Bharat Ratna, the prestigious and India's highest honour instituted by the President of India on January 2, 1954, is conferred on individuals for rendering outstanding services to the world community. It is a way of saluting the towering personalities who have left an indelible imprint on human history by their sacrifice and service. This 50th year of Independence is a historical moment to remember these eminent men and women and to draw inspiration from them.

The recipient of Bharat Ratna in 1954, C. Rajgopalachari always championed the cause of liberty, fundamental rights, the rule of law and social justice. Patriotism to him was an article of faith. Apart from being an administrator par excellence, he was also honoured by the Sahitya Akademy Award for his literary work.

C. Rajagopalachari or Rajaji as he is better known, played a stellar role in the independence movement of the country. Even after independence as the country's Governor- General he made sterling contribution to the constitutional precedents and values - which even today guide our nation.

Gandhiji's Southern Commander

Rajaji was born in the year 1878 in a middle class orthodox Brahmin family in Salem district in the then Madras Presidency. He devoted his entire life to reformist causes such as anti-touchability, prohibition, temple entry, economic uplift of the backward classes and secularim. Although he entered the political arena in 1915 but for over a decade after World War I he was content to devote his energies to Gandhi's constructive programmes. A shy man like C. Rajagopalachari preferred to remain in the background, but his brilliance and selfless character had greatly attracted Gandhiji's sharp and experienced Private Secretary, Mahadev Desai who advised Gandhiji to "cultivate this man". Ultimately Rajaji became the "conscious keeper" of Gandhiji.

Gandhiji had so much influence on Rajaji that in 1920, he was noticed addressing Gandhiji in a letter as `My dearest Master'. At Gandhiji's call, he gave up his legal practice in 1921. He was also one of the signatories to the famous manifesto of October 4, 1921, declaring that it was the duty of every soldier and civilian to sever his connection with the British Government and find some other means of livelihood. He was in a very close touch with Gandhiji when the Non-Cooperation Movement was in full swing. Rajaji always played an important role in saving Gandhiji from long fasts.

In becoming warrior from the south and Gandhi's southern commander, he was in a position to understand the complexities of the situation and its inherent contradictions and dangers, perhaps much more than his commander-in- chief. Though at times they were poles apart ideologically, the intimate but mutually respectful relationship between them always existed.

The Flag Satyagraha

Rajaji organised a Flag Satyagraha in Nagpur in 1923. He also became a staunch supporter of Khadi. In February 1925, he set up an Ashram at Tiruchengode to boost khadi work.

He led the 15 day long Salt Satyagraha March in Tamil Nadu from Trichy to Vedaranyam on April 13, 1930. This march galvanized political activity in South India. Rajaji was arrested and sentenced to six months imprisonment plus a fine of Rs.200 or another three months imprisonment. Earlier he was the General Secretary of the A.I.C.C., a Member of the Congress Working Committee and President of its Provincial Committee for many years.

During 1937-39 he was the first Chief Minister of Madras Presidency. Behind Gandhi's success at the Round Table Conference and earlier, in the Gandhi-Irwin Pact, there is strong evidence of Rajaji's quiet work and dogged persistence. In 1937 he was responsible for evolving the formula that led Congress to accept office in the provinces in which it had won a majority

. The Reformist CM

Rajaji pleaded strongly for the social and economic reform of Indian society, especially the removal of untouchability. As Chief Minister of Madras he was responsible for Madras Temple Entry Act (1939). It is observed that Madras, under him was well ahead of all other provinces. He was opposed to the Congress abdicating responsibility in the provinces in the outbreak of World War II.

In March-April 1942, Rajagopalachari was among a small minority of Congress leaders who favoured acceptance of proposals by the Cripps Mission with a view to breaking the existing political deadlock. At the Allahabad meeting of the Congress Working Committee (July 1942) Rajaji came out with the bold suggestion that the party accept the principle of partition as the basis for an understanding with the Muslim League.

`CR Formula' for Partition

The `C.R. Formula' which formed the basis of the 1944 Gandhi-Jinnah talks, relied on the premise implicit in the formula itself, of a treaty of separation which would provide for the efficient and satisfactory administration for a difficult phase of transition.

After the War he was a member of the Governor General's Executive Council from 1946-47 and went on to become the Governor General of India from 1948-50.

When the new constitution was adopted on January 26, 1950, Dr.Rajendra Prasad became the first President of India and C.R. relinquished the post of Governor-General. On Jawaharlal Nehru's invitation, he became Minister without portfolio in 1950. But soon when Sardar Patel who was then the Home Minister, expired Rajaji was made the Minister for Home Affairs in the Central Cabinet in November 1951. He was once Chief Minister of Madras during 1952-54. Thereafter, he gradually drifted away from the Congress mainstream and was instrumental in the formation of the pronouncedly rightist and anti-Congress Swatantra Party. In opposition, he was not only a leader of his Swantantra party, but also was a guide, friend and philosopher to the entire opposition.

Incandescent and Magnetic

Rajaji had a tremendous reputation for his acute intellect and has been described as being "incandescent and magnetic" a person of great courtesy, kindness, daring and sparkle.

The communication of his views with a high religious, devotional or moral strain running through them not only put on the stamp of his intellectual qualities but also created an awareness of the place of morality and dignity in public life. There is no doubt that these had a profound influence of Gandhiji at the time.

He had written on varied subjects and his writings reveal depth and scholarship. His important and valuable publications include : Ramayana, Mahabharata, Upanishads and Bhaja Govindam in English language. Mahabharata and Ramayana are published in many editions and translated into many Indian and foreign languages. Rajaji was awarded by the Sahitya Akademi for his Tamil book on Ramayana.

What Rajaji did for the propagation of Hindi in the South in 1932 during those days brought the North and the South much closer than would have been possible merely under the inspiration of nationalism. He had stated, "I consider the importance of Hindi for the South Indians, because there is no getting away from it. If there is any Indian language which could replace English throughout the length and breadth of the country, it is Hindi. A majority of the people understand this language".

An Administrator Par Excellence

Rajaji added glory to all posts that he held. He was as firm in his precepts and principles as he was in his actions. There was consistency in his thinking. Criticism never deterred him from expressing what he felt was true.

Throughout his career as a politician, he had set for himself a high standard of rectitude and impartiality. Rajaji remained a spirited crusader for human rights and its values, morality in public life and the best of the past and for the best that is in the present.

Rajaji fell ill in November, 1972 and breathed his last on December 25, 1972. His daughter, Smt. Lakshmi Devdas Gandhi reminiscenced, "Anna was endowed with the spiritual strength. In addition, he brimmed with the indomitable courage, fighting for noble causes, without ever losing heart. He had always been fighting against social justice. He fought for the independence of the nation. After independence, he was fighting for his ideals."

Bharat Ratna, the highest award of the nation, was conferred on him in 1954 in recognition of his meritorious service to the mankind.