Patriots >Extremist Leaders > Vijayaraghavachariar ,C.
Vijayaraghavachariar ,C. (1852-1944)

Salem C. Vijayaraghavachariar, as he was popularly known as, was born on 18 June 1852 in an orthodox Vaishnative Brahmin family at Pon Vilaindha Kalathur, in Maduranthakam taluka, Chingleput district, Tamil Nadu. He was one of the twelve children born to Sadagoparchariar and Kannkavalli Ammal. His father, being a purohit and steeped in religious lore, was eager to bring up his son according to orthodox traditions.

At a very early age, Vijayaraghavachariar was sent to the Veda Pathasala in his village and he was brought up in a tradition of memorizing the Vedas, by which process “the foundation of method and memory” which stood him in good stead in later years was deeply laid. His real English education began in his twelfth year. He joined and Madras Pachaiyappa’s High school in 1868 and matriculated in 1870. He joined the Madras Presidency College in 1871 and graduated in 1875.

He was appointed a Lecturer in the Madras Presidency College in 1875. Later, he was transferred to the Government College, Manglore, where, after three years of service, he resigned his post. Subsequently he joined the Salem Municipal College as a Lecturer in English and mathematics. He privately appeared for the Law examination and began to practice in 1881.

He was a very able Advocate and a leader of the Bar at Salem. In 1882, a short time after he set up practice at Salem, there was a Hindu- Muslim riot. Vijayaraghavachariar was implicated in the riot and charges were framed against him. He relentlessly fought the charges in the court of law and finally came out unscathed. His efficiency in advocacy was further brought to the fore by his pleading for the other persons implicated in the riot and where sent to the Andamans.

He finally succeeded in getting them released. Besides, he took objection to his being disqualified from the membership of the Municipal Council, Salem, of which he a member during the period of the riot. As a result of his appeal, he was not only reinstated in the Municipal Council, but was able to obtain from the Secretary of State for India a sum of RS. 100/- as a nominal damage for removing him from the Municipal Council during the period of the riot.
The Salem riots of 1882 made Vijayaraghavachariar famous overnight. He was called “The Lion of South India.’ When the Indian National Congress was started in 1885, Salem Vijayaraghavachariar was one of the special invitees. He was close associate of A.O. Hume, the founder of the Indian National Congress. He attended the Bombay session of the Congress and in 1887 he was one of the members of the Committee which drafted the Constitution of the Indian National Congress. From then on, Vijayaraghavachariar became an ardent freedom fighter.

All the early names associated with the Congress history were either the friends or co-workers of Vijayaraghavachariar. His counsels and leadership were much sought after by the Congressmen of the early days. Dadabhai Naoroji, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Dr. Ansari, Maulana Azad, Hakim Ajmal Khan, Lala Lajpat Rai, C. Rajagopalachari and Motilal Nehru were all associated with him in the early activities of the Congress. In 1899 he was made a member of the Indian Congress Propaganda Committee, he carried the message of the Congress to the people of the country.

With the advent of Mahatma Gandhi, there was a rift in the Congress ranks between the old moderates and the new radicals. Even earlier, the ideas of the moderates did not appeal to him. He kept aloof from active party work for a period after the Surat split of the Congress and later joined with redoubled vigour to carry the message of the Mahatma. The climax of his political career over the Indian National Congress Sessions at Nagpur, where Gandhiji’s advocacy of ‘Poorna Swaraj’ through non-violent non-cooperation was debated and accepted.

He, with his powerful oratory, gave many a wordy battle to C.R. Das and Motilal Nehru on the sanity of the Council Entry Programme drawn up by them and broke to pieces their

opposition to Mahatma Gandhi. He was also in the vanguard of the opposition to the Simon Commission that toured the country in 1929. He took an active part in the Committee that met under Motilal Nehru to frame the Constitution for India. He appealed to the League of Nations to intervene and arbitrate in the Indian deadlock.

His entry into the public life began with his membership of the Salem Municipal Council in 1882. in 1895 he was elected to the Madras Legislative Council which body he served for 6 years, till 1901. In 1913 he was elected to the Imperial Legislative Council with which he was associated till the year 1916. At Delhi he worked in close co-operation with great leaders like Madan Mohan Malaviya, Surendranath Banerjea and Gopala Krishna Gokhale.

His activities in the Legislative Assembly were marked by an intense patriotism and a fearless advocacy of the cause which he considered reasonable. When Lord Birkenhead, the Secretary of State for India, threw out a challenge, whether Indians could draw up a Constitution for India, Vijayaraghavachariar took up the challenge and drew up the Swaraj Constitution for India.

In many aspects, Vijayaraghavachariar was very much ahead of his times. He advocated post-puberty marriage for women and also the right of the daughter to have a share in her father’s property. He advocated the much-needed change in the Hindu law at a time when any talk about it was a taboo. He was a champion of the Depressed Classes. He rendered great assistance to Swami Sharathananda in his work connected with the Anti-Untouchability League. His multisided personality also found expression in his participation in the organization of the Hindu Mahasabha. He presided over the All India Hindu Mahasabha Sessions at Akola in 1931.

Vijayaraghavachariar was one of the two Vice-Presidents of the Madras Branch of the Passive Resistance Movement. Mahatma Gandhi was its President, the other Vice-President was G. Kasturi Ranga Iyengar, Editor of the Hindu. Vijayaraghavachariar was pioneer of Indian Nationalism. He was a chip of the old block that started the Indian National Congress and was a very large chip at that. He was par excellence a man of action. But at the same time he did not lack heart. He always supported the cause of the weak and the downtrodden.

His powerful advocacy of the cause of labour and the non Brahmins bear ample testimony to the largeness of his heart. He was also munificent in his donations to causes dear to him. The Anti-Untouchability League and the Congress Propaganda Organization in England in its early days received liberal financial support from him. He lived to a ripe old age of ninety-two. Though, at the evening of his life, the diadem of leadership in South India, passed on from his hands to his co-practiotiner in Salem C. Rajagopalchari, he contended himself giving periodic advice on matters of public importance through his regular contributions to the Madras journals.

His long life is a crowded period of relentless struggle against Imperialism and economic and social distress. Though an anti-imperialist, he had life-long friendship with some of the representatives of Imperialism in India, viz., Governors and Viceroys. Lord Ripon, Lord Curzon, Lord Pentland, Lord and Lady Hardinge, Sir Conran Smith and Sir William Meyer were his friends from the Imperialistic Bloc, while Eardly Norton, the great Advocate, who argued his Salem Riots Case and saved him from transportation to the Andamans, was his intimate friend. With other friends of India, C.F. Andrews, A.O. Hume, Mrs. Annie Besant and Charles Bradlaugh, he was on intimate terms.

The voice of Lion of South India was stilled when he passed away very peacefully on 19 April 1944. After his death, his valuable collections were treasured in the Memorial Library and Lecture Halls specially constructed and named after him. The Salem public even today visit the Library, browse among the books which he used and draw inspiration from the life of this great savant.

Author : A. Ramaswami