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K. Kamaraj
கு. காமராஜ்
Statue of Kamarajar.jpg
Statue of Kamaraj in Chennai
Personal details
Born (1903-07-15)15 July 1903
Virudhunagar, Tamil Nadu, India
Died 2 October 1975(1975-10-02) (aged 72)
Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India
Nationality India
Political party Indian National Congress
Signature

Kumaraswami Kamaraj, better known as K. Kamaraj (July 15, 1903–1975) was an Indian politician widely known as a kingmaker in Indian politics, widely 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 affectionatly known as the Gandhi of the South, the Black Gandhi, and in Tamil Nadu, his home state he is still hailed for making possible, the spread of education to millions of the rural poor during the 1950s.

Early life and education

Kamraj was born to Kumarasamy and Sivakami Ammal at Virudhunagar near Madurai in Tamil Nadu. His parents were from a trading family. His father, Kumarswamy Nadar, was a coconut merchant. Kamaraj was enrolled at the local elementary school, the Nayanar Vidyalaya, but was later shifted to the high school Kshatriya Vidyalaya.

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 was not a good student in school and dropped out 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

Kamarajar Statue
Kamarajar Statue in Chennai

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 speakers like Dr. Varadarajulu Naidu and George Joseph. His relatives frowned upon Kamaraj 's budding interest in politics. They sent him to Thiruvananthapuram to work at another uncle's timer shop. Even there Kamaraj participated in the Vaikom Satyagraha led by George Joseph, of the Congress Party, against the atrocities of the higher caste Hindus on the Harijans. His family subsequently summoned him home and pressured him to marry. Kamaraj resolutely refused to bow to the dictates of his elders.

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 arrested again in 1940 and sent to Vellore Jail.

While still in jail, Kamaraj was elected Chairman of the Municipal Council of Madurai. 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.

Chief Minister

Kamarajar Statue at East Tambaram
Kamaraj statue at East Tambaram, Chennai

On April 13, 1954, K. Kamaraj reluctantly became the Chief Minister of Madras Province. Kamaraj gave 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." The State made immense strides in education and trade. New schools were opened, where 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 meals Scheme to provide at least one meal per day to the poor children (later popularised by M.G. Ramachandran). He introduced free school uniforms to weed out caste, creed and class distinctions among young minds.

Under Kamaraj's administration, massive reforms in the educational and the social sectors of the state were initiated. His administration pushed forward the industrialisation of the state,with several major dam projects,irrigation schemes and industrial ventures set up and completed in record time. The Land Ceiling Act and the Tenancy Protection Act benefited small farmers and saved them from being exploited by landlords. Medium and small scale industries prospered in the midst of large industries making Madras one of the leaders in industrialization. Nehru complimented Kamaraj for making Madras (later renamed Tamil Nadu) "the best administered State in India."

Kamaraj remained Chief Minister for three consecutive terms. On October 2, 1963, he resigned. In 1964, Kamaraj was elected Congress President and he successfully navigated the party and the nation through the stormy years following Nehru's death.

Even today politicians in Tamil Nadu still promise voters that they will restore the "Golden Age of Kamaraj's Rule".

Last Years and legacy

Kamaraj samaathi
Kamaraj Memorial

On October 2, 1975, Gandhi Jayanti, 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 honor, the Bharat Ratna, posthumously in 1976.

He was known for his honesty, integrity and simplicity refusing any special treatment extended to him or to his mother while chief minister. He lived in a rented house and when found only possessed 120 rupees and 6 dhotis when he died.

He never married.

In 2004 a Tamil Movie was released titled "Kamaraj",the English version titled as "The King Maker".

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