Chakravarti Rajagopalachari was born 139 years ago on 10th December 1878. He was elected to the Constituent Assembly from Madras province in 1946 and was a part of it till 1949.
Popularly referred to as ‘Rajaji’, he is considered to be one of the wisest of India’s politicians and statesmen. He was one of the important leaders of the Indian National Congress and a firm Gandhian, referred by Mahatma himself as ‘keeper of my conscience’.
Rajaji always ahead of his time and advocated well reasoned and prescient strategies and policies to try and shape India’s political conversation. Rajaji argued for accommodating the Muslim League’s interest in early 1940’s, an effort that drew sharp criticism from by the Congress party. When the Congress members outlined the plan for ‘Quit India’ movement in 1942, he opposed it as he thought it was best if India didn’t abandon Britain during World War II - this would help India retain Britain’s trust and make India’s case for independence stronger. Rajaji left the Congress party in 1942 due to these differences but re-joined at a later date and went on to hold various positions - member of Constituent Assembly , Minister in interim government, Home Minister after Patel’s death, and the last Governor-General of India.
Nehru, in his autobiography writes about Rajaji - “brilliant intellect, selfless character, and penetrating powers of analysis have been a tremendous asset to our cause”. Rajaji’s relationship with Nehru was complicated –they went from being comrades to political adversaries. In the late 1940’s Nehru sought to make Rajaji the first president of free India. In the early 1950’s Rajaji wrote to significant British politicians to make Nehru the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.
Nehru’s vision for India based on the Fabian Socialism model drew them apart. Rajaji criticized Nehru’s land reform and economic policies and coined the term “license-quota-permit Raj” describing the complicated regulatory set up governing the private business sector. Rajaji referring to the examples of Germany, France and Japan and their economic reforms after the ruins of World War II remarked:
“How one wishes we borrowed their economic common sense and not only their money.”
After a brief stint as Chief Minister of Madras, Rajaji founded the Swantantra Party on 4th June 1959 as a response to Nehruvian policies for India and to establish a strong voice against the Centre, run by the Congress party. While Mr. Natwar Singh, former Cabinet Minister, calls him a “progressive conservative”, Ramachandra Guha, historian, very reluctantly calls him a conservative. The Swantantra party sought to provide an alternative political option and managed to represent centre to right ideologies. Nehru, when asked about his new adversary’s political venture remarked: "a mixture of the rottenest ideas imaginable". Although his political foresight was prescient it didn’t do him or his new party much good, the latter was dissolved in 1974.
Rajaji was part of the Gandhi Peace Foundation delegation which met John F Kennedy in 1962 to advocate for the suspension of nuclear tests. B. Shiva Rao (who was a part of the delegation) records - Kennedy was having an extremely busy day and had reserved 20 minutes for his meeting with the delegation. He was extremely impressed with Rajaji’s advocacy and wisdom and continued his engagement with the delegation ignoring his other commitments. Rajaji’s thoughts on nuclear warfare have been compiled in Mankind Protests which was later translated into Russian for wide public distribution.
Read Rajaji’s biographical details here.