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Courage was his watchword


The year 1927 was a watershed in the annals of the freedom struggle, when the Simon Commission was deputed to discuss with leaders of the Indian National Congress the reforms and amendments to the existing statute pertaining to British India. When the commission came to Madras it faced a hostile crowd of processionists shouting full-throated: 'Go back Simon Commission'. The police opened indiscriminate fire at the protesters in Parry's Corner, the busy centre of the city, and a young volunteer died on the spot. The procession leaders asked the police officer to allow them to identify the victim. Training his rifle at the processionists, he threatened them with dire consequences, and none dared to approach the body.

But one leader among them bravely unbuttoned his coat showing his chest before the rifleman and shouted: ''Shoot me''. Fearing fatal consequences, the police officer withdrew the revolver, whereupon a plethora of voices came from the crowd shouting loudly `Andhra Kesari ki Jai'. That was Tanguturi Prakasam Pantulu, who from then onwards came to be reverentially called 'Andhra Kesari'. Born on August 23, 1872, as the first son of Gopalakrishnayya and Subbammain Kanaparti village in the then Guntur district, he lost his father in prime and was brought up by his mother braving abject poverty. He grew up and joined the middle school, when he came under the pupilage of Immaneni Hanumantharao Naidu, a teacher with a difference, who developed parental love for Prakasam and helped him in ever so many ways to channel the energies of the young dynamo on constructive lines. Naidu and Prakasam moved out to Rajahmundry, where the lad passed the matriculation examination. His histrionic talent flowered resulting in his playing female roles along with Naidu who would play the title roles. Prakasam married his sister's daughter, Hanumayamma, in 1890.

Later, he passed the F.A. (Faculty of Arts) examination and took the law degree in Madras. Setting up practice at Rajahmundry in 1894, he soon developed a large clinetele and became the pride of the town. He was elected the Municipal Chairman in 1901.

With the financial help of Kanchumarthi Ramachandra Rao, a zamindar, Prakasam went to London to qualify as a Barrister. In 1907, he shifted to Madras, where he pursued a lucrative career. He acquired house properties in Madras, Tiruchirapalli, Ongole and Rajahmundry, besides fertile lands.

Prakasam attended the Calcutta Congress session in 1917, presided over by Annie Besant. He turned a paraclete of her Home Rule Movement. Giving up practice in 1921 at the call of Mahatma Gandhi, he launched an English daily, `Swarajya', which became not only the mounthpiece of Prakasam but also the fighting weapon for the patriots of South India. Its circulation was 20,000.

When Chakravarti Rajagopalachari (CR) apprised Gandhiji of Prakasam's bravado in starting an English daily (which although earned the wrath the British Government became most popular to raise his image and influence on the English-knowing people of the South), without a corpus fund for running the paper, the Mahatma asked CR to convey approval unequivocally. But very soon, Gandhiji made a volte face and advised Prakasam to stop the paper at once without assigning any reason. Being a hard nut, Prakasam brushed aside the advice and made serious efforts to enhance the circulation of `Swarajya'. Thus a cleavage developed between the two leaders.

Meanwhile, Prakasam was elected as the Madras PCC president which opportunity he wisely utilised for selling the newspaper's shares to public. Pattabhi Seetharamaiah told Prakasam that it was amoral to collect money in his capacity as PCC president especially at a time when the Government was contemplating the formation of ministries in all the Presidencies. Prakasam could not overlook Pattabhi's gentle warning. Prominent among the numerous journalists trained by him were K.M. Panikkar, Pothen Joseph, Kotamraju Punnayya, Kotamraju Rama Rao, K. Santhanam, Kolavennu Ramakoteeswara Rao (founder of 'Triveni' English journal), G.V. Krupanidhi and Khasa Subba Rao. `Swarajya' was largely responsible for awakening the educated elite, an atmosphere conducive for the success of all the movements launched by Gandhiji.

Earlier in 1926, Prakasam was elected to the State Legislative Council as a member representing Guntur-Krishna-East and West Godavari districts. Prakasam was also elected to the Central Assembly defeating Mocherla Ramachandra Rao ('Andhra Gokhale') by a margin of 10,000 votes.

The rulers tried to arrest Prakasam but were afraid of its consequences. When he participated in the Salt Satyagaha in 1930, he was imprisoned in Vellore jail. His jailmates were C.R., Kasinadhuni Nageswara Rao, Pattabhi, S. Satyamurthy and Ayyadevara Kaleswara Rao. In jail, Prakasam wrote two books - `Monetary System of the World' and `Indian Monetary System'. Suspecting Prakasam's stay in jail along with other noted leaders was dangerous, he was shifted to the Cannanore jail in 1931. Soon after his release from jail following the Gandhi-Irwin Pact, Prakasam's wife died.

In 1937, elections were held under provincial autonomy granted by the Government of India Act of 1935. Prakasam, as president of the Provincial Congress Committee, proposed CR (much to his surprise) for Prime Ministership. Prakasam was inducted into CR's cabinet as Revenue Minister which provided him the much needed opportunity to help the people. But the Zamindari Abolition Bill, which he was keen to enact, could not be pushed through in the Assembly as World War II broke out in 1939 and all Congress Ministries resigned. But with the cooperation of Andhra Kesari, CR succeeded in getting four bills relating to Prohobition, Harijan entry into temples and levy of sales tax passed.

Prakasam was again put behind bars (Vellore) when he actively participated in the Quit-India Movement in 1942. Along with him were V.V. Giri, Madapushi Ananthasayanam Iyengar, Ramakoteeswara Rao and M. Pallamraju from Andhra, Kamaraj Nadar, Muthuranga Mudaliar and M. Bhaktavatsalam from Tamil region, K. Madhava Menon and R. Raghava Menon from Malabar and K.R. Karanth (South Canara). Despite Gandhiji's reluctance, Prakasam was elected leader of the Congress Legislature Party and was sworn-in as Prime Minister of Madras on June 10, 1946. He made Prohibition a grand success which CR could not achive when he was PM earlier.

The revolutionary schemes introduced by Prakasam to improve the lot of the underprivileged caused great financial losses to business magnates, who carried on a silent campaign to dislodge his government. A no-confidence montion was introduced in the Assembly forcing Prakasam to send his resignation to the Governor, Sir Archbald Nye. Prakasam broke away from the Congress to start the Praja Party and contested the first general election of Free India in 1952. But, he faced a humiliating defeat. Sri Prakasa who became the Governor of Madras made CR the Chief Minister.

The long-standing demand for a Telugu State started gathering momentum and soon snowballed into a popular agitation. The supreme sacrifice of 'Amarajeevi' Potti Sreeramulu, hastened the formation of Andhra State with Kurnool as capital. Prakasam, who had by then returned to the Congress fold, donned the mantle of Chief Minister on October 1, 1953. There was a lot of commotion over the choice of Kurnool as capital and at that time Andhra Kesari received a telephone call from Vijayawada with the voice at the other end saying that his statue would be smashed if he failed to shift the capital from Kurnool. Prakasam bravely replied: ''Who asked you to erect my statue? Break it if you so desire.'' This stern reply silenced the agitators.

Prakasam was responsible for establishing Sri Venkateswara University, introduction of water supply schemes and projects in the new State and construction of a barrage across the Krishna. In 1954, his Ministry fell on the Prohibtion Bill. But Prakasam who passed through many a vicititude, took it easy and bowed out of politics.

The 'lion of Andhra' breathed his last on May 20, 1957, and the famous editor of 'Andrha Prabha', Narla Venkateswara Rao, commented: ''Andhra is bereft of light'' (Prakasa viheenamaina Andhra). A grateful Government carved a new distrcit out of Nellore and Guntur and named it 'Praksam'.

His statue - not a good replica of his sprightly figure - is located near the Aseelmetta Junction.

S.S. KRISHNAJI

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