was born on July 15, 1903, in a family of traders at Virudunagar. His real name
was Kamakshi Kumaraswamy Nader but was affectionately shortened to Raja by his
mother, Sivakami Ammal. His father, Kumarswamy Nader, was a coconut merchant.
Kamaraj was enrolled at the local elementary school, the Nayanar Vidyalaya but
was later shifted to the high school Kshatriya Vidyalaya.
Unfortunately his father died within a year of Kamaraj’s enrollment in school.
Kamaraj’s mother sold all jewelry except her earrings and deposited the money
with a local merchant and cared for the entire family on the monthly interest
that the money earned.
Kamaraj was not a good student in school and dropped out when he was in the
sixth grade. When he entered mainstream public life he felt handicapped and
realized the importance of a good education. He educated himself during his
periods of imprisonment and even learned English from his co-worker.
Kamaraj joined as an apprentice in his maternal uncle Karuppiah’s cloth shop
after dropping out of school. He would slip out from the shop to join
processions and attend public meetings addressed by orators like Dr.
Varadarajulu Naidu and George Joseph. His relatives frowned upon Kamaraj ’s
budding interest in politics. They sent him to Thiruvananthapuram to work at
another uncle’s timer shop. Even there Kamaraj participated in the Vaikom
Satyagraha led by George Joseph, of the Congress, against the atrocities of the
higher caste Hindus on the Harijans. His elders had him called back home and
pressured him to marry. Kamaraj resolutely refused to bow to the dictates of his
At the age of 16, Kamaraj enrolled himself as full-time worker of the Congress.
He participated in inviting speakers, organizing meetings and collecting funds
for the party. He also participated in the march to Vedaranyam led by
Rajagopalachari as part of the Salt Satyagraha of March 1930.
Kamaraj was arrested and sent to Alipore Jail for two years. He was twenty seven
at the time of arrest and was released in 1931 following the Gandhi-Iriwn Pact.
Kamaraj was implicated in the Virudhunagar Bomb Case two years later. Dr.
Varadarajulu Naidu and George Joseph argued on Kamaraj’s behalf and proved the
charges to be baseless. Kamaraj was arrested again in 1940 and sent to Vellore
Jail while he was on his way to Wardha to get Gandhiji’s approval for a list of
While still in jail, Kamaraj was elected Chairman to the Municipal Council. Nine
months later upon his release, Kamaraj went straight to the Municipality and
tendered his resignation from his post. He felt that “one should not accept any
post to which one could not do full justice.”
Kamaraj was arrested once more in 1942 and sentenced to three years in the
Amaravathi prison for spreading propaganda material for Quit India movement
initiated by Gandhiji. While in prison, Kamaraj read books and continued his
Kamaraj’s political guru and inspiration was S. Satyamurti, orator and
parliamentarian. Satyamurti found in Kamaraj “an efficient, loyal, indefatigable
worker and skillful organizer (p. 147, Pakshirajan).” Both developed a deep
friendship and complemented each others’ skills. In 1936, Satyamurti was elected
President of the Provincial Congress and he appointed Kamaraj the General
Secretary. Four years later they swapped positions. The party base was
strengthened under their leadership. So deep was Kamaraj’s devotion for
Satyamurti that when India gained independence, he first went to Satyamurti’s
house and hoisted the Indian flag there. On his election as Chief Minister,
Kamaraj went to Satyamurti’s house and garlanded his photo and paid his respects
to the leader’s widow.
On April 13, 1954, K. Kamaraj reluctantly became the Chief Minister of Madras.
To everyone’s surprise, Kamaraj nominated C. Subramaniam and M. Bhakthavatsalam,
who had contested his leadership, to the newly formed cabinet. Kamaraj gave
simple advice to his ministers, “Face the problem. Don’t evade it. Find a
solution, however small… . People will be satisfied if you do something.” The
State made immense strides in education and trade. New schools were opened,
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 upto eleventh
standard. He introduced the Midday Meals Scheme to provide at least one meal per
day to the lakhs of poor children. He introduced free school uniforms to weed
out caste, creed and class distinctions among young minds.
Under Kamaraj’s administration, a number of irrigation schemes were completed in
record time. The Land Ceiling Act and the Tenancy Protection Act benefited small
farmers and saved them from being exploited by landlords. Medium and small scale
industries prospered in the midst of large industries making Madras one of the
leaders in industrialization. Nehru complimented Kamaraj for making Madras
(later renamed State of Tamil Nadu) the best administered State in India.”
Kamaraj remained Chief Minister for three consecutive terms. On October 2, 1963,
he resigned to serve a greater purpose. Kamaraj noticed that the Congress party
was slowly losing its vigor . He came up with a plan which was called the
“Kamaraj Plan.” He proposed that all senior Congress leaders should resign form
their posts and devote all their energy to the re-vitalization of the Congress.
A number of Central and State ministers like Lal Bahadur Shastri, Jagjivan Ram,
Morarji Desai and S.K. Patil followed suite and resigned from their posts. In
1964, Kamaraj was elected the President of the All India Congress and he
successfully navigated the nation through the stormy years following Nehru’s
On October 2, 1975, Gandhi Jayanti, Kamaraj awoke from his afternoon nap feeling
uneasy. His housekeeper, Vairavan, rang up his physician. While he was on his
way out, Kamaraj said, “Vairavan, put out the lights when you go out.” K.
Kamaraj died that day. He was honored with the highest civilian honor, the
Bharat Ratna, posthumously in 1976.