Siddavanalli Nijalingappa was born on 10 December, 1902, in a middle-class Hindu Lingayat family in a small village in the Bellary district, Mysore State. He graduated from Central College, Bangalore in 1924, and got his Law degree from Law College, Poona in 1926.
As a child he was given traditional education by an old-school teacher named Veerappa Master. Thus, like the other heroes of the Indian Freedom Movement, Nijalingappa too had a unique blend of both traditional and modern education.
The life and vachanas of Basaveshwar and the philosophy of Shankaracharya, as well as the course of the Indian Freedom Movement and the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi had the utmost effect on his mind. Nijalingappa's political career started late, i.e. in 1936. He used to attend the Congress sessions as a spectator.
It was in 1936, when Nijalingappa came into contact with Dr. N. S. Hardikar, that he began to take an active interest in the organisation. He served initially as a volunteer, but soon rose to be the President of the Pradesh Congress Committee and finally, the President of the All India Congress Committee in 1968.
Parallel to India's Freedom Movement was the movement for the unification of Karnataka. The services rendered by Nijalingappa towards the latter were unique, and in recognition of the same, he was elected as its first Chief Minister. He was elected for a second time to the same responsible post, and he continued in that post up to April, 1968.
He may well be called the founder of modern Karnataka. He became the Congress President when people in many parts of the country had begun to express their distrust towards the party in the 1967 elections. Due to the untiring efforts of Nijalingappa, the Congress Party was re-invigorated.
Perhaps the greatest tragedy in the history of the Indian National Congress occurred during his Presidency. Due to the unfortunate schism that developed between the organisation front and the administrative wing, the Congress Party was split, with Nijalingappa siding with the organisation front against the progressive forces led by Smt Indira Gandhi.
“The Official Language of the Union has always presented a difficult and complex problem. It was after a good deal of discussion and consideration, that the late Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru evolved a consensus in the matter and gave a categorical assurance to the non-Hindi people that they would not be put under a handicap in adopting Hindi as the official language.”
From the Presidential Address - S. Nijalingappa I.N.C. Session, 1968, Hyderabad