Chakravarti Rajagopalachari (10 December 1878 – 25 December 1972), informally called Rajaji or C.R., was an Indian lawyer, independence activist, politician, writer and statesman. Rajagopalachari was the last Governor-General of India. He also served as leader of the Indian National Congress, Premier of the Madras Presidency, Governor of West Bengal, Minister for Home Affairs of the Indian Union and Chief Minister of Madras state. Rajagopalachari founded the Swatantra Party and was one of the first recipients of India’s highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna. He vehemently opposed the use of nuclear weapons and was a proponent of world peace and disarmament. During his lifetime, he also acquired the nickname ‘Mango of Salem’.
Rajagopalachari was born in the village of Thorapalli in the Salem district of the Madras Presidency (now the Krishnagiri district of Tamil Nadu) and educated at Central College, Bangalore, and Presidency College, Madras. In 1900 he started a legal practice that in time became prosperous. On entering politics, he became a member and later President of the Salem municipality. He joined the Indian National Congress and participated in the agitations against the Rowlatt Act, joining the Non-Cooperation movement, the Vaikom Satyagraha, and the Civil Disobedience movement. In 1930, Rajagopalachari risked imprisonment when he led the Vedaranyam Salt Satyagraha in response to the Dandi March. In 1937, Rajagopalachari was elected Premier of the Madras Presidency and served until 1940, when he resigned due to Britain’s declaration of war on Germany. He later advocated co-operation over Britain’s war effort and opposed the Quit India Movement. He favoured talks with both Muhammad Ali 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 of India, and then 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 as Chief Minister of Madras state from 1952 to 1954. In 1959, he resigned from the Indian National Congress and founded the Swatantra Party, which stood against the Congress in the 1962, 1967 and 1972 elections. Rajagopalachari was instrumental in setting up a united Anti-Congress front in Madras state under C. N. Annadurai, which swept the 1967 elections.
Rajagopalachari was an accomplished writer who made lasting contributions to Indian English literature and is also credited with composition of the song Kurai Onrum Illai set to Carnatic music. He pioneered temperance and temple entry movements in India and advocated Dalit upliftment. He has been criticised for introducing the compulsory study of Hindi and the controversial Madras Scheme of Elementary Education in Madras State. Critics have often attributed his pre-eminence in politics to his standing as a favourite of both Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. Rajagopalachari was described by Gandhi as the “keeper of my conscience”.
Rajagopalachari was born to Chakravarti Venkataryan, munsiff of Thorapalli Villag and Singaramma on 10 December 1878 into a devout Iyengar family of Thorapalli in the Madras Presidency. The couple already had two sons, Narasimhachari and Srinivasa.
A weak and sickly child, Rajagopalachari was a 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 then at the age of five moved with his family to Hosur where Rajagopalachari enrolled at Hosur R.V.Government Boys Hr sec School. He passed his matriculation examinations in 1891 and graduated in arts from Central College, Bangalore in 1894. Rajagopalachari also studied law at the Presidency College, Madras, from where he graduated in 1897.
Rajagopalachari married Alamelu Mangamma in 1897 and the couple had five children – three sons and two daughters. Mangamma died in 1916 whereupon Rajagopalachari took sole responsibility for the care of his children. His son Chakravarthi Rajagopalachari 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 his father. Rajagopalachari’s daughter Lakshmi married Devdas Gandhi, son of Mahatma Gandhi while his grandsons include biographer Rajmohan Gandhi, philosopher Ramchandra Gandhi and former governor of West Bengal Gopalkrishna Gandhi.
Rajagopalachari’s interest in public affairs and politics began when he commenced his legal practice in Salem in 1900. Inspired by Indian independence activist Bal Gangadhar Tilak in the early 1900s, he later became a member of the Salem municipality in 1911. In 1917, Rajagopalachari was elected Chairman of the municipality and served from 1917 to 1919 during which time he was responsible for the election of the first Dalit member of the Salem municipality. Rajagopalachari joined the Indian National Congress and participated as a delegate in the 1906 Calcutta session and the 1907 Surat session. In 1917, he defended Indian independence activist P. Varadarajulu Naidu against charges of sedition and two years later participated in the agitations against the Rowlatt Act Rajagopalachari was a close friend of the founder of Swadeshi Steam Navigation Company V. O. Chidambaram Pillai as well as greatly admired by Indian independence activists Annie Besant and C. Vijayaraghavachariar.
After 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 law practice. In 1921, he was elected to the Congress Working Committee and served as the General Secretary of the party before making his first major breakthrough as a leader during the 1922 Indian National Congress session at Gaya when he strongly opposed collaboration with the colonial administration and participation in the diarchial legislatures established by the Government of India Act 1919 While Gandhi was in prison, Rajagopalachari led the group of “No-Changers”, individuals against contesting elections for the Imperial Legislative Council and other provincial legislative councils, in opposition to the “Pro-changers” who advocated council entry. When the motion was put to the vote, the “No-changers” won by 1,748 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, Rajagopalachari was a member of the Civil Disobedience Enquiry Committee. He was also involved in the Vaikom Satyagraha movement against untouchability during 1924–25.
In the early 1930s, Rajagopalachari emerged as one of the major leaders of the Tamil Nadu Congress. When Gandhi organised the Dandi march in 1930, Rajagopalachari broke the salt laws at Vedaranyam, near Nagapattinam, along with Indian independence activist Sardar Vedaratnam and was afterwards imprisoned by the British He was subsequently elected President of the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee. Following enactment of the Government of India Act in 1935, Rajagopalachari was instrumental in getting the Indian National Congress to participate in the 1937 general elections
The Indian National Congress first came to power in the Madras Presidency (also called Madras Province by the British), following the Madras elections of 1937. Except for a six-year period when Madras was under the Governor’s direct rule, the Congress administered the Presidency until India became independent on 15 August 1947 Rajagopalachari was the first Premier of the Madras Presidency from the Congress party.
Rajagopalachari issued the Temple Entry Authorization and Indemnity Act 1939, under which restrictions were removed on Dalits and Shanars entering Hindu temples. In the same year, the Meenakshi temple at Madurai was also opened to the Dalits and Shanars. In March 1938 Rajagopalachari introduced the Agricultural Debt Relief Act, to ease the burden of debt on the province’s peasant population
He also introduced prohibition along with a sales tax to compensate for the loss of government revenue that resulted from the ban on alcohol. As a result of the revenue decline resulting from prohibition, the Provincial Government shut down hundreds of government-run primary schools a decision that Rajagopalachari’s political opponents alleged deprived many low-caste and Dalit students of their education. His opponents also attributed casteist motives to his government’s implementation of Gandhi’s Nai Talim scheme into the education system.
Rajagopalachari’s tenure as Chief Minister of Madras is largely remembered for the compulsory introduction of Hindi in educational institutions, which made him highly unpopular. This measure sparked off widespread anti-Hindi protests, which led to violence in some places and the jailing of over 1,200 men, women and children who took part in the unrest. Two protesters, Thalamuthu Nadar and Natarasan, were killed during the protests. In 1940, Congress ministers resigned in protest over the declaration of war on Germany without their consent, leaving the Governor to take over the reins of the administration. On 21 February 1940 the unpopular new law on the use of Hindi was quickly repealed by the Governor of Madras. Despite its numerous shortcomings, Madras under Rajagopalachari was still considered by political historians as the best administered province in British India
Some months after the outbreak of the Second World War, Rajagopalachari resigned as Premier along with other members of his cabinet in protest at the declaration of war by the Viceroy of India. Rajagopalachari was arrested in December 1940, in accordance with the Defence of India rules, and sentenced to one-year in prison. However, subsequently, Rajagopalachari differed in opposition to the British war effort. He also opposed the Quit India Movement and instead advocated dialogue with the British. He reasoned that passivity and neutrality would be harmful to India’s interests at a time when the country was threatened with invasion. He also advocated dialogue with the Muslim League, which was demanding the partition of India. He subsequently resigned from the party and the assembly following differences over resolutions passed by the Madras Congress legislative party and disagreements with the leader of the Madras provincial Congress K. Kamaraj.
Following the end of the war in 1945, elections followed in the Madras Presidency in 1946. During the last years of the war, Kamaraj was requested by Nehru, PM; Sardar Vallabbhai Patel, Home Minister; and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad to make Rajaji the Premier of Madras Presidency. Kamaraj, President of the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee, was forced to make as Chief Ministerial candidate, by the elected members, to prevent Rajagopalachari from winning. However, Rajagopalachari did not contest the elections, and Prakasam was elected.
Rajaji was instrumental in initiating negotiations between Gandhi and Jinnah. In 1944, he proposed a solution to the Indian Constitutional tangle. In the same year, he proposed an “absolute majority” threshold of 55 per cent when deciding whether a district should become part of India or Pakistan, triggering a huge controversy among nationalists.
From 1946 to 1947, Rajagopalachari served as the Minister for Industry, Supply, Education and Finance in the Interim Government headed by Jawaharlal Nehru.
When India and Pakistan attained independence on 15 August 1947, the British province of Bengal was partitioned into two, with West Bengal becoming part of India and East Bengal part of Pakistan. Supported by Jawaharlal Nehru, Rajagopalachari was appointed first Governor of West Bengal.
Disliked by Bengalis for his criticism of the Bengali revolutionary Subhas Chandra Bose during the 1938 Tripuri Congress session, Rajagopalachari’s appointment was unsuccessfully opposed by Bose’s brother Sarat Chandra Bose. During his tenure as Governor, Rajagopalachari’s priorities were to deal with refugees and to bring peace and stability in the aftermath of the Calcutta riots He declared his commitment to neutrality and justice at a meeting of Muslim businessmen: “Whatever may be my defects or lapses, let me assure you that I shall never disfigure my life with any deliberate acts of injustice to any community whatsoever. Rajagopalachari was also strongly opposed to proposals to include areas from Bihar and Odisha as part of the province of West Bengal. One such proposal by the editor of an important newspaper led to the reply:
“I see that you are not able to restrain the policy of agitation over inter-provincial boundaries. It is easy to yield to current pressure of opinion and it is difficult to impose on enthusiastic people any policy of restraint. But I earnestly plead that we should do all we can to prevent ill-will from hardening into a chronic disorder. We have enough ill-will and prejudice to cope with. Must we hasten to create further fissiparous forces?”
Despite the general attitude of the Bengalis, Rajagopalachari was highly regarded and respected by Chief Minister Prafulla Chandra Ghosh and the state cabinet.
From 10 until 24 November 1947, Rajagopalachari served as Acting Governor-General of India in the absence of the Governor-General Lord Mountbatten, who was on leave in England to attend the marriage of Princess Elizabeth to Mountbatten’s nephew Prince Philip. Rajagopalachari led a very simple life in the viceregal palace, washing his own clothes and polishing his own shoes. Impressed with his abilities, Mountbatten made Rajagopalachari his second choice to succeed him after Vallabhbhai Patel, when he was to leave India in June 1948. Rajagopalachari was eventually chosen as the Governor-General when Nehru disagreed with Mountbatten’s first choice, as did Patel himself. He was initially hesitant but accepted when Nehru wrote to him, “I hope you will not disappoint us. We want you to help us in many ways. The burden on some of us is more than we can carry Rajagopalachari then served as Governor-General of India from June 1948 until 26 January 1950, and was not only the last Governor-General of India, but the only Indian national ever to hold the office.
By the end of 1949, an assumption was made that Rajagopalachari, already Governor-General, would continue as President. Backed by Nehru, Rajagopalachari wanted to stand for the presidential election but later withdrew, due to the opposition of a section of the Indian National Congress mostly made up of North Indians who were concerned about Rajagopalachari’s non-participation during the Quit India Movement.
At Nehru’s invitation, in 1950 Rajagopalachari joined the Union Cabinet as Minister without Portfolio where he served as a buffer between Nehru and Home Minister Sardar Patel and on occasion offered to mediate between the two Following Patel’s death on 15 December 1950, Rajagopalachari was finally made Home Affairs Minister and went on to serve for nearly 10 months. As had his predecessor, he warned Nehru about the expansionist designs of China and expressed regret over the Tibet problem. He also expressed concern over demands for new linguistically based states, arguing that they would generate differences amongst the people.
By the end of 1951, the differences between Nehru and Rajagopalachari came to the fore. While Nehru perceived the Hindu Mahasabha to be the greatest threat to the nascent republic, Rajagopalachari held the opinion that the Communists posed the greatest danger. He also adamantly opposed Nehru’s decision to commute the death sentences passed on those involved in the Telangana uprising and his strong pro-Soviet leanings. Tired of being persistently over-ruled by Nehru with regard to critical decisions, Rajagopalachari submitted his resignation on the “grounds of ill-health” and returned to Madras.
In the 1952 Madras elections, the Indian National Congress was reduced to a minority in the state assembly with a coalition led by the Communist Party of India winning most of the seats.Though he did not participate, Madras governor Sri Prakasa appointed Rajagopalachari Chief Minister after nominating him to the Madras Legislative Council without consulting either the Indian Prime Minister Nehru or the ministers in the Madras state cabinet. Rajagopalachari was then able to prove that he had a majority in the assembly by luring MLAs from opposition parties to join the Indian National Congress. Nehru was furious and wrote to Rajagopalachari saying “the one thing we must avoid giving is the impression that we stick to office and we want to keep others out at all costs Rajagopalachari, however, refused to contest a by-election and remained an as unelected member of the legislative coun
During Rajagopalachari’s tenure as Chief Minister, a powerful movement for a separate Andhra State, comprising the Telugu-speaking districts of the Madras State, gained a foothold. On 19 October 1952, an Indian independence activist and social worker from Madras named Potti Sriramulu embarked on a hunger strike reiterating the demands of the separatists and calling for the inclusion of Madras city within the proposed state. Rajagopalachari remained unmoved by Sriramulu’s action and refused to intervene.After fasting for days, Sriramulu eventually died on 15 December 1952, triggering riots in Madras city and the Telugu-speaking districts of the state.Initially, both Rajagopalachari and Prime Minister Nehru were against the creation of linguistically demarcated states but as the law and order situation in the state deteriorated, both were forced to accept the demands. Andhra State was thus created on 1 October 1953 from the Telugu-speaking districts of Madras, with its capital at Kurnool. However, the boundaries of the new state were determined by a commission which decided against the inclusion of Madras city. Though the commission’s report suggested the option of having Madras as the temporary capital of Andhra State to allow smooth partitioning of the assets and the secretariat, Rajagopalachari refused to allow Andhra State to have Madras even for a day.
On 31 May 1952, Rajagopalachari put an end to sugar rationing and followed up by abolishing control over food supplies on 5 June 1952. He also introduced measures to regulate the running of universities in the state. In 1953, he introduced a new education scheme known as the “Modified System of Elementary Education”, which reduced schooling for elementary school students to three hours per day with students expected to learn the family vocation at home during the remainder of the day. The plan came in for sharp criticism and evoked strong protests from the Dravidian parties. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam dubbed the scheme Kula Kalvi Thittam or Hereditary Education Policy and attempted to organise massive demonstrations outside Rajagopalachari’s house on 13 and 14 July 1953. The rising unpopularity of his government forced K. Kamaraj to withdraw his support for Rajagopalachari and on 26 March 1954, he resigned as President of the Madras Legislature Congress Party thereby precipitating new elections. During the subsequent poll held on 31 March 1954, Rajagopalachari fielded C. Subramaniam against Kamaraj. But Subramaniam could garner only 41 votes to Kamaraj’s 93 and lost the elections. Rajagopalachari eventually resigned as Chief Minister on 13 April 1954, attributing the decision to poor health.
Following his resignation as Chief Minister, Rajagopalachari took a temporary break from active politics and instead devoted his time to literary pursuits. He wrote a Tamil re-telling of the Sanskrit epic Ramayana which appeared as a serial in the Tamil magazine Kalki from 23 May 1954 to 6 November 1955. The episodes were later collected and published as Chakravarthi Thirumagan, a book which won Rajagopalachari the 1958 Sahitya Academy award in Tamil language. On Republic Day 1955, Rajagopalachari was honoured with India’s highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna.
Rajagopalachari tendered his official resignation from the Indian National Congress and along with a number of other dissidents organised the Congress Reform Committee (CRC) in January 1957. K. S. Venkatakrishna Reddiar was elected president and the party fielded candidates in 55 constituencies in the 1957 state assembly elections, to emerge as the second largest party in Madras state with 13 seats in the legislative assembly. The Congress Reform Committee also contested 12 Lok Sabha seats during the 1957 Indian elections. The committee became a fully-fledged political party and was renamed the Indian National Democratic Congress at a state conference held in Madurai on September 28–29, 1957.
On 4 June 1959, shortly after the Nagpur session of the Indian National Congress, Rajagopalachari, along with Murari Vaidya of the newly established Forum of Free Enterprise (FFE and Minoo Masani, a classical liberal and critic of socialist Nehru, announced the formation of the new Swatantra Party at a meeting in Madras. Conceived by disgruntled heads of former princely states such as the Raja of Ramgarh, the Maharaja of Kalahandi and the Maharajadhiraja of Darbhanga, the party was conservative in character. Later, N. G. Ranga, K. M. Munshi, Field Marshal K. M. Cariappa and the Maharaja of Patiala joined the effort. Rajagopalachari, Masani and Ranga also tried but failed to involve Jayaprakash Narayan in the initiative.
In his short essay “Our Democracy”, Rajagopalachari explained the necessity for a right-wing alternative to the Congress by saying:
since… the Congress Party has swung to the Left, what is wanted is not an ultra or outer-Left [viz. the CPI or the Praja Socialist Party, PSP], but a strong and articulate Right.
Rajagopalachari also insisted that the opposition must:
operate not privately and behind the closed doors of the party meeting, but openly and periodically through the electorate.
He outlined the goals of the Swatantra Party through twenty one “fundamental principles” in the foundation document The party stood for equality and opposed government control over the private sector. Rajagopalachari sharply criticised the bureaucracy and coined the term “license-permit Raj” to describe Nehru’s elaborate system of permissions and licenses required for an individual to set up a private enterprise. Rajagopalachari’s personality became a rallying point for the party.
Rajagopalachari’s efforts to build an anti-Congress front led to a patch up with his former adversary C. N. Annadurai of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. During the late 1950s and early 1960s, Annadurai grew close to Rajagopalachari and sought an alliance with the Swatantra Party for the 1962 Madras legislative assembly elections. Although there were occasional electoral pacts between the Swatantra Party and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), Rajagopalachari remained non-committal on a formal tie-up with the DMK due to its existing alliance with Communists whom he dreaded. The Swatantra Party contested 94 seats in the Madras state assembly elections and won six as well as won 18 parliamentary seats in the 1962 Lok Sabha elections.
India’s use of military force against Portugal to capture the Portuguese enclave of Goa was criticised by Rajagopalachari who said of the operation and subsequent acts of international diplomacy, “India has totally lost the moral power to raise her voice against the use of military power.”
On 26 January 1950, the Government of India adopted Hindi as the official language of the country, but because of objections in non-Hindi-speaking areas, it introduced a provision tentatively making English the second official language on a par with Hindi for a stipulated fifteen-year period to facilitate a switch to Hindi in non-Hindi speaking states. From 26 January 1965 onwards, Hindi was to become the sole official language of the Indian Union and people in non-Hindi speaking regions were compelled to learn Hindi. This led to vehement opposition and just before Republic Day, severe anti-Hindi protests broke out in Madras State. Rajagopalachari had earlier been sharply critical of the recommendations made by the Official Languages Commission in 1957. On 28 January 1956, Rajagopalachari signed a resolution along with Annadurai and Periyar endorsing the continuation of English as the official language. At an All-India Language Conference held on 8 March 1958, he declared: “Hindi is as much foreign to non-Hindi speaking people as English to the protagonists of Hindi”. When the Anti-Hindi agitations broke out in 1965, Rajagopalachari completely reversed his 1938 support for the introduction of Hindi and took a strongly anti-Hindi stand in support of the protests On 17 January 1965, he convened the Madras state Anti-Hindi conference in Tiruchirapalli. angrily declaring that Part XVII of the Constitution of India which declared that Hindi was the official language should “be heaved and thrown into the Arabian Sea.”
M. G. Ramachandran speaking at a private function in January 1968. Rajagopalachari is seated in the first row along with M. Karunanidhi. C. N. Annadurai and K. A. Mathialagan are seated in the background
The fourth elections to the Madras Legislative assembly were held in February 1967. At the age of 88, Rajagopalachari worked to forge a united opposition to the Indian National Congress through a tripartite alliance between the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the Swatantra Party and the Forward Bloc. The Congress party was defeated in Madras for the first time in 30 years and the coalition led by Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam came to power. C. N. Annadurai served as Chief Minister from 6 March 1967 till his death on 3 February 1969. Rajagopalachari delivered a moving eulogy to Annadurai at his funeral.
The Swatantra party also did well in elections in other states and to the Lok Sabha, the directly elected lower house of the Parliament of India. It won 45 Lok Sabha seats in the 1967 general elections and emerged as the single largest opposition party. The principal opposition party in the states of Rajasthan and Gujarat, it also formed a coalition government in Odisha and had a significant presence in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Bihar.
In 1971, Annadurai’s successor M. Karunanidhi relaxed prohibition laws in Tamil Nadu due to the poor financial situation of the state. Rajagopalachari pleaded with him not to repeal prohibition but to no avail and as a result, the Swatantra Party withdrew its support for the state government and instead allied with the Congress, 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 then on 8 January, the national executive of the Swatantra Party took the 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 and on 17 December the same year, a week after his 94th birthday, he was admitted to the Government Hospital, Madras suffering from uraemia, dehydration and a urinary infection. In the 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 and he died at 5:44 pm on 25 December 1972 at the age of 94. His son, C. R. Narasimhan, was at his bedside at the time of his death reading him verses from a Hindu holy book.
An accomplished writer both in his mother tongue Tamil as well as English Rajagopalachari was the founder of the Salem Literary Society and regularly participated in its meetings. In 1922, he published Siraiyil Tavam (Meditation in jail), a day-to-day account of his first imprisonment by the British from 21 December 1921 to 20 March 1922.
Rajagopalachari started the Tamil Scientific Terms Society in 1916, a group that coined new words in Tamil for terms connected to botany, chemistry, physics, astronomy and mathematics. At about the same time, he called for Tamil to be introduced as the medium of instruction in schools.
In 1951, he wrote an abridged retelling of the Mahabharata in Englis, followed by one of the Ramayana in 1957. Earlier, in 1961, he had translated Kambar’s Tamil Ramayana into English. In 1965, he translated the Thirukkural into English and also wrote books on the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads in English as well as works on Socrates, and Marcus Aurelius in Tamil. Rajagopalachari often regarded his literary works as the best service he had rendered to the people. In 1958, he was awarded the Sahitya Akademi Award for works in the Tamil language for his retelling of the Ramayana – Chakravarti Thirumagan. He was also one of the founders of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, an organisation dedicated to the promotion of education and Indian culture. In 1959 the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan published his book: “Hinduism: Doctrine and Way of Life”.
Apart from his literary works, Rajagopalachari also composed a devotional song Kurai Onrum Illai devoted to Lord Venkateshwara, a song set to music and a regular at Carnatic concerts. Rajagopalachari composed a benediction hymn sung by M. S. Subbulakshmi at the United Nations General Assembly in 1967.
In 1954, during US Vice-President Richard Nixon’s nineteen country Asian tour, he was lectured by Rajagopalachari on the consuming emotional quality of nuclear weapons. The pair discussed spiritual life, particularly reincarnation and predestination. Nixon wrote three pages of notes recording Rajagopalachari’s words, claiming in his memoirs thirty-six years later that the afternoon “had such a dramatic effect on me that I used many of his thoughts in my speeches over the next several years.
While on a tour to the United States of America as a member of the Gandhi Peace Foundation delegation, in September 1962 Rajagopalachari visited American President John F. Kennedy at the White House. Rajagopalachari warned Kennedy of the dangers of embarking on an arms race, even one which the US could win. At the end of the meeting Kennedy remarked “This meeting had the most civilizing influence on me. Seldom have I heard a case presented with such precision, clarity and elegance of language”. On 1 May 1955, Rajagopalachari appealed to the Government of India to cancel receipt of aid from America if the country continued with its nuclear tests.
E. M. S. Namboodiripad, a prominent Communist Party leader, once remarked that Rajagopalachari was the Congress leader he respected the most despite the fact he was also someone with whom he had the most differences Of Rajagopalachari, Periyar, one of his foremost political rivals remarked “he was a leader unique and unequalled, who lived and worked for high ideals”. On his death, condolences poured in from all corners of the country. Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India commented:
Mr. Rajagopalachari was one of the makers of new India, a sincere patriot, a man whose penetrating intellect and moral sense added depth to national affairs. His analysis, his anticipation, his administrative acumen and his courage to steer an unpopular course if he felt the need, marked him as a statesman and made an impact on the national history at several crucial junctures. He had held the highest positions and lent distinction to every office.
— Swarajya, 27 January 1973
Regarded as a pioneer of social reform, Rajagopalachari issued temple entry proclamations in the Madras Presidency and worked towards the upliftment of Dalits. He played a pivotal role in the conclusion of the Poona Pact between B. R. Ambedkar and the Indian National Congress and spearheaded the Mahabal Temple Entry program in 1938. He was a staunch advocate of prohibition and was elected Secretary of the Prohibition League of India in 1930. On assuming the premiership of the Madras Presidency, he introduced prohibition throughout the province, where it remained in vogue until its removal by M. Karunanidhi over thirty years later. Rajagopalachari was also an active member of the All India Spinners Association. and a strong opponent of “linguistic states”, which he felt would bring anarchy to India.
He is also remembered for his literary contributions, some of which are considered modern-day classics. He frequently wrote articles for Kalki and his own journal Swarajya, of which Philip Spratt was editor.
Richard Casey, Governor of Bengal from 1944 to 1946, regarded Rajagopalachari as the wisest man in India. The best possible tribute to Rajagopalachari was from Mahatma Gandhi who referred to him as the “keeper of my conscience”. Today, his private papers are part of the Archives at the Nehru Memorial Museum & Library, at Teen Murti House, Delhi.
Even though Rajagopalachari was considered one of the most able statesmen in the national arena, his provincial and later his state administrations are seen as having fared badly. Critics opine that he completely failed to gauge the thoughts and feelings of the masses – his introduction of Hindi and the Madras Scheme of Elementary Education have both been extensively criticised while his pacifist stance during the Quit India Movement and his “C. R. Formula” angered the majority of his colleagues in the Indian National Congress. P. C. Alexander, a former governor of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra, once wrote:
The most conspicuous case of constitutional impropriety by the Governor in the exercise of discretion to choose the Chief Minister, took place in 1952 when the then Governor of Madras, Sri Prakasa, invited Rajagopalachari to form the government in the composite State.
Although his popularity at the regional level fluctuated greatly, it is believed that Rajagopalachari was able to exercise his stranglehold over provincial politics mainly because he was favoured by national leaders such as Gandhi, Patel and Nehru. Critics feel that when the President of the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee K. Kamaraj and a majority of the provincial leaders turned against him in the 1940s, Rajagopalachari clung on to a position of influence in regional politics through support from his colleagues at the centre.
Rajagopalachari was always an archetypal Tamil Brahmin nemesis of the Dravidian movement. Deeply religious, a pious Hindu and a follower of the Vedas and Upanishads, he was accused of being pro-Sanskrit and pro-Hindi, a stigma which Rajagopalachari found difficult to erase despite his vehement protests against the imposition of Hindi during the Madras Anti-Hindi agitations of 1965 He was also accused of attempting to heavily sanskritise Tamil vocabulary through the inclusion of a large number of Sanskrit words in his writings. His vocational education policy was seen as an attempt to reinforce the Varnashrama dharma of the caste system, while his Indian nationalist and anti-secessionist leanings formed the inspiration for Periyar’s coining of the term “Brahmin-Bania combine”.