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The Kamaraj legacy

A characteristic portrait of Congress president, K. Kamaraj.   | Photo Credit: HINDU PHOTO ARCHIVES

The Congress party in Tamil Nadu appears to be very possessive of K. Kamaraj, one of India’s tallest leaders. He actively participated in the freedom struggle, steered the nascent state of Madras as Chief Minister and went on to become Congress president. Party stalwarts have been claiming, celebrating and serenading his legacy, proclaiming they will restore ‘Kamaraj rule.’

Of late this legacy-claiming has become contentious and has descended into a tug-of-war with a breakaway group. Even if some within the Congress want to shed Kamaraj’s legacy and look forward to rejuvenating the party with fresh ideas that appeal to the youth, many are in no mood to give up.

The Congress’s claim of owning the Kamaraj legacy is a fallacy. The icon passed away on October 2, 1975. It was during the Emergency, and I was District Collector/Magistrate in Chandigarh. Jayaprakash Narayan, Indira Gandhi’s principal foe, was a prisoner under my charge. I was in contact with him for three months. Such was JP’s personality, I had developed great affection for him and visited him almost daily. In turn he shared many significant pieces of information of historical and political importance. One such was about Kamaraj and his political thinking after Indira Gandhi broke the Congress and turned dictatorial in 1969.

The next day when I visited JP he was reading a newspaper that carried news of Kamaraj’s death. With a sigh he said India had lost Kamaraj at a critical juncture. “Fate seems to be harsh on India,” he added. JP said Kamaraj was a good man, simple and sincere. He played a key role in bringing Indira Gandhi to power and he repented it later. Kamaraj had felt sorry for the Congress and the country.

I told JP about Kamaraj’s reported reaction to the proclamation of the Emergency by Indira Gandhi. He had wept and said, “yellam pochu, yen thappu” (everything is lost, it’s my blunder). Perhaps that agony led to his early end.

Inter alia this is what JP wrote on October 3, 1975 in a diary he kept in prison: “Kamaraj died yesterday in Madras of a massive heart attack. A great and even heroic figure of Indian politics is no more. His life’s work was not complete yet. The last time he met me in Delhi, he said something like this: ‘JP, what you are doing is the only hope for the country.” JP wrote at length about Tamil Nadu politics and the predicament Kamaraj faced as a Congress (O) leader after the party’s breakup. Kamaraj had told JP he did not trust Mrs. Gandhi. And the feeling was mutual.

JP understood that in the quadrangular political game in Tamil Nadu, being openly opposed both to the DMK and the ADMK, Kamaraj had little room to manoeuvre. He knew that a politician like Mrs. Gandhi would have no qualms about joining hands with the ADMK, and he dreaded that eventuality. “I had urged Kamaraj to take up a therapeutic line and clean up the murky political climate in the State” wrote JP, and added: “However, death has settled the issue for him. His followers, I am afraid, will break up and disintegrate. Mrs. Gandhi, by deciding to attend his funeral, has already dealt a severe blow to the Tamil Nadu Congress (O)…”

Indeed, the Tamil Nadu Congress party has proved to be a highly disintegrated and disjointed entity with its vote share in free-fall from over 20 per cent to a mere 4 per cent in recent times.

JP and Kamaraj were close both in age and political philosophy. They were born only a few months apart. Adherence to principles had drawn them together. Kamaraj’s death came as a setback for JP’s Grand Alliance plan to defeat Indira’s Congress as and when election took place. JP had confided in me that he considered Kamaraj the most suitable person to head the united political party he was contemplating. According to him it would be poetic justice since Kamaraj, who made Indira Gandhi Prime Minister, should be instrumental in removing her.

JP had a framework in mind for the party he was contemplating to take on the Congress (I). In January 1977, as soon as elections were announced, JP put into effect the political blueprint. The Congress (O), the Jan Sangh, the Bharatiya Lok Dal and the Socialist Party joined to form the Janata Party. Jagjivan Ram, H.N. Bahuguna and Nandini Sathpathy, left the Congress and formed the Congress for Democracy. Along with the DMK, the Shiromani Akali Dal and the CPI (M), it forged a common front with the Janata Party in order to give a straight fight to the Congress and its allies, the CPI and the ADMK, in the 1977 elections. This combined force captured a two-thirds majority in Parliament and swept Indira Gandhi and her Congress (I) out. Had Kamaraj been alive he would have headed the Janata Party and possibly become Prime Minister. Thus, the divided Congress in Tamil Nadu claiming the legacy is far-fetched.

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Printable version | Sep 14, 2021 12:52:59 PM |

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