His practice flourished. Larger amounts of money than the family had ever known brought unprecedented transformations in the family’s standard of living. Thus progress from bicycle to horse drawn cart to coach, and finally to car was matched by changes in residence. He moved from rental of a bare simple dwelling to purchase of ever larger houses, with trees around them and fine furnishing within. Before long his stiff-collared snow white shirts were being stitched in Madras. These worn under a buttoned up black coat, with white dhoti, silver bordered angvastaram across his shoulders, and silver-laced white turban marked his rapid rise to prominence at the Bar.
Then something happened in 1919 which changed not only the lifestyle but also C.R.’s life. In that year Gandhi visited Madras to explain the implications of the Rowlett Bill and C.R. met him for the first time. He was, as if, hypnotized by Gandhi, who was ten years his senior. We find him addressing Gandhi as My Dearest Master. C.R. joined the Satyagraha movement launched by Gandhi and later the Non-Cooperation movement for which he was sentenced to three months' simple imprisonment. He gave up his legal practice, like C.R. Das in Bengal and Motilal Nehru in Uttar Pradesh. He became a protagonist of Khadi. He established an ashram in 1925 in Tiruchangode, which became one of the important centers for Khadi production. When C.R. Das and Motilal Nehru founded the Swaraj party in 1922 to enter the legislative assemblies, C.R. remained faithful to Gandhi and played an important role among the no-changers. During Gandhi’s imprisonment in 1922 he edited Young India for some time. He was active during that time as a social reformer and was actively associated with the Vaikom Satyagraha (1924) and the Temple Entry Movement. He was a strong advocate of prohibition. Early in life he became the chairman of the Salem Municipality where he had practiced as a lawyer for some twenty years. He was secretary of the Prohibition League of India and worked actively during the Anti-Drink Campaign of the Congress. He wrote several pamphlets highlighting the evils of drinking. Outmaneuvered by Swarajists in Madras politics, C.R. retreated into his ashram and started doing constructive Work as advised by Gandhi. Through his dedication, he acquired a reputation of saintliness which proved to be of incalculable political advantage during his impeding struggle for power. Twenty days after Gandhi’s famous Dandi March, C.R. led another ‘march’ of his own. He walked 150 miles, along with ninety-eight satyagrahis, from Trichy, reaching Vedaranyam on 13 April 1930. However, it did not raise as much dust as Gandhi’s ‘march’ did.
C.R. and Gandhi were brought in a close non-political relationship in 1933. Gandhi’s youngest son Devdas, during his long stay in Madras, had fallen in love with C.R.’s daughter Lakshmi way back in 1927. It took six years for the w10 fathers to give their consent 'to the marriage. The couple was married in Bombay in a simple, brief ceremony at Lady Thackersay’s house, where Gandhi was convalescing after one of his illnesses. It was an inter-caste marriage between a high caste Brahmin and a Bania and raised some eyebrows. Madan Mohan Malaviya, in reply to the invitation, sent a telegram: “Though I do not approve the samband (relation) I wish Devdas and his spouse all happiness”. C .R. to avoid any future trouble insisted that the marriage be registered in a court.
The image of saintliness and nearness to Gandhi helped C.R. become the premier of Madras in 1937, when Congressmen were allowed to accept offices under the 1935 Act. As a premier for two years, C.R. did a commendable job in scaling down rural indebtedness, enforcing prohibition and enacting the Temple Entry Act. He also held in check the leftist violence. When the Congress ministries were asked to resign by the high command in 1939, C.R. was opposed to this move of the Congress but he was the first Congress premier to resign. However, this decision rankled him for years and he tried again and again to get into the seat of power.
The war resulted in his estrangement with the Congress – and Gandhi. While the Congress policy was not to cooperate with the British government in the war effort unless they promised full independence, C.R. was all for cooperating with the government toward off the Japanese menace. When the Cripps Mission (March 1942) failed, he openly blamed the Congress for the failure. As soon as Cripps left, C.R. started a campaign against the Congress saying that the talks failed not because the British government had gone back on the concept of a responsible national government at the Centre, or because it refused to part with the defence portfolio, but because the Congress unreasonably opposed the right of non-accession to the provinces. On 22 April 1942, he called a meeting of the Congress legislators from the Madras Presidency. Only fifty-two of the ninety-one members attended the meeting. Of them, thirty-six voted in favour of a resolution exhorting the Congress to accept the Muslim League demand of secession of Muslim majority areas to facilitate the establishment of a national government. In another resolution, permission was sought to form a provincial government in Madras in coalition with the Muslim League." The resolutions were rejected by the Congress Working Committee. But C.R. did not give up. Like a true fighter, he travelled throughout the country making speeches (May-June 1942) explaining his viewpoint. The followers of Gandhi took it as an insult to their idol and indulged in hooliganism." This they had done earlier to leaders like Annie Besant, B.C. Pal. Surendra Nath Bannerji, and Dinshaw Wacha who dared to differ with Gandhi. Rajaji faced all this stoically. But when in August 1942 the Congress launched the Quit India movement, he resigned from the Congress. When the Quit India movement fizzled out by 1943, Rajaji became active again and tried to overcome the impasse by putting forward his views in the form of a formula which has come to be known as the Rajaji Formula. This formula in essence accepts the principle of the two nation theory' and its concomitant Pakistan. In brief it proposed: (1) Muslim League to endorse the demand for Independence and provisional interim government; (2) After the war a commission would demarcate the contiguous Muslim majority area (3) A plebiscite would be held in those areas to know the opinion of the people. If they voted for separation, the country would be divided into Hindu and Muslim majority areas. C.R. met Gandhi in the Aga Khan Palace, where Gandhi had been detained, and discussed the ‘Formula’ with him and convinced Gandhi about the rationale of his proposals. Gandhi gave his consent. Encouraged, Rajaji wrote to Jinnah on 1 September 1943 enclosing the gist of the ‘Formula’ Jinnah rejected it saying that it offered only “a shadow and husk, maimed, mutilated and moth-eaten Pakistan”. In the meanwhile, Gandhi was released from the Aga Khan Palace on health grounds. C.R. once again discussed his formula with Gandhi. Gandhi thought that he would be able to sell the formula to Jinnah, which C.R. was unable to do. Gandhi trudged to Jinnah’s house in Bombay for eighteen days in September 1944, meeting him daily and discussing with him the details of the Formula and telling him that the Formula conceded the ‘essence of Pakistan’. Jinnah rejected the offer, tucked the Formula under his arm and concluded “now that Pakistan has been conceded, it only remains to be decided when and how it will come into being”. Gandhi came back a defeated and humiliated man and felt that he had been tricked. When Louis Fisher during his interview asked Gandhi what he learnt from the eighteen days With Jinnah, Gandhi replied, “I learnt that he was a maniac.” Both C.R. and Gandhi (the two samdhis, relatives) had helped to restore Jinnah’s prestige at the All-India level and converted the concept of Pakistan into reality.
C.R. rejoined the Congress in 1945. He was inducted into the Interim Cabinet (1946-47) headed by Nehru and given the education portfolio. After Independence, he was made the governor of Bengal. (1947-48). He held the exalted position of the governor-general of India replacing Mountbatten _ the only Indian to hold that post. He was a minister without portfolio (May-December 1950) in Nehru’s Cabinet and then a minister for Home Affairs in November 1951. He went back to Madras as chief minister (1952-54). His zigzag political career surprised many and raised eyebrows. But the fact is that he was in his elements only when he was the premier or chief minister of Madras. It was there that he achieved his most significant achievements, grappling with regionalism, communalism and above all, castism. At the same time he has been blamed for the creation of anti-Hindi sentiments among the Tamils. Dharma Vira, a senior I.A.S. officer who worked with him, writes: Earlier C.R. was a protagonist of Hindi as the link language to bind the country together and to prevent growth of separatism. During the first stint as chief minister, Hindi was a compulsory language in the curriculum of the schools of Tamil Nadu. The people everywhere were learning Hindi. Now (during the second term) he turned around completely. Not only was the compulsory teaching of Hindi abolished but a total elimination of Hindi undertaken. Today in the state there are no signs of Hindi anywhere, thanks to Rajaji and the policy he laid down for his successors.
Rajaji was never at ease in the new political dispensation headed by Nehru. He decried the government’s policies of heavy taxation, controls, licenses, and permits and voiced his disagreement through his mouthpiece Swaraj. In 1959, he founded his own party, the Swatantra Party to oppose the Congress and its policies. Industrialists, rich farmers (landlords) and former princes joined the new party in large numbers. However, after the initial good start, it could not provide a viable alternative to the Congress and by the early seventies it was defunct.
During the last decade of his life, C.R. became a pacifist. In 1962, at the age of eighty-four, he led a three member peace mission sponsored by the Gandhi Peace Foundation, New Delhi with R. R. Diwakar and B. Shiva Rao to meet President Kennedy and appeal to him to stop nuclear tests. This was the only time he left Indian shores. The mission, as expected, did not succeed but it was a pleasant and educative outing for him and his two companions.
Rajaji was a man of letters and a voracious reader. Some of his works are: Jail Diary (1922); The Way out (1944); Ambedkar Refuted (1946); Mahabharata (1951); Ramayana (1957); Hinduism, Doctrine and Hay of Life (1959): Stories for the Innocent (1964); Gandhi’s Teaching and Philosophy (1967). Of all these books his most famous and widely read are the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. He had a knack for presenting the most abstruse philosophy in simple and lucid language. He had a good sense of humour and felicity for biting sarcasm. However, like Bernard Shaw, C.R. never really believed in anything. Like most lawyers he was clever enough at rationalizing anything he happened to believe in at any time.
It is this reputation for craftiness that ultimately destroyed him and pushed him to the margins of India’s recent history.

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