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He led by example

Meet T. A. Ramalingam Chettiar, a Coimbatorean who helped shape the thought of our nation in politics, the co-operative movement and economy

photo: private collection

A GREAT LIFE T. A. Ramalingam Chettiar

People from our region have played an important role in the making of our nation. One such person is T. A. Ramalingam Chettiar, a man who contributed to the shaping of our modern history.

Former President Dr. S. Radhakrishnan had this to say of him: "I had always great respect for his patriotism and judgment".

Many great men of our land have great regard for him and many others were inspired by his life and ideals. Another President V.V. Giri said: "He was one of the greatest co-operators of India and his work will ever be remembered in this behalf."

These observations throw light on his importance and it is vital for us to know how this great man rose to become one of India's proud sons.

Ramalingam was born in Tirupur on May 18, 1881. His parents were Angappa Chettiar and Meenakshi Ammal and the wealthy Chettiar family was involved in cotton trading and banking. He was sent to Coimbatore for schooling (which he completed with distinction in 1897) and went to Madras to pursue higher education in Presidency College in 1901.

Conscientious lawyer

Ramalingam Chettiar enrolled to study B.L Degree and completed it in 1904. In that era, many people who rose to eminence had legal studies and Ramalingam Chettiar followed suit, equipping himself for a glorious future.

After this, he joined the High Court to practise and soon became a leading lawyer and then, President of the Bar Council of Madras. It is said that he mostly did not entertain criminal cases.

It was at this stage that he got interested in politics and the making of our nation.

As the first step in his role as public figure, he took up the top positions of Vice-President and President of the District Board between 1913 and the 1920s. During this period, he was also Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the Municipality of Coimbatore and gained the trust and goodwill of the people.

As a next logical step, he became a member of the Madras Legislative Council in 1921, where his thoughts and experience earned him respect and admiration.

After years of playing a role in the State, he contested the elections to the Constituent Assembly of India and became one of its first members from our region.

A speech made by Ramalingam Chettiar on September 13, 1949, is available in the Parliament Archives even today.

The deliberation of that specific day is of relevance as it deals with the much-debated language issue.

He said: "Sir, I have great admiration for the Hindi people for their great patriotism and the perseverance and the persistence with which they are enforcing their decisions, but at the same time they will have to realise that we too may have some patriotism like that, we may have some patriotism and love for our language, for our literature and things like that."

(To view the whole text, go to www.parliamentofindia.nic.in and search for T. A. Ramalingam Chettiar.)

He was next elected unopposed to Parliament in 1951.

Ramalingam Chettiar, in many ways, is one of the most important persons behind the Co-operative Movement in India and the father of the movement in the Madras Presidency.

He got involved in the co-operative movement in 1911 and believed it was the best way for a country as vast as ours could progress.

He started the Tamilnad Co-operative Federation to popularise the concept and also published a monthly, Kooturavu, for this purpose.

His work

Among the other achievements of Ramalingam Chettiar are the establishment of a TB Sanatorium in Perundurai, setting up of various cooperative societies in the region, improving infrastructure at the hill shrine of Tirumala as President of the Tirupathi Devasthanam,establishing and improving educational institutions and taking up development works in Coimbatore district and the whole of Madras Presidency. Ramalingam Chettiar, a man with rare qualities, ensured that his private interests always came behind the public cause.

A frank and out spoken man, he even differed with Gandhiji once. He was also a good host and a lover of art, charitable but publicity-shy, knowledgeable about the economy and known for his judgment.

He was keenly interested in Tamil literature and his writings and speeches were praised by luminaries of the day.

This legend died in 1952 but is still remembered and revered by many. His family continues to protect his greatness and has tried to preserve a major portion of his work.

It is hard to imagine how a person could pack so much into one life.

To conclude, I quote V.V. Giri again — "If only our public men can imitate and emulate his example in the field of selfless service, our country is bound to have its legitimate place in the comity of nations."

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