Tamil Nadu

The twin stars of Arcot

A. Ramaswami Mudaliar and A. LakshmanaswamyMudaliar.  

Rarely does one come across the tales of twin brothers becoming leaders in their chosen field, vying with each other in accomplishments and contributing enormously to public policies in a variety of areas. This summarises the life history of Arcot Ramaswami (A.R.) Mudaliar (1887-1976) and Arcot Lakshmanaswami (A.L.) Mudaliar (1887-1974), whose 125th birth anniversary falls on October 14 (Sunday).

Famously called the twin stars of Arcot, the brothers had long innings in public life, spanning over 50 years. Both were educationists and vice-chancellors, one still holding the record of having the longest tenure of 27 years as V-C in any Indian university. Both occupied several positions at the national level, before and after Independence and were seasoned parliamentarians. They received honours both from the British Government and the post-freedom Indian regime. Despite not belonging to the Congress school of political thought, they protected and promoted the interests of the nation. Even in death, they were pretty close: A.R. Mudaliar lived about two more years after his brother A.L. Mudaliar died. And they were institution-builders and visionaries.

Born in a Tamil-speaking Tuluva Vellalar family that followed the Vaishnavite tradition, the twins lost their parents before they were 15. After initial education at Kurnool [now part of Andhra Pradesh] where they were born, they moved to Chennai in 1903 to join the Madras Christian College, which was then located at George Town. On completion of intermediate course, A.R. Mudaliar continued in the same college for B.A. while A.L. Mudaliar chose medicine and joined the Madras Medical College.

A.R. Mudaliar went on to do law and joined the South Indian Liberal Federation, popularly called the Justice Party. He became editor of ‘Justice,’ the party organ. In 1920, he was elected to the Madras Legislative Council and re-elected three years later. Between 1930 and 1934, he was a member of the Council of States and Central Legislative Assembly. He lost to Congress stalwart S. Satyamurti in the famous electoral battle of November 1934 from the Madras constituency for the Central Legislative Assembly but the British government utilised his services on many occasions, as he was renowned for his knowledge of public affairs and power of articulation.

During the Second World War he was made the Commerce Member of the Governor-General’s Executive Council and, later, in-charge of planning and development (1942-1946). He visualised the formation of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), which, after Independence, became the nucleus of various national laboratories. He represented India in the Imperial War Cabinet, chaired by Churchill, and led his country at the UN Conference in San Francisco in 1945. He had several international assignments, prominent among which were his presidency (1945-1947) of the UN Economic and Social Council and India’s spokesman on the Hyderabad issue at the UN Security Council.

On the domestic front, during the 1940s and 1950s he was Dewan of Mysore and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Travancore (now University of Kerala). He headed a committee to study the Sethusamudram Canal and Tuticorin Harbour projects. The committee had concluded that the proposed Canal and the Tuticorin Harbour formed two components of one project. But, in 1963, Centre sanctioned the harbour component but left out the canal, which is yet to become a reality. A.R. Mudaliar later headed companies such as Tube Investments of India and Ashok Leyland. A.L. Mudaliar, after completing medicine, specialised in obstetrics and gynaecology (O&G). He became principal of the college in 1939, the first Indian to occupy the post. His book on O&G, regarded as a classic, was prescribed even in foreign countries. He was also leader of the Indian delegation to annual conferences of the World Health Organisation in the 1940s and 1950s. He became Chairman of the Executive Board of the WHO in 1949-50 and that of UNESCO during 1954-56, besides chairing the 14th World Health Assembly in 1961. Higher education was his other passion. His association with the University of Madras lasted over 45 years. Elected to the Senate in 1923, he became Vice-Chancellor 19 years later. That marked the remarkable phase in the history of the university.

Even in the midst of the emergence of a strong political movement in the 1950s and 1960s that advocated the promotion of Tamil, A L Mudaliar, who was V-C till 1969, remained an ardent votary of English on the ground that more and more people would take to English. He was also known for emphasising the need for postgraduate courses in subjects such as engineering and medicine. Even in 1953, he underscored the importance of judging all studies, especially professional courses, only by international standards.

A.L. Mudaliar represented the Graudates’Constituency in Chennai in the erstwhile Legislative Council from 1947 to 1970. As former Union and State Minister and his political adversary C. Subramaniam later pointed out, A L Mudaliar, who was virtually the Leader of Opposition in the Upper House in the 1950s and 1960s, was a “shining example” of how the Opposition should function in a parliamentary democracy. To perpetuate his memory, two arms of the University — Post-Graduate Institute of Basic Medical Sciences and the Centre for Basic Science Development — are named after him.

When there is a widespread scepticism about those in public life, the Arcot twins symbolise a combination of the virtues of political sagacity, administrative ability, courage of conviction and concern for social justice.

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