Monday, July 13, 2009

The King Maker

Tomorrow is the birth anniversary of Late Chief Minister of Tamilnadu Thiru K. Kamaraj, better known as the Kingmaker in Indian Politics and known for his honesty, integrity and simplicity.

He was involved in the Indian independence movement and was a close ally of Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India. He was instrumental in bringing to power two Prime Ministers, Lal Bahadur Shastri in 1964 and Indira Gandhi in 1966. He was affectionately known as the Gandhi of the South. He is also known as Padikatha Medhai or Uneducated Intellect . In Tamil Nadu, his home state, he is still hailed for facilitating the spread of education to millions of the rural poor by introducing free education and free mid-day meals scheme in schools for the first time in the whole world during his chiefministership in 1957. He was awarded India's highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna, posthumously in 1976. The domestic terminal of the Chennai airport is named Kamaraj Terminal in his honour. He was hailed as one of the greatest of leaders of all the free world by the then US vice-president Hubert Humphrey.

I came to know that he even denied a water connection inside his house in his native village and when he died he was having Rs. 110/- under his bed. Such kind of leaders you cannot imagine currently. Please read on to know more about the King Maker....

Early life

Kamaraj was born 15 July 1903, to Kumarasamy Nadar and Sivakami Ammal at Virudhunagar near Madurai in Tamil Nadu. His parents were from a trading family. His real name was Kamakshi Kumaraswamy, but was affectionately shortened to Raja by his mother, Sivakami Ammal. His father, Kumarswamy Nadar, was a coconut merchant. Kamaraj was enrolled at the local elementary school, the Enadhy Nayanar Vidyalaya, and later shifted to the high school Kshatriya Vidyalaya (A Nadar minority instituition). Unfortunately his father died within a year of Kamaraj's enrollment in school. Kamaraj's mother sold all jewelry except her earrings and deposited the money with a local merchant and cared for the entire family on the monthly interest that the money earned.


Kamaraj dropped out of school when he was in the sixth grade. When he entered mainstream public life he felt handicapped and realized the importance of a good education. He educated himself during his periods of imprisonment.

Start in politics and freedom struggle

Kamaraj joined as an apprentice in his maternal uncle Karuppiah's cloth shop after dropping out of school. He would slip out from the shop to join processions and attend public meetings addressed by orators like Dr. Varadarajulu Naidu. His relatives frowned upon Kamaraj 's budding interest in politics. They sent him to Thiruvananthapuram to work at another uncle's timer shop. At the age of 16, Kamaraj enrolled himself as full-time worker of the Congress. He invited speakers, organized meetings and collected funds for the party. He also participated in the march to Vedaranyam led by C. Rajagopalachari as part of the Salt Satyagraha of March 1930.

Kamaraj was arrested and sent to Alipore Jail in Calcutta for two years. He was 27 at the time of his arrest and was released in 1931 following the Gandhi-Irwin Pact. Kamaraj was implicated in the Virudhunagar bomb case two years later. Dr. Varadarajulu Naidu and George Joseph argued on Kamaraj's behalf and proved the charges to be baseless. Kamaraj was arrested again in 1940 and sent to Vellore Central Prison while he was on his way to Wardha to get Gandhiji's approval for a list of satyagrahis. While still in jail, Kamaraj was elected Chairman of the Municipal Council of Viruthunagar. Nine months later, upon his release, Kamaraj went straight to the Municipality and tendered his resignation from his post. He felt that "one should not accept any post to which one could not do full justice." Kamaraj was arrested once more in 1942 and sentenced to three years in the Amaravathi prison for spreading propaganda material for the Quit India movement initiated by Gandhiji. While in prison, Kamaraj read books and continued his self-education.

With Satyamurti

Kamaraj's political guru and inspiration was S. Satyamurti, orator and parliamentarian. Satyamurti found in Kamaraj "an efficient, loyal, indefatigable worker and skillful organizer (p. 147, Pakshirajan)." Both developed a deep friendship and complemented each others' skills. In 1936, Satyamurti was elected President of the Provincial Congress Committee and he appointed Kamaraj the General Secretary. Four years later they swapped positions. The party base was strengthened under their leadership. So deep was Kamaraj's devotion to Satyamurti that when India gained independence, he first went to Satyamurti's house and hoisted the Indian flag there. On his election as Chief Minister of Tamilnadu, Kamaraj went to Satyamurti's house and garlanded his photo and paid his respects to the leader's widow.

Chief Ministership

On April 13, 1954, K. Kamaraj reluctantly became the Chief Minister of Madras Province. To everyone's surprise, Kamaraj nominated C. Subramaniam and M. Bhakthavatsalam, who had contested his leadership, to the newly formed cabinet. Kamaraj removed the family vocation based Hereditary Education Policy introduced by Rajaji. He reopened the 6000 schools closed by previous government for financial reasons and also added 12000 more schools. The State made immense strides in education and trade. New schools were opened, so that poor rural students were to walk no more than 3 miles to their nearest school. Better facilities were added to existing ones. No village remained without a primary school and no panchayat without a high school. Kamaraj strove to eradicate illiteracy by introducing free and compulsory education up to the eleventh standard.

He introduced the Mid-day Meal Scheme to provide at least one meal per day to the lakhs of poor school children (first time in the whole world). He introduced free school uniforms to weed out caste, creed and class distinctions among young minds.During his period IIT MADRAS was started.many industries were started like BHEL,TRICHY,NEYVELI LIGNITE CORPORATION,MANALI REFINARY LTD.No of big dams were constructed like Manimuthar dam,Vaikai dam,Aliyar dam,Sathanur dam and Krishnagiri dam.Many schemes were started to generate electricity like Guntha hydro power station,Ooty and neyveli thermal power station.During his period,Tamilnadu was developing in all fronts.

Kamaraj remained Chief Minister for three consecutive terms, winning elections in 1957 and 1962. Kamaraj noticed that the Congress party was slowly losing its vigor. He came up with a plan which was called the "Kamaraj Plan". On October 2, 1963, he resigned from the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Post. He proposed that all senior Congress leaders should resign from their posts and devote all their energy to the re-vitalization of the Congress.

In 1963 he suggested to Nehru that senior Congress leaders should leave ministerial posts to take up organisational work. This suggestion came to be known as the Kamaraj Plan, which was designed primarily to dispel from the minds of Congressmen the lure for power, creating in its place a dedicated attachment to the objectives and policies of the organisation. Kamaraj was elected President, Indian National Congress, on October 9, 1963.

Well impressed by the achievements and acumen of Kamraj, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru felt that his services were needed more at the national level. In a swift move he brought Kamaraj to Delhi as the President of the Indian National Congress. Nehru realised that if he had wide learning and vision, Kamaraj possessed enormous common sense and pragmatism. Kamaraj gave a simple advice to his ministers, "Face the problem. Don't evade it. Find a solution, however small. People will be satisfied if you do something."

Followed by him a number of Central and State ministers like Lal Bahadur Shastri, Jagjivan Ram, Satyendra Narayan Sinha, Morarji Desai and S.K. Patil followed suit and resigned from their posts. In 1964, Kamaraj was elected 'Congress President' and he successfully navigated the party and the nation through the stormy years following Nehru's death. Kamaraj’s political maturity came in full view when Nehru died in 1964. How he settled the succession issue for the Prime Ministership was amply proved by his choice of Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi in succession.


On October 2, 1975, Gandhi Jayanti day, Kamaraj awoke from his afternoon nap feeling uneasy. His housekeeper, Vairavan, rang up his physician. While he was on his way out, Kamaraj said, "Vairavan, put out the lights when you go out." K. Kamaraj died that day in his sleep. He was honored with the highest civilian honour, the 'Bharat Ratna' posthumously in 1976.