Lives of great men all remind us,
We can make our lives sublime,
And departing, leave behind us,
Footprints on the sands of time. – H W Longfellow

Kumarasami Kamaraj Nadar is one such personality. He devoted his entire life to serving the country’s people. His birthday falls on July 15, which is observed as ‘Growth of Education Day’ in recognition of his yeoman service in the field of youth education in Tamil Nadu.

April 13, 1919, is a black day in Indian history. The British administration ruthlessly opened fire on a peaceful assembly of people at Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar killing nearly a thousand people and injuring many.

Young Kamaraj, who was all of 16 at that time, had only completed Class 6 and used to assist his uncle in his textile shop. He was so moved by the incident that he left the job and joined the National Freedom Movement.

He was born on 15 July 1903 into a poor toddy tapper (Nadar) family in Virudupatti in southern Tamil Nadu. His family had to battle poverty and caste discrimination. While Kamaraj was studying in primary school, the family was struck with a misfortune. His father, the only breadwinner of the family, succumbed to a massive heart attack. This put an end to the formal education of Kamaraj. He had to take up all kinds of odd jobs including that of a street vendor to support his widowed mother and sister.

Young Kamaraj was however, inspired by Periyar E V Ramasamy. Though he rarely appeared with Periyaar in public it was a fact that his opponents rightly identified Periyar as his mentor. The Independence struggle was in full swing in the country at that time. Kamraj was eager to contribute his mite to the freedom movement. He was also concerned about the plight of his community of toddy tappers, which was then an untouchable community in Madras. Within a short time, he rose to become the leader of his and many similar communities by leading numerous local movements in and around Chennai for temple entry, school entry and other social justice concerns of untouchables. He was also inspired by Sree Narayan Guru’s temple entry movement in Kerala.

Inspired by the patriotic leader Sundara Sastri Satyamurthi’s fiery oratory against British atrocities, Kamaraj plunged headlong into the freedom movement. From then on there was no looking back for him. He became an able organiser in mobilising people for public meetings addressed by patriots. Appreciating his skill, Satyamurthi took him under his fold. In due course, Kamaraj, by his selfless devotion, rose in stature. Starting as Satyamurthi’s personal assistant he ultimately rose to become the President of the Indian National Congress.

A pre-Independence party like the Congress which had nothing to offer to its cadres except suffering and imprisonment under the British rule, became the home for Kamaraj. With terrific energy and dedicated service Kamraj converted the Congress into a formidable organisation in Tamilnadu. Himself a grass-root level worker, he became very popular among his party rank and file. He was imprisoned for the first time when he took part in the Salt Satyagraha undertaken by Gandhi. Later, participating in almost all the agitations he courted arrest and underwent long periods of imprisonment. His association with stalwarts in prison helped him broaden his outlook. He grew fond of books and through interactions with intellectuals in prison Kamaraj developed his leadership skills that proved a valuable asset to him as an administrator in later years of his life.

He was imprisoned several times and spent ten years in prison. In 1930, Kamaraj participated in the Salt Sathyagraha (Salt March), when Indians marched to Vedharanyam under the leadership of C. Rajagopalacharya as a protest against the British colonial rule of India. As a consequence, he was sent to Alipore Jail in Kolkatta and remained there for two years. When he was a suspect in a bomb blast case in Virudhunagar in 1933, George Joseph and Dr. P. Varadarajulu Naidu argued on Kamaraj’s behalf and proved him to be innocent.

In 1937, he was elected to the Madras Legislative Assembly with no opposition. In 1940, when Kamarajar was on his way to Wardha to get approval of the Sathyagrahis list, he was arrested and sent to jail by the British. While he was still in jail, he was elected as a Chairman of the Municipal Council in Virudunagar. Once he was released from jail, he walked directly to the municipality and submitted his resignation, saying that one should not accept any responsibility when he cannot do justice to it.

In 1942, Kamarajar was arrested and sentenced to three years of imprisonment in Amaravathi prison. During his imprisonment, Kamarajar educated himself by reading books in jail.

He went on to play an important role in Quit India Movement, Home Rule Movement and the Satyagraha movement among a host of other pre-independence struggles and boycotts. He was imprisoned close to six times, accumulating more than 3000 days, over 8 years in jail.

Kamaraj was elected to the Madras Presidency legislature in 1937 and again in 1946. In 1936 he had been named general secretary of the Madras branch of the Congress Party, and in 1940 he became its president. In 1947 he was elevated to the Working Committee of the national party, and he remained associated with that group until 1969. He was also a member of the Constituent Assembly that in 1946 drafted the constitution for soon-to-be independent India. In 1951 Kamaraj contested and won a seat in the elections to the first Lok Sabha (lower chamber of the Indian parliament).

Kamarajar was made CM by defeating Rajagopalachari’s alias Rajaji’s candidate after Rajaji was forced to resign due to his infamous Caste(family) work based education policy. Kamaraj succeeded C.Rajgopalachari as the Chief Minister of Tamilnadu on April 13, 1954. Undoubtedly, this was a great achievement for him as he was the unanimous choice for the high office. He was honest and selfless to the core. and he occupied the post with distinction for ten years from 1954. Initially, there was opposition to his candidature as some criticised his poor educational background and said that he would not be able to fulfil his responsibility as Chief Minister, but his performance proved the critics wrong. During his tenure as the Chief Minister, Madras witnessed well-directed growth in the industrial and agricultural fields. A huge industrial estate, the biggest in Asia at that time, was established on the outskirts of Chennai. He was assisted by the Minister for Industries, Venkatraman, who later became the President of India.

Kamaraj played a stellar role when India faced the crisis of three wars in the 60s. Immediately after the death of India’s first Prime Minister, Kamaraj effectively mediated the transition of leadership to Lal Bahadur Shastri. After Shastri’s untimely demise, thanks to his acumen and sagacity as the Congress president, he paved the way for Indira Gandhi to take on the mantle of Prime Minister.

He had a larger-than-life image and many people wanted him to take over the governance. But selfless as he was, he placed the country before himself. Such was his honesty and commitment to the country.

He will forever be remembered in Tamil Nadu for his pioneering effort to ensure that education reached the poorest of the poor. He believed that only education had the power to break the man-made barriers of caste and creed. He took a census of schools in 17,000 villages in the State and found that nearly 6,000 villages had no schools. He initiated action to start primary schools in all these areas, appointed teachers and started the scheme of single teacher schools in remote places, if children couldn’t go to school, the school should go to the children.

Kamaraj led a simple life and was the epitome of honesty and sincerity. His aged mother continued to live in the village even after he became Chief Minister. There was no water connection in her house and she continued to draw water from the public well. Some over-enthusiastic officials tried to provide the house with water connection as a favour, but Kamaraj heard about it and stopped them. He took a stand that though he was Chief Minister, he or his family should not be given any special privilege. They’d live like other citizens. What a contrast to the present day values of most of our politicians!

He was a bachelor but embraced all children as his own. He understood the problems of people living in rural areas and the need for nourishment for growing children. He started the scheme of mid-day meals in schools, which served as a precursor to many such welfare schemes by governments in several States.

Kamaraj died at his home, on 2 October 1975. He was aged 72.when kamaraj died due to heart attack during his night sleep,there was some odd hundred rupees and two pair of dhothies and khadhi shirts only was with him as his belongings such a politician lived in simple life we will never get hereafter

Kamaraj may not have had formal education. He may not have had a college degree. But he was instrumental in revolutionary reforms and infrastructure for education in Tamil Nadu. Primary, secondary, tertiary and higher education registered phenomenal growth thanks to the strong foundation he laid.

Having a skill gives the youth confidence and self esteem, which are essential for personality growth. Self esteem cannot be given. But what we can do is help them attain it. How, you ask? Give them a task that they think they cannot do. And tell them to work on it until they get it done without giving up. When they finish the task, they would have found true self esteem.

There is a statue of Kamaraj in Chennai. But unlike statues of most famous personalities, this is not a stand alone. On either side of the leader, are a boy and a girl holding his hand. This shows the kind of person he was while he was alive – a compassionate man, a leader and a guiding light.

He is renown to be the greatest Chief Minister that Tamil Nadu ever had; or even one of the greatest Chief Minister any Indian state had ever had. The kingmaker of Indian politics for over two decades and known for his simple and frugal living and demeanour, he is responsible for a significant part of the development that Tamil Nadu underwent so far. He was awarded India’s highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna, posthumously in 1976.

The One and Only Selfless Leader: the Kamaraj Plan

One unique feature of the national leaders of those times was that they never hankered after power and only volunteered to serve the larger cause. Kamaraj was no exception. The true mark of a leader is compassion, magnanimity, simplicity and the ability to inspire and encourage those around him. Kamaraj had all these qualities and more.

Kamaraj remained the Chief Minister of Madras/Tamil Nadu for three consecutive terms, winning elections in 1957 and 1962. However, by his third term, Kamaraj noticed that the Congress party was slowly losing its vigour. He wanted the Congress leaders to overcome the lust of power.
Towards this end, Kamaraj did something unique which would startle evry politically aware citizen of this world. On 2 October 1963, he resigned from the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Post. He proposed that all senior Congress leaders should resign from their posts and devote all their energy to the re-vitalization of the Congress.

According to what later came to be called “Kamaraj plan”, all top level leaders would resign from their posts and reach out to the cadres to revitalise them beside it was meant to take themselves away from the lure of power. He implemented the Kamaraj Plan by himself by resigning from the post of Chief Minster. In 1963, he suggested to Nehru that senior Congress leaders should leave ministerial posts to take up organisational work. His request was obliged with 6 union ministers including Lal Bahadur Shastri Jagjivan Ram, Morarji Desai, Biju Patnaik and S.K. Patil resigning from cabinet posts. It was this selflessness and foresight which propelled him to become the president of Indian National Congress.

Impressed by Kamaraj’s achievements and acumen, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru felt that his services were needed more at the national level. In a swift move, he brought Kamaraj to Delhi as the President of the Indian National Congress. Nehru realised that in addition to wide learning and vision, Kamaraj possessed enormous common sense and pragmatism. Kamaraj was elected President of the Indian National Congress on 9 October 1963.

The Man Who Refused To Become The Prime Minister Of India

Kamraj’s life story had been stranger than fiction for its unbelievable incidents and turn of events. Almost an illiterate with no formal education and born in a poor toddy tapper (Nadar) family in a remote village, he rose to great heights of eminence in the political arena.

After the death of Jawaharlal Nehru, when Congress was in the midst of a leadership crisis, it was Dr Kamaraj who steered the party from rough waters and was instrumental in bringing to the prime ministerial post, Sri Lal Bahadur Shastri in 1964 and after his untimely death, Indira Gandhi in 1966. The selfless man he is, he declined the offer to become the Prime Minister himself when he was the president of the Indian National Congress. He was aptly called the “King Maker” for this reason and the role he played.

The man who took education to the masses

“I was not educated. I don’t claim that I went to university. But I do know geography. I know most of the areas of Tamilnadu. I know where the rivers are and where the water tanks are. I know in which town people make a living which way. Are these things not geography and only the books which contain straight and curved lines?”
– Kamaraj, Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu/Madras Presidency (1954-’63)

Kamaraj was not fortunate to have formal education. However, he ensured that education reached the masses and invested heavily on the same, proving that the directive principle of ours being a “welfare state” is not merely a meaningless appendage in the Constitution but an enforceable tool for those who know how to govern. Education in Tamilnadu is synonymous with Dr Kamaraj and the seeds he sowed is reaped by Tamilnadu even today. The favourable statistics that Tamilnadu has today in education largely down to the vision and foresight of Dr Kamaraj. The mid-day meal scheme, one of the most successful scheme in India was first implemented in post independent India by Kamaraj in Tamilnadu. The vigour with which he implemented these schemes that benefitted millions of poor lifting themselves out of poverty, the visionary leadership he had for his party besides and the good governance he provided is arguably unmatched. Even rival political parties have Dr Kamaraj’s governance model as a benchmark to be achieved, whether anyone has achieved or not is a question that can be debated.

Kamaraj removed the controversial family vocation based Hereditary Education Policy introduced by Rajaji. He reopened the 6000 schools closed earlier for financial reasons and also added 12000 more schools. The State made immense strides in education and trade. New schools were opened, so that poor rural students were to walk no more than 3 miles (4.8 km) to their nearest school. Better facilities were added to existing ones. No village remained without a primary school and no panchayat without a high school. Kamaraj strove to eradicate illiteracy by introducing free and compulsory education up to the eleventh standard. He introduced the Midday Meal Scheme to provide at least one meal per day to the lakhs of poor school children (first time in the world). He introduced free school uniforms to weed out caste, creed and class distinctions among young minds.

While during British regime, the education was a mere 7 percent, in Kamaraj’s period it rose to a whopping 37%. While during Rajaji’s period there were 12000 schools in the state, there were 27000 in the period of Kamaraj.

We salute the visionary that Kamaraj was. Irrespective of political affiliation, he is one of those personalities our present generation politicians could emulate. The long-term vision, the means of good governance and the self-lessness he exhibited is perhaps unmatched in post-independent India.

The Unique Chief Minister

Kamaraj was instrumental in building many irrigation dams, linking the villages by all-weather roads and constructing hospitals in remote places. Major irrigation schemes were planned in Kamaraj’s period . Lower Bhavani, Mani Muthar, Cauvery Delta, Aarani River, Vaigai Dam, Amaravathi, Sathanur, Krishnagiri, Pullambadi, Parambikulam and Neyyaru Dams were among them . The Lower Bhavani Dam in Coimbatore district was constructed with an expenditure of Rs 10/- Crores. 207,000 acres (840 km2) of land are under cultivation.

45,000 acres (180 km2) of land are benefited through Mettur canal of Salem. Another scheme was Krishnagiri in the same district. Vaigai, Sathanur facilitate to cultivate thousands of acres of lands in Madurai and North Arcot districts respectively. Rs 30 crores were planned to spend for Parambikulam River scheme in Kamaraj’s period. This has helped for the development of Coimbatore district in agriculture field.

In 1957-61 1,628 Tanks were de-silted under Small Irrigation Scheme 2000 wells were digged with outlets. Long term loans with 25% subsidy were given to farmers. Apart from farmers who are having dry lands were given oil engines, electric pump sets on installment basis.

150 lakhs of acres of lands were cultivated during Kamaraj’s period. One third of this i.e. 56 lakhs of acres of land got permanent watering facility.

The result of Kamaraj’s work was there for all to see. There was an all-round development with village as the nucleus. By inducting colleagues like Shri R. Venkataraman and C. Subramaniam in his Ministry he paved the way for the growth of industrial, agricultural and educational sectors.Tamilnadu set itself as an example for other States to emulate.


When Kamaraj was the Chief Minister of Tamilnadu (1954-63), he asked his assistant Mr.Vairavan to bring rice and dhal from the nearby Ration shop with his card. Mr.Vairavan replied that the rice supplied in the ration shop has a smell and suggested instead to bring rice and dhal from the market. Kamaraj got angry and shouted at his assistant that the rice which was available in the ration shop should be consumed by Ministers and the Chief Minister as well, and only then will the people ever get a good quality of products. Mr.Vairavan silently went to the shop and did as he was asked.

Those were the days in which Indian politicians used to think about people. They used to lead people by taking the lead to perform difficult task. The politicians used to actually serve people.


Kamaraj was a rarity in Indian politics, and undoubtedly the tallest leader in Tamil Nadu. A school dropout and freedom fighter who went on to become the Congress president despite knowing no Hindi and no English, he played the kingmaker in national politics for over two decades by picking two prime ministers – Shastriji and Indira Gandhi. However, despite his national stature, Tamil Nadu still remembers Kamaraj fondly for the governance he provided as chief minister from April 1954 to October 1963.

His genuine concern for the poor was matched only by his scrupulous honesty and integrity.

During the nine years Kamaraj ruled, Tamil Nadu became India’s most urbanized and the third most industrialized state. His pioneering reforms in education included the noon meal scheme aimed at wooing children from poor families to schools (which MGR later perfected). Secondary education was made free. By 1961, all major rivers in the state had been harnessed; Tamil Nadu became self-sufficient in food production from being a food deficit state. An excellent judge of character, Kamaraj headed a lean council of ministers and let bureaucrats work without political interference, providing Tamil Nadu “with arguably its best government so far”.

Kamaraj had humble beginnings. Son of a toddy tapper (Nadar) he became, against his family’s wishes, a Congress volunteer at age 16 and formally joined the party five years later. He was a born fighter and a perfect organizer. The British jailed him four times, making him a known face across Tamil Nadu. Rising through the ranks, he became the Congress president in Tamil Nadu in 1940.

A year before Nehru died in 1964, Kamaraj stepped down as chief minister and unveiled what came to be known as the “Kamaraj Plan” to revitalize the Congress. It involved six chief ministers and six cabinet ministers resigning to do party work. Not everyone was happy. A member of the “Syndicate”, Kamaraj picked Shastri to succeed Nehru in 1964, spiking the dreams of right-wingers like Morarji Desai. He did the same with Indira Gandhi in 1966. But the idealistic politician that he was, he later left Indira Gandhi and joined the rival Congress-O – along with Desai.

By then, anti-Hindi riots had swept Tamil Nadu, drastically weakening the Congress and allowing the DMK to rise and rise. Kamaraj was defeated, for the first time, in the 1967 assembly election that brought the DMK to power in Tamil Nadu. Kamaraj managed to return to parliament twice but he was never the same again. Efforts for a rapprochement with Indira Gandhi failed. Until he died on 2nd September 1975, the “brilliant, decisive, persuasive and vengeful” politician refused to make a deal with the Dravidian parties.

Since its inception, his Midday Meal Scheme has been enhanced by successive governments and has now been adopted across the country. In Tamil Nadu, the scheme has undergone several changes such as the inclusion of eggs and vitamin tablets to improve the nutritional value of the meals. Though it is difficult to measure the success of the Midday Meal Scheme in isolation, its contribution to reduction of drop-out rates, increasing enrolment and improving nutritional status of children is beyond doubt. A research study (Rajan and Jayakumar, Economic and Political Weekly, 1992) conducted in Kanyakumari district has indicated that the drop-out rate reduced from 40 per cent to 22 per cent and enrolment rates for children between 6 and 11 years reached nearly 100 per cent during the 1980s. Equally importantly, caste-wise analysis of the scheme has divulged that it had a greater impact on the enrolment of students from backward classes and Muslim communities.

Such heartening results inspired Dr Manmohan Singh, as the Union Minister of Finance in 1995, to suggest that the scheme be implemented all over India under the ‘National Programme for Nutrition Support to Primary Education’. From 2008-09, the scheme covered children studying in government, local body and government-aided primary and upper primary schools and the EGS/ AIE centres of all areas across the country. Today, the scheme started by Kamaraj, who dropped out of school at the age of 11, is estimated to benefit a total of 11.77 crore students across the nation.

In 1976, he was posthumously conferred the Bharat Ratna.

TATA.SIVAIAH, president, Mahatma Jyotirao Phule & Krantijyoti Savitribai Phule Educational Circle, Hyderabad Central University,

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  1. K SHESHU BABU says:

    Kamaraj was not only the backbone of Tamil nadu, he was one of the most influential person in India. His strength in Congress can be easily assessed by the position he held in the party. Even though he had chances of becoming prime minister, his honesty and sincerity prevented him from becoming an opportunistic. That is the greatness of kamaraj.
    Kamaraj social work and getting dalits under one roof and agitating against brahmin for allowing all members to enter Tempe were his greatest goals. His work must be projected.
    Kamaraj remains the doyen of modern India. Salutes !!!?

  2. K SHESHU BABU says:

    The greatness of Karnaraj has not been projected fully by the society and the Congress party. His greatest achievement called ‘ Karnaraj plan’ is the need if the hour in the present day where politicians are clinging to power.
    Thanks for the detailed analysis .. Salutes to Kamaraj…!!!