Some Non Brahmin Leaders: The Raja Saheb of Panagal:
Leader of the Non-Brahmins
A Life-Sketch of Public Activities
Early life and education
Raja Ramarayaningar came from an ancient Kshatriya family long domiciled in South India. A scion of a noble family with great traditions of learning and culture the Raja Saheb gave early promise of the greatness that he was to achieve later in life. His ancestors were Velamas who claimed to be the earliest Kshatriyas to come to the South and settle in the Telugu country. Born in 1866, he like other members of his family was taught Telugu and Sanskrit, in which he soon became proficient. Happening to come in contact with some English educated boys of his own age, he was filled with a desire to study English also. After a few months of private study he joined the Triplicane High School in 1882. The interest in and love for the classical language that he developed at this time continued throughout his life. The teachers loved him because of his high character and studious habits and among the students, none was more popular than he. His unique charm of manners and innate spirit of generosity and helpfulness attracted to him the abiding loyalty and friendship of many among his classmates. Four years later he passed the matriculation examination and joined the Presidency College. Here his early education in Sanskrit stood him in good stead and there has not been to this day, perhaps another whose scholarship did greater honour to the degree. He graduated in 1893 taking advanced chemistry as his optional subject. In 1899 he passed the M.A. Degree examination in Philosophy and Dravidian languages (with Telugu advanced) having in the meantime completed the B.L. course in the Law College. Keenly interested in all progressive movements as he was, he did not remain long, after his educational career was over. He was nominated a fellow of the Madras University, in which capacity he did some very good work
His first training in public life was in the District Board of North Arcot. The next step in public life was taken when in 1912 he was returned to the Imperial Legislative council by the Landlords and Zamindars of Southern India. His work in that sphere was of such a character that Lord Hardinge more than once selected him for special compliment. On the few occasions he spoke in the Council, he spoke with the force of conviction that came of close study, deep insight, and painstaking observation. The main work that he did as a member of the Imperial Legislature was to give a fillip to the forces of reform and progress at work in the midst of Hindu society. He pleaded hard and with unabating fervour all the while he was a member of the Council for the amelioration of the lot of the oppressed, the suppressed, and the down-trodden. He eventually succeeded to a very great extent in driving home to the minds of the powers that be, the conviction that a policy of placating the classes alone, neglecting the masses and their welfare, would not prove paying in the long run. He wanted all Provincial Governments to have separate officers and departments to look after the welfare and promote the interest of the depressed classes, and it may be said without fear of contradiction that to him belongs a large share of the credit for the creation of a separate department and a special officer in this province for that purpose at a later date. In 1915 he was elected President of the Third Andhra Conference and the brilliant address he delivered is full of the fire and patriotism marked also by good sense and sober judgment.
It was really this sympathy and solicitude for the well being and uplift of the underdog that led him to cast his lot with the Non-Brahmin movement when it was started by the late Dr. T. M. Nair and Sir. P. Theagaroya Chettiar in 1917.The Raja Saheb felt not only that a separate organization was necessary for the betterment of the lot of the Non Brahmin communities, he also felt that, if the Non Brahmins allowed any more time to slip their hands by remaining in lethargy and indifference, they would be crushed down by the intelligentsia and made to sweat and slave as hewers of wood and drawers of water for ever. He had no hesitation therefore to ally himself with the twin founders of the Non-Brahmin movement when the call for rally was sounded in the interests of a community that he loved so well. It was true that feeling was running high in those days and that any one who identified himself with the movement had to be prepared for any amount of misunderstanding, abuse, and obloquy. But the thorough-going democrat that he was, the Raja Saheb did not care for the frowns or favours of anyone – his one and only ambition was to work for the cause of whose essential loftiness, justice and equity he was convinced. He knew that millions of his countrymen were suffering under untold hardships and difficulties as a result of a social system which exalted the accident of birth over everything else, and he was also convinced that, though constituting the bulk of the people of the province contributing the largest portion of the revenues of the Government the Non Brahmins as a community were in a really pitiable plight so far as political power was concerned.
Chief Minister 1920-1926
As a result of his own endeavours and earnest advocacy of the cause both in India and England – he went to the latter and tendered evidence before the Joint Parliamentary committee in 1918 – the Non-Brahmins not only came in for a measure of protection when the Montague Chelmsford reforms were brought into force in the shape of a reservation of seats, they also had their eyes opened to the need for organization and self-assertion. And both these factors worked to the advantage of the party when the elections followed the passing of the Government of India Act of 1919. In the contests, the Non-Brahmin candidates put up by the Party were successful in sufficiently large numbers to force the hands of the Governor of the province at the time to call for the leader of the Party and form the first Ministry. Impressed as he was by the meritorious services rendered by the Raja Saheb to the party and the cause that it was upholding, the late Sir P. Theagaroya Chettiar recommended his name for a ministership. And the confidence placed in the Raja Saheb, it was clear to the late Sir. P. Theagaroya himself before his death was fully justified. The Raja Saheb conducted himself to the satisfaction of all, and during the two terms of office he had as Minister, he did unforgettable service to the country in general, and to the Non-brahmin communities in particular. He had very high ideals of education, co-operation, social reform and philanthropy. He did not, however, stop with precepts; for he has succeeded in translating his ideals into practice in many ways. He has established a secondary school and a poor house at Kalahasti. He has also established a free school and a hostel for agriculturists and artisans. He has made endowments one of which is to the University of Madras for the encouragement of scientific publications in Telugu.
There was not a single department under his control on which he had not left a lasting impress of his personality and patriotism. In the matter of the Indianisation of the services on which the leader of the country had been keen for decades past, the Raja Saheb enhanced the pace to the utmost possible extent. In fact, it is admitted on all hands that no minister in any of the provinces has done so much for Indianising the services as he had. His scheme for the reorganization of the Public Health Department; his work in the direction of promoting rural medical relief by subsidizing medical men to settle down in villages; his persistent fight – attended with no small measure of success – for the improvement of water supply and communications in the long neglected parts of the countryside; his supreme interest in the development of the indigenous systems of medicine, symbolized and memoralised in the Indian School on Medicine that we have now in the City; his able and unceasing advocacy of the interests of the Adi Dravidas and other depressed communities testified by the fact that it was during his regime as Minister that the members of these classes acquired a large number of seats in the local bodies – all these will ever remain fresh in our memory to remind us of the great departed leader and his unique services to our province. And then, what shall we say of that crowning achievement of his office as Minister – the passing of legislation for the control and right conduct of the religious endowments. The Hindu Religious Endowments Act may well be regarded as the greatest piece of social and religious reform achieved during the present century. It cut at the root of an organized system of corruption, evil and misuse of funds that had been flourishing in our midst for years past, and that it was left to our late leader to stamp it out and bring order where chaos prevailed, is a matter of which everyone of us has good reason to be proud for all time to come. Using the small force in the Council under his command as Blucher’s contingent (the reference is to the Prussian General who fought at Waterloo – editors), he brought not only the Council but also a weak-kneed Government to his feet. In fine, the Raja had most of the qualities that go to the making of a true statesman, and History will assuredly place him in the line of the great administrators of India. In recognition of his meritorious services in the capacity of Minister for Local Self-Government, he received the hereditary title of the Raja in 1923.
To the Non-Brahmins of not only our province, but of sister provinces as well, the loss of the Raja Sahib is something that is inconceivably severe. We have none in our midst to-day who can be said to be an equal to him in qualities of leadership, and when we contemplate the prospect ahead we must be pardoned for saying that it all looks so drab and dreary.
– Revolt, 19 December 1928