A leader worth emulation
Not cut from the typical cloth of intellectual pioneers, K Kamaraj was nevertheless a visionary who bridged the ideals of Pandit Nehru & Mahatma Gandhi
K Kamaraj, a visionary Chief Minister for a decade, a transformational leader of All India Congress Committee for five crucial years to choose the Prime Minister for the country, a radical chief of the Tamil Nadu Pradesh Congress Committee for a period of ten years to transform the party from the hands of the zamindars to the ordinary workers, made a history of sorts worth emulation in all the spheres, despite his poor educational and socio-economic background. Of all the Chief Ministers of the Indian National Congress during his period, he was the one who laid the foundation for the social and economic development of a state (Tamil Nadu) by integrating the development framework of Pandit Nehru and MK Gandhi which is unique and worthy of emulation elsewhere even now as villages are in near extinction. He demonstrated through his action that the development of a state could be achieved through a process of integrating both centralised and decentralised economic activities. But unfortunately, he has been glorified and worshipped for political advantage but totally the development framework evolved by K Kamaraj has been neither understood by the Chief Ministers of the Indian National Congress in other states nor the successors in the same state Tamil Nadu.
His framework of development consists of the following components; a) small government with big governance; b) probity and rectitude in administration; c) faster industrialisation and rural transformation through a synergetic process; d) Integrated social development activities namely education and health; (e) public participation in social development activities through Panchayati Raj; and (f) Public-private partnership social development activities.
His innovative midday meal scheme enabled massive enrollment of the students in elementary schools and retained them in the schools without dropouts which prompted the planning commission to incorporate this scheme for funding from the second plan onwards. Kamaraj was known to the world not through his development framework but through his innovative educational programme.
He established a single teacher school for every 300 people and thereby schools penetrated into every hamlet of Tamil Nadu. In 1951, there were 15,800 schools with 1.9 million students. In 1963, he made it into 2,900 schools with 4 million students. In order to keep at least one teacher living in the village, every school was provided with a house. Further, he concentrated on secondary schools also and, thereby, he increased the secondary schools from 637 to 1,995 in the year 1963. Enrolment of students rose from 3,33,000 to 9,00,000. In order to make the society a reading society, he expanded public libraries from 11 in 1954 to 747 in 1964. He did not stop with that. He introduced school uniforms for the elementary school children as he found many poor girl children dropped out of school because of the fact that they did not have proper clothing. His revolutionary midday meal scheme started on March 27, 1955, by providing meals for two lakh students. In 1963 it rose to 12 lakh. He made it into a partnership programme and thereby the local people have to contribute for a noon meal and school uniform to all girl children. His innovative partnership scheme of allowing the private donors to bear the capital cost of establishing hospital buildings and the Government taking the responsibility of maintenance cost paved the way for conceptualising the same as a public-private partnership in the later years.
There is yet another significant work done by him which was the creation of a vibrant Panchayati Raj system to work for increasing agricultural production, animal husbandry, population control, and establishing village industries to engage the people in development work and for which he passed the 'Panchayati Raj Act', 1958. It is to be understood that Tamil Nadu was under the strong influence of landlordism, and feudalism and Tamil Society is hierarchical in thought and action. During this period, district bards were under the influence of district bigwigs and they acted as district Rajas. Kamaraj wanted to reach out to the masses without any hindrance. Therefore, he removed the district boards and kept the vibrant two-tier Panchayati Raj system. In order to activate the panchayats at the grassroots for transformative and critical development works, he chose Gandhian and freedom fighter, G Venkatachalapathy as Rural Development Commissioner by abdicating the practice of appointing IAS officials in the post. K Kamaraj brought Jawaharlal Nehru to Tamil Nadu to participate in the panchayat leaders' meet. In such a way, he strengthened the Panchayati Raj system. Researchers compared the Panchayati Raj of Tamil Nadu during K Kamaraj with the constitutionally created panchayats of today and observed that the two-tier Panchayati Raj created by K.Kamaraj was more vibrant and stronger as compared to the present one.
Along with panchayat, there was yet another institution created in villages for agriculture development. This institution was that of cooperatives. He saw to it that in every village there should be a cooperative society in the hands of the stakeholder without the influence of the politicians. During this period, 11,366 cooperative societies, 332 Agriculture banks and 22 village banks functioned to help the farming community. Thereby, he created a model of development by synthesising the Nehruvian trickle-down model of development with participatory localised economic development model of Gandhi in Tamil Nadu. When Jawaharlal Nehru participated in the programme to unveil the statue of K Kamaraj in 1961, he lamented that he normally not inclined to participate in such a programme of unveiling the statue of a living person but he has agreed to do this because K Kamaraj is an unusual person with a solid achievement of development in the state with limited resources". He is not only a developmentalist but a silent revolutionary in thought and action. His successors have implemented all his social development measures by allocating more resources but they could not make them happen through the participation of the public. His model of development could be understood only when we carefully analyse an observation of Nehru in 1963 after visiting the Gandhigram and rural development activities of the Gandhigram Trust in Tamil Nadu. He said "Also, I begin to think more and more of Mahatma Gandhi's approach. It is odd that I am mentioning his name in this connection; that is to say, I am entirely an admirer of the modern machine and I want the best machinery and the best technique. But taking things as they are in India, however rapidly we advance in the machine age — and we will do so — the fact remains that large numbers of our people are not touched and will not be touched by it for a considerable time. Some other methods have to be evolved so that they become partners in production even though the production apparatus of things may not be efficient as compared to modern technique, but we must use that; otherwise, it is wasted. That idea has to be borne in mind. We should think more about these very poor countrymen of ours and do something to improve their lot as quickly as we can. That is troubling me a great deal". Here one has to visualise the importance of the model developed by K Kamaraj to reach out to the rural poor through integrating the vision of Nehru and Gandhi.
He was not as intellectual as Nehru but his concern for his poor countrymen made him think through models and he evolved a model of his own and reached out to the masses by bridging the centralisation and decentralisation models of development.
The writer is a former Professor and Rajiv Gandhi Chair for Panchayati Raj Studies, Gandhigram Rural Institute. Views expressed are personal