Education and industrialisation became his priorities
K. Kamaraj (1903-1975), whose birth anniversary falls on Tuesday (July 15), was known for his simplicity and unimpeachable integrity.
In the 1960s, Kamaraj had reached the peak of his political career. In an unusual gesture, Jawaharlal Nehru agreed to unveil the statue of a living person. He did so for Kamaraj in October 1961. In January 1966, the then United States Vice-President Hubert Humphrey hailed him as one of the greatest political leaders in all the countries of the free world. Kamaraj also came to be known as “kingmaker” because of his role in making Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi Prime Ministers. Though political pundits attach importance to this phase of his career, it was his stint as Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu during 1954-1963 that left a lasting impression.
For Kamaraj, education and industrialisation became the priorities. The noon-meal scheme, distribution of school uniforms and free education for students of the weaker sections were the centre piece of his education policy.
As former President R. Venkataraman later pointed out, the Kamaraj rule saw Tamil Nadu transforming into an industrialised State from an agrarian one. Today, the fact that Tamil Nadu is enjoying the prime mover advantage in many areas is due to the seeds sown by the Congress regime.
A less recognised aspect of the Kamaraj rule is that he acted decisively in sorting out the issues concerning the transfer of border areas such as Tirutani-Tirupathi and Kanyakumari.
His healthy respect for rivals is legendary. It was in 1964. He was the all-India president of the ruling Congress, the most powerful party then.
Writing in Tamil, he had focussed on his political mentor S. Satyamurti (1887-1943), recounting the political history of Tamil Nadu since the 1920s. Kamaraj explained in detail his leader’s contribution and how Satyamurti was denied his due on various occasions. However, he had added that at that juncture (in 1964), there was no need to analyse who were responsible and what were the reasons. There was no rancour, bitterness in the entire article, though it was evident that he had his long-time political rival Rajaji in mind.
In his Cabinet, Kamaraj had retained C. Subramaniam, who contested against him in the party election in 1954, and M. Bakthavatsalam, who proposed Subramaniam’s nomination. Of course, the two had enhanced the quality of governance.
However, Kamaraj’s handling of the Mudukalathur riots in 1957 had come in for sharp criticism. There was another criticism that he, as the Congress president (1963-1967), visited Tamil Nadu more frequently. He was not successful in his attempt to re-enter the State politics in the 1967 Assembly polls and lost to a student leader in his native Virudhunagar.
Though he was subsequently elected from the Nagercoil Lok Sabha constituency twice, he could not stage an effective comeback. As former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said, Kamaraj embodied Gandhian principles in politics: simplicity, concern for the poor and incorruptibility.