Chakravarthi Rajagopalachari, known as or Rajaji or C.R., was an Indian lawyer, writer, statesman and a Hindu spiritualist. He was the second Governor-General of independent India. Later he became the Chief Minister of Madras State. At one time considered Mahatma Gandhi’s heir, this brilliant lawyer from Salem, Tamil Nadu was regarded in pre-independence years as one of the top five leaders of the Congress along with Jawaharlal Nehru, Rajendra Prasad, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. Rajaji was also related to Mahatma Gandhi – Rajmohan Gandhi is the grandson of both of them. Of the five, Rajaji, Nehru and Patel were christened the “head, heart and hands” of Gandhi, in whose shadows they remained till his death. Ironically, all three of them were to have a tempestuous relationship, bound together only by their common goal and Gandhi’s charm. However, they respected each other immensely. Nehru wrote about Rajaji in his autobiography of how Rajaji’s “brilliant intellect, selfless character, and penetrating powers of analysis have been a tremendous asset to our cause”. Rajaji was perhaps the earliest Congress leader in the 1940s to admit to the likelihood of the Partition. He even prophesied then that Pakistan might break up in twenty-five years. Rajaji was known to be a fierce defender of his political ideals, and did not hesitate to contradict his closest aides and friends in public, whenever he sensed a threat to them. After serving time in British prisons for his work in the independence movement, he became a member of the Governor’s Council in 1946. In 1948, after Indian independence was attained, he replaced Mountbatten to become the only Indian Governor-General of India, in which post he continued till the Republic was declared on January 26, 1950. The office was replaced by that of President, first held by Rajendra Prasad. Rajaji became a member of Jawaharlal Nehru’s cabinet, first without portfolio, then, after Patel’s death, as Home Minister. He was chief minister of Madras from 1952 to 1954. On leaving government, he was among the first recipients of the Bharat Ratna, the Indian government’s highest civilian award.
As a writer, he is one of the finest that India has to offer. Most erudite people have command of one language, but Rajaji was an expert in at least 3 (possibly 4). His works in his native Tamil are recognized as modern classics (published and re-printed several times). After his break with politics, he started on the massive task of translating the Hindu Scriptures Ramayana, Mahabharata from Sanskrit toTamil language and later into English. He received rave reviews from scholars and religious seers alike. He translated Upanishads and Bhaja Govindam into English. His novels and short stories, themselves would have won him public adulation. He also translated ‘The Tirukkural’ from Tamil to English. ‘Tirukkural’ is an ancient piece of the Tamil literature and is often referred to as ‘the flower of Tamilnad’. His ability as a writer, is in a sense, unparalleled, not just in India alone. Some of his poetry was set to music and sung by Carnatic music’s dominant personality M S Subbulakshmi at several occasions of importance, and once at the United Nations Kurai Onrum Illai (meaning – No regrets have I My lord, None) is a very famous song in the semi-Carnatic music genre written by Rajaji and the most popular version, (widely acknowledged as soul-stirring) has been rendered by M.S. Subbulakshmi. Rajaji also composed a hymn “Here under this Uniting Roof” which was sung in 1966 at the United Nations, again by M.S. Subbulakshmi. He was invited to the White House by President Kennedy; perhaps the only civilian, not in power, ever to be accorded formal state reception. The two discussed various matters and it is said that the great Indian statesman tried to impress the young President on the folly of an arms race – even one which the US could win. Today, such warnings haunt us. Rajaji’s statesmanship and vision for all mankind is recognized to this day. The nonagenarian’s public life, spanning nearly eighty years are perhaps best recognized by Mahatma Gandhi’s rich tribute to him praising him as: “the keeper of my conscience”.Rajaji died in December, 1972 after a short illness.