Rajaji, a Life by Rajmohan Gandhi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Rajaji is one of the personalities who is constantly portrayed as a villain in many of the biopics on other people like the Film on Periyar. One thing everyone in Tamilnadu knows, he was a castiest bhraminical leader who wanted to bring education system based on Varna system.
There is no defender for him in the current scheme of things, by opposing Nehru post independence he cut his links with the Congress. He was bhraminical so never liked by Dravidian politics.
So I had very little opinion or idea about this man’s life. This biography captures the essence of the life of this great man. What stood out of Rajaji,
He is amazingly independent on his thoughts and ideas and till his death was revered as the greatest statesman. Even with the congress he dissented during the independence movement.
He famously opposed the Quit India movement citing the dangers Fascism offers to the independent world. This was suicidal for any leader at that time, and he antagonized the congress cadres base. But he stood by his conviction , as like he did many issues in his long cherished life. He was ready to battle it all alone if required, like the struggle against the License Permit Quota Raj(a line he coined), against the personality worship of Nehru. In these fights of course he did mistakes like aligning with the DMK when he started the Swantantra Party to oppose the Congress.
But he was not the one bogged down by public opinion, and it made him unpopular, loved and hated at the same time.
2. Religious Yet Broad Minded,
We have a template in the liberal circles like any one who espouses the Hindu scriptures like Gita, or one who is a practicing hindu has to be a bigot who supports say things like Untouchability and caste system. Same happened to Rajaji and his bhraminical background not helped in matters.
But in reality he was the first to oppose untouchabilty in tamilnadu. He made his life mission to open Indian temples to untouchable. He famously defended a case on an untouchable entering the Thiruchanoor temple. His ashram inmates comprised of people from different caste backgrounds. He totally believed in the horrors of caste system and untouchability but he didn’t have the standard liberal. So he had to suffer like any independent thinker has to.
So he wrote major works on Gita, Ramayana and his writings were important to the formation of modern tamil prose.
Rajaji’s strength was his witty and memorable one liners with which he won many arguments.
He was one of the most successful lawyers of tamilnadu when he decided to quit the profession to participate in the independence movement. He was one of the finest parliamentarians India produced, and he provided a demonstration of his witty tongue in these debates.
He was part of the lost breed of administrator who wanted to do the right think not always the popular one. A life long supporter of prohibition of liquor, he changed the lives of poor people through his activities regarding prohibition and khadi. Take for instance the much criticized education policy. The idea was clear and simple, he wanted to increase the admission in schools, with the current financial constraints it was not possible to open more schools neither to increase the teachers. Hence he suggested the school time for children will be reduced to 3 hours and the schools can cater to two batches of students in one day. He also suggested in the remaining time the children can learn their family work. This snowballed into a controversy which was totally uncalled for, and was forced to resign his post. He was adamant to such an extent is surprising but he felt it was the right thing to do.
Funny aspect about Rajaji is introduced as the one with a weak frame in the beginning .
He comes about as one who is often sick and tired wanting to retire. But curiously he outlived all of the major leaders of independence Gandhi, Patel, Azad, Rajendra Prasad, Nehru .
In a way he was active in stages of life from the time British Raj was in full force, the independence movement, to around 3 decades in independent India. This made him involved with so much of issues in a wide ranging arc. He was like the conscious keeper of India for three decades post independence.
This book is a phenomenal learning on his life.
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