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“Satyagrahi”, the great leader K. Kamaraj


“Satyagrahi”, the great leader K. Kamaraj

[July 15, 2014 marks the 112th birth centenary of Bharat Ratna K.Kamaraj, the former Chief Minister of Tamilnadu and All-India Congress President]


“Public figures cannot afford private life”, Jawaharlal Nehru is reported to have lamented once. K. Kamaraj was one such personality. A life-long bachelor, this freedom fighter had only aspired for his homeland’s freedom from foreign rule and to serve its people afterwards.

Kamraj’s life story had been stranger than fiction for its unbelievable incidents and turn of events. Almost an illiterate with no formal education and born in a poor family in a remote village, he rose to great heights of eminence in the Indian political arena.

He was an ordinary man with extraordinary qualities of head and heart. From humble beginnings, he rose to the highest position of helping make two Prime Ministers of India, first Lal Bahadur Sastri and then Indira Gandhi, popularly known to be “The Kingmaker” in the Congress circles. The demise of Nehru was expected to create a political void leading to instability of sorts, but Kamaraj as Congress president played the man of destiny, settling the succession issue amicably through a democratic consensus. It was perhaps the crowning glory of his life.

When he enlisted himself as a soldier in the freedom movement, he was totally under the spell of Mahatma Gandhi and to the very end he remained Gandhian by conviction and practice. There were occasions when he had his differences with Gandhi in running party affairs in Tamil Nadu but his loyalty to the Mahatma remained unwavering. For him Congress was the creed. All through his life, he was guided by native commonsense and that made him a real leader of the masses. He spoke to them in a language they understood. His speeches were embellished with ideas and not with grandiose eloquence. He was a man of simple habits and higher integrity.


Freedom struggle in Pre-independent India

The Jallianwala Bagh massacre in 1919 was the decisive turning point in his life, and at this point he decided his aim was to fight for national freedom and to bring an end to foreign rule. In 1920, he was eighteen when he responded to the call of Gandhiji for non-cooperation with the British.  He became active as a political worker and joined Congress as a full-time worker.

In 1921 Kamaraj was organizing public meetings at Virudhunagar for Congress leaders. He was eager to meet Gandhi, and when Gandhi visited Madurai on 21 September 1921 Kamaraj attended Gandhi's public meeting and met him for the first time in person. He visited villages carrying Congress propaganda.[

Kamaraj was content for years to remain a rank and file Congress volunteer, working hard for the cause of the freedom movement, unmindful of his personal comfort or career. He carried on propaganda in the villages, raised funds for Congress work and took a leading part in organizing meetings.

In 1922 Congress was boycotting the visit of the Prince of Wales as part of the Non-Cooperation Movement. He came to Madras and took part in this event. He participated in the famous Vaikom Satyagraha led by George Joseph against the atrocities of the higher caste Hindus against the Harijans. In 1923–25 Kamaraj participated in the Nagpur Flag Satyagraha.

In 1923 he staged a Dharna before Toddy shop. All were arrested at the Congress office except him since was not on the spot as he got out to supervise the Dharna. He very much felt for that.

In 1926 election he went Sri Vaikundam , Nasereth and Arel along with the followers.  Kamaraj came forward to conduct a revolution after the arrest of leaders like Saminatha- Mudaliar , Somayajulu since trying to remove the statue of Gen.Neel who tortured the participants of Army Revolution in 1857.

In 1927, he was chosen to lead the Neil Statue Satyagraha. When Gandhiji came to Madras, Kamaraj consulted him about the revolution for removing the statute of Gen .Neil . Gandhiji advised him to do it without any violence or force like pelting clay stones over the statue. But it was stopped due to boycotting Simon Commission. One fine day in 1937 after a decade, the statue of Gen.Neil was removed and kept at the museum. When it was questioned at the Assembly, Rajaji gave a brick but answer that the statute is of their own and could be kept anywhere. There came a full stop to the matter.

Kamaraj also started the Sword Satyagraha in Madras in the same year. During those days there was a ban to carry knife more than 6″ blades. Kamaraj decided to disobey to that order of British and conducted a revolution. That spread to Madurai. To conduct the same at Madurai he prepared 5” swords. People came from Madurai to Virudhunagar. When the procession was about to start some of them hesitated. Swords prepared for them was with Kamaraj . On seeing then he sang a song of Poet Bharathi and started dancing. It shocked the entire town of Virdhunagar while swords gave clinging sound. The then Law minister Sir.C.P.Ramasami Iyer allowed people carrying swords all over Tamilnadu except Malabar region and the revolution came to end.

In the same year, Kamaraj conducted a conference in Madras under the name of “Indian Democratic Congress” presided by Nehruji.

In 1928 a commission under the leadership of Sir John Simon came to India. All the political parties started boycotting it by wilting the black flags with an uproar asking the commission to go back. The Government handled the situation severely. Nehruji was assaulted. The 64 years old Lala Rajpathi Rai got wounded and died in the prison.


The commission came to Madurai. Nobles patterned the Government joining at Thirumalai Naicker Palace. Patriotic public of Madurai aroused. Thousands of people with black flag in hands marched into the Mahal shouting the Simon to go back. They were stopped by the ruling powers. Kamaraj came there in a car in which a tricolor flag was hoisted. Along with him there came the famous Congress leader George Joseph. They observed the situation and organized the volunteers. Kamaraj and George Jospeh led them. Police got stunned on seeing the crowd.

In 1929, in the British Parliamentary elections, the Conservative party lost the election and the Labour party came to rule. At that time freedom fighter Jatheenthranath went on fast opposing the way in which political prisoners were treated in Jail in India. He lost his life in that fast. This provoked Kamaraj. He was determined to achieve independence even while Gandhiji was alive.

In April 1930, Kamaraj joined the Salt Satyagraha Movement at Vedaranyam led by Rajagopalachari and was sentenced to two years his first term in prison. Kamaraj was arrested and sent to Alipore Jail for two years. He was twenty seven at the time of arrest and he was released early in 1931 in consequence of the Gandhi-Irwin Pact before he could serve his full term imprisonment. Jail-going had become a part of his career and in all he went to prison six times and spent more than 3,000 days in British Jails.

In 1932 Section 144 was imposed in Madras prohibiting the holding of meetings and organisation of processions against the arrest of Gandhi in Bombay. In Virdhunagar under Kamaraj's leadership processions and demonstrations happened every day. Kamaraj was arrested again in January 1932 and sentenced to 1 year's imprisonment.

In 1933 Kamaraj was falsely implicated in the Virudhunagar bomb case. Dr. Varadarajulu Naidu and George Joseph argued on Kamaraj's behalf and proved the charges to be baseless.  

Kamaraj was conducting a vigorous campaign throughout the State asking people not to contribute to war funds when Sir Arthur Hope the Madras Governor was collecting contributions to funds for the Second World War. In December 1940 he was arrested again at Guntur under the 'Defence of India rules' for speeches opposing contributions to the war fund and sent to Vellore Central Prison while he was on his way to Wardha to get Gandhi's approval for a list of Satyagrahis.

While still in jail, Kamaraj was elected Chairman to the Municipal Council. 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 Quit India movement initiated by Gandhiji. While in prison, Kamaraj read books and continued his self-education.

During this time he started joining processions and attending public meetings about the Indian Home Rule Movement and British Rule addressed by orators like Dr. Varadarajulu Naidu, V.Kalyana Sundara Mudaliar and George Joseph.

In 1942 Kamaraj attended the All India Congress Committee in Bombay and returned to spread propaganda material for the "Quit India Movement" called by Gandhi. The Police issued orders to all the leaders who attended this Bombay session. Kamaraj did not want to get arrested before he took the message to all district and local leaders. He decided not to go to Madras and decided to cut short his trip; he saw a large number of policemen waiting for the arrest of Congress leaders in Arakonam but managed to escape from the police and went to Ranipet, Tanjore, Trichy and Madurai to inform local leaders about the Programme. He reached Virdhunagar after finishing his work and sent a message to the local police that he was ready to be arrested. He was arrested in August, 1942. He was under detention for 3 years and was released in June, 1945. This was the last term of his prison life.

Bachelor Kamaraj was forty-four when India became free. He was elected President of the Tamilnad Congress Committee from February 1940 to 1954.  He was in the Working Committee of the AICC from 1947 till the Congress split in 1969, either as a member or as a special invitee.

Kamaraj was imprisoned six times by the British for his pro-Independence activities, accumulating more than 3,000 days in jail.


Role in Independent India

He took charge as C.M. on 13th April of 1954, the Tamil New Year day. He was neither a member in assembly nor a member in Legislative Council. He should become a member within six months from the date of taking charge in either of legislature.

It was easy to become a Member of Legislature Council. But Kamaraj did not prefer it. He had a strong belief for a healthy government one should be elected through assembly election only. Also he thought that he could understand the opinion of the public only if contest for the assembly election.

Always he was elected from the Virudhunagar constituency . Suppose if he wanted to be elected from there the elected member of that constituency should resign. As always he did not want to create problem ever.

At that time there was a vacancy in Gudiatham Constituency of North Arcot district. All wanted him to contest from there as the C.M. is common to the state and he contest from any constituency of the state. Finally he decided to contest from Gudiatham Constituency.

He did not belong to North Arcot which consist Gudiatham constituency . Even then he contested from there , except Communist party all other parties supported Kamaraj .Since the Dravidian parties did like Rajaji to become the Chief Minister again they supported Kamaraj and made serious propaganda for his victory. The Congress volunteers from all parts of the Madras state thronged Gudiatham since Kamaraj decided to contest from a new constituency which neither was neither his native nor a place he dwelled. The Dravidian parties and Muslim league openly supported Kamaraj and hunted for votes. Gudiatham was flooded by party people. Public worked for Kamaraj. He visited all the villages and addressed the mass and won in the election. He thanked the people of that constituency.

Kamaraj reduced the ministry to 8 from 12. He included the supporters of Rajaji in his ministry. He also included C.Subramaniam who contested against him in his ministry. Bakthavathsalaam was also included one among the 8. The 6 person who opposed Rajaji were not included in the ministry. He thought that it would be better to include Vannian Community who opposed Congress. He included Ramasami Padaiaachi in the ministry who was the leader of opposite party and opposed Congress in the assembly. Hence there was no opposition for Congress from out side. He formed such a ministry and avoided the opposition from in and out of Congress.

He remained as the Chief Minister until 1963. In 1963 he suggested to Nehru that senior Congress leaders should leave ministerial posts to take up organizational 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 organization. The plan was approved by the Congress Working Committee and was implemented within two months. Six Chief Ministers and six Union Ministers resigned under the Plan. Kamaraj was elected President, Indian National Congress, on October 9, 1963.  

He was the first Chief Minister who served for such a long period. .   He was perhaps the first non-English knowing Chief Minister in India. But it was during the nine years of his administration that Tamilnadu came to be known as one of the best administered states in India.

His defeat in Virudhunagar in 1967 considerably undermined his prestige. It was even said that he was a much disillusioned man. But the landslide victory at Nagercoil revived his political stature. However, the split in the Congress in 1969 (he remained in the Organisation Congress) and the General Elections of 1971 resulted in a set-back to his political career and authority. He continued to work quietly among the masses until he breathed his last in 1975. He was honored posthumously by the award of Bharat Ratna in 1976.


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Comment by Shilpa Sundhar on December 27, 2018 at 8:15

Excellent article. Its always nice to read about Perundhalaivar Kamarajar.  Check more info about Kamarajar in this Kamarajar page

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