President: 1903 - 1975
K.Kamraj, one of India’s strongest politicians and statesmen, was born on 15 July 1903 in Virudhunagar, Tamil Nadu.
After dropping out of school at the age of 12, he started working at a local store. When he was 15, the news of Jallianwala Bagh massacre deeply affected him and it turned out to be the turning point in his life. 2 years later he met Gandhi ji in Madurai and eventually decided to join as a member of the Indian National Congress and dedicate himself to the freedom struggle.
Early in his career as a political campaigner, he participated in several agitations and demonstrations including the Non-Violent Movement and the Satyagraha Movement. He was first arrested in 1930 for his active participation in the Salt Satyagraha and subsequently spent several years in British prisons after being arrested leading protests against the colonial government.
Kamraj was elected as the president of the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee in February 1940, a position he retained till 1954. After first being elected to the Madras Legislative Assembly in 1937, he went on to be re-elected in 1946. He was elected to the Constituent Assembly of India in 1946 as well as to the first Lok Sabha in 1952. He was also in the Working Committee of the AICC from 1947 till the Congress split in 1969, either as a member or as a special invitee.
In 1954, he was appointed as the Chief Minister of Madras. Under his leadership, the state witnessed tremendous progress and development especially in the fields of health, education and industrialisation which he personally monitored. His efforts at ameliorating the situations of the marginalised communities in the state by introducing schemes like the mid day meals and universal education gained him a reputation as a pro-poor leader. He pioneered several developmental schemes like promotion of small and medium scale industries, eradication of illiteracy as well as social reformation. The Land Ceiling Act and the Tenancy Protection Act, implemented by his government, benefited small farmers and saved them from being exploited by landlords. He was the Chief Minister for 9 years until 1963 and during his tenure, Nehru declared Madras as the best administered state.
After resigning from the position of the Chief Minister, Kamraj devoted himself to the service of thecountry. In what came to be known as the Kamraj Plan, he suggested that the senior Congress leaders should leave ministerial posts to take up organisational work and work to strengthen the aims and objectives of the party and refrain from getting distracted by power politics. Within two months, this suggestion was adopted and six Chief Ministers resigned under the plan.
In 1964, he was elected the President of the All India Congress. During his term as the President, he successfully steered the nation through the stormy years post Nehru’s death. He refused to take up Prime Ministerial office twice, giving it to Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi in 1964 and 1966 respectively. After the split in Congress in 1969, Kamaraj became the leader of the Indian National Congress (Organisation) in Tamil Nadu.
Kamraj continued to work for the upliftment of the masses until his death in 1975. His dedicationtowards his work and position was reflected in his statement- “Face the problem, don't evade it. Find a solution however small”. He was awarded the Bharat Ratna posthumously.