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Varadarajulu Naidu, a committed nationalist with varied interests

T. Ramakrishnan
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He was also distinguished labour leader, eminent journalist

Varadarajulu Naidu
Varadarajulu Naidu

P. Varadarajulu Naidu (1887-1957), whose 125th birth anniversary falls on Monday, was one of the early leaders of Tamil Nadu who had realised the power of oratory in political discourse and successfully employed it.

In the second half of 1910, the period immediately after Mahatma Gandhi's advent in the national scene, Naidu emerged as a powerful speaker of the Congress party in the State. He was also a distinguished labour leader, an eminent journalist, an ardent champion of the causes of handloom weavers, small-scale and cottage industries and a spirited advocate of interests of politically and socially disadvantaged sections of society.

Hailed as the [Bal Gangadhar] Tilak of the South India, Naidu was regarded as part of a political triumvirate, the other two being T.V. Kalayanasundaram (‘Thiru.Vi.Ka') and E.V. Ramasamy (‘Periyar'). At the time of his death in 1957, C. Rajagopalachari (Rajaji) called him “one of the most intelligent and imaginative brains we had in the early Congress in South India with a background of work among the masses.”

Born in Rasipuram near Salem, Naidu was a product of the times of the Bengal Partition and the subsequent Swadeshi movement. He qualified himself as a practitioner of Indian system of medicine and quickly made a mark in the field. Even as he was actively involved in the Home Rule movement, he began his foray into journalism and took over in December 1916 a Tamil weekly, Prapanchamitran . In 1918, Naidu was arrested on charges of sedition for his article and sentenced to 18 months' rigorous imprisonment. On appeal to the Madras High Court, he won the case and Rajaji, as an advocate, had defended him. But, the British Government ensured that the journal was closed. Later, Naidu became the editor of Tamil Nadu , another Tamil weekly. In 1921, he was arrested for another ‘seditious' article and awarded nine months' imprisonment.

Naidu's significant contribution to English journalism was the founding of the Indian Express in 1932, which is still functioning. Pazha Athiyaman, in his biography of Naidu, ‘Periyarin Nanbar,' published recently by Kalachuvadu Publications, points out that Naidu could not run it even for a couple of months. [Eventually, Ramnath Goenka took over the paper].

His devotion to the national cause was so much that he refused to pay income tax in 1922 to protest against the arrest of Mahatma Gandhi following the suspension of the non-cooperation movement. The British Government promptly attached his car and some lands in Salem.

When he was Tamil Nadu Congress Committee president during 1924-1925, the controversy over the Tamil Gurukulam in Cheranmahadevi, run by V.V. S. Iyer, erupted. The issue at hand was the separate dining arrangements for Brahmin and non-Brahmin boys at the Gurukulam. The national leadership of the Congress party spelt out its position: as a matter of principle, it was against separation. But, Naidu and ‘Periyar' felt that the intervention was not strong enough.

However, as a devout Congressman, Naidu remained in the party and in fact, in a speech at the Triplicane beach in July 1926, he dealt with the broader Brahmin-Non-Brahmin subject and called upon members of the justice party to join the Congress in large numbers and seek their progress through “the aid of that great national institution” ( The Hindu , July 19, 1926). But, by late 1920, he developed disenchantment with the Congress. In 1939, he joined the Hindu Mahasabha and even held the posts of general secretary and vice-president. In 1945, he returned to the Congress.

When Rajaji, in his second term (1952-1954) as Chief Minister, launched an education policy, Naidu, an important Congress legislator then, was one of the bitter critics of the policy. It was no wonder that Naidu had proposed K. Kamaraj to succeed Rajaji.

For a person who had sacrificed heavily for his involvement in public life, there is no memorial exclusively for him, says the 75-year-old Dayanandan, the only surviving son of Naidu. A memorial of Ashoka Pillar in Salem city has a plaque that displays his father's name.

Naidu had three daughters and six sons. His eldest son, Krishnadas, died only about 10 days ago. Three of the Congress leader's sons had served the Armed Forces. In 1993, Mr. Dayanandan retired as a Colonel from the Army. Naidu's son-in-law, K.L.K. Row, rose up to the level of Vice-Admiral in the Navy. Naidu's sense of nationalism, Mr. Dayanandan notes, continues to guide the present generation of his family.


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