Kumarasami Kamaraj , better known as K. Kamaraj, also Kamarajar (15 July 1903 – 2 October 1975) was an Indian politician from Tamil Nadu widely acknowledged as the “Kingmaker” in Indian politics during the 1960s. He was known for his simplicity and integrity.
In Tamil Nadu, his home state, he is still remembered for bringing school education to millions of the rural poor by introducing free education and the free Midday Meal Scheme during his tenure as chief minister. He was awarded India’s highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna, posthumously in 1976.
As Chief Minister of the State, Kamaraj removed the family vocation based Hereditary Education Policy introduced by Rajaji. The State made immense strides in education and trade. New schools were opened, so that poor rural students were to walk no more than 3 miles (4.8 km) to their nearest school. 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 up to the eleventh standard. He introduced the Midday Meal Scheme to provide at least one meal per day to the lakhs of poor school children (for the first time in the world). He introduced free school uniforms to weed out caste, creed and class distinctions among young minds.
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.
During the British regime the education rate was only 7 per cent. But in Kamaraj’s period it reached 37% . Apart from increasing the number of schools, steps were taken to improve standards of education. To improve standards, the number of working days was increased from 180 to 200; unnecessary holidays were reduced; and syllabuses were prepared to give opportunity to various abilities. Kamaraj and Bishnuram Medhi (Governor) took efforts to establish IIT Madras in 1959.
Kamaraj died at his home on 2 October 1975. He was awarded India’s highest civilian honour, the ‘Bharat Ratna’ posthumously in 1976.
In 2004 a Tamil film titled Kamaraj was made based on the life history of Kamaraj. The English version of the film was released on DVD in 2007. You can watch the inspirational story of Kamarajar in Tamil by clicking the image to your left.