Chakravarthi Rajagopalachari (Tamil: சக்ரவர்த்தி ராஜகோபாலாச்சாரி) (10 December 1878 – 25 December 1972), 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 Iyengar and Singaramma on 10 December 1878 in a devout Iyengar family of Thorapalli in the Madras Presidency. Chakravarti Iyengar was the munsiff of Thorapalli. According to popular folkore, while Rajaji was a child, an astrologer told his parents that their child 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 attended school in Hosur and college in Madras and Bangalore. He graduated in arts from Central College, Bangalore in 1897, and studied law at Presidency College, Madras in 1899. He started practising as a lawyer in 1900. When in Salem, Rajaji showed keen interest in social and political affairs.
Indian independence movement
Rajaji’s interest in public affairs and politics began when he was elected to the government of the city of Salem. In the early 1900s, he was inspired by Indian nationalist Bal Gangadhar Tilak. In 1917, Rajaji was elected Chairman of Salem municipality. As Chairman, he was responsible for the election of the first Dalit (outcaste) member of the Salem municipal government. Rajaji joined the Indian National Congress and became involved in the Indian independence movement. In 1908, he defended Indian freedom fighter P. Varadarajulu Naidu against charges of sedition. He participated in 1919 in the protests against the Rowlatt Act, which indefinitely extended emergency measures passed during World War One. Rajaji was a close friend of Indian nationalist V. O. Chidambaram Pillai, and was highly admired by Annie Besant, a supporter of Indian independence, and C. Vijayaraghavachariar, president of the Indian National Congress in 1920.
When Mahatma Gandhi entered the movement for Indian Indepdendance in 1919, Rajaji followed him. He participated in the Non-Cooperation movement and stopped practicing law. In 1921 he was elected to the Congress Working Committee and served as the General Secretary of the party.
When the Indian National Congress split in 1923, Rajaji was a member of the Civil Disobedience Enquiry Committee. He supported the old guard and opposed the council entry programme of the Swarajists.
Rajaji was one of Gandhi’s chief lieutenants during the Vaikom Satyagraha, a movement to improve the lot of Hindu untouchables. 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 tax at Vedaranyam near Nagapattinam and was sent to prison. 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.