Statue of Kamaraj in Chennai
15 July 1903|
Virudhunagar, Tamil Nadu, India
|Died||2 October 1975
Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India
|Political party||Indian National Congress|
Kumarasami Kamaraj (குமாரசாமி காமராஜ்), better known as K. Kamaraj (15 July 1903 – 2 October 1975), was an Indian politician from Tamil Nadu. He was an important figure in Indian politics during the 1960s. He was the chief minister of Tamil Nadu
Kamraj was born on July 15, 1903, in a family of traders at Virudunagar. His real name was Kamakshi Kumaraswamy Nadar but was affectionately shortened to Raja by his mother, Sivakami Ammal. His father, Kumaraswamy Nader, 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 jewelery 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 and even learned English from his co-worker. 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 and George Joseph. His relatives frowned upon Kamaraj ‘s budding interest in politics.
At the age of 16, Kamaraj enrolled himself as full-time worker of the Congress. He participated in inviting speakers, organizing meetings and collecting funds for the party. He also participated in the march to Vedaranyam led by Rajagopalachari as part of the Salt Satyagraha of March 1930. Kamaraj was arrested and sent to Alipore Jail for two years. He was twenty seven at the time of arrest and was released in 1931 following the Gandhi-Iriwn Pact.
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’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 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 for 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, Kamaraj went to Satyamurti’s house and garlanded his photo and paid his respects to the leader’s widow.
Kamaraj remained Chief Minister for three consecutive terms. On October 2, 1963, he resigned to serve a greater purpose. Kamaraj noticed that the Congress party was slowly losing its vigor . He came up with a plan which was called the “Kamaraj Plan.” He proposed that all senior Congress leaders should resign form their posts and devote all their energy to the re-vitalization of the Congress. A number of Central and State ministers like Lal Bahadur Shastri, Jagjivan Ram, Morarji Desai and S.K. Patil followed suite and resigned from their posts. In 1964, Kamaraj was elected the President of the All India Congress and he successfully navigated the nation through the stormy years following Nehru’s deathOn 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. He was honored with the highest civilian honor, the Bharat Ratna, posthumously in 1976