Pillai was born on 15 September 1891, in a well-to-do
Tamil Hindu Vellala family settled in Trivandrum.
His father was Chinna Swami Pillai, a Police Officer
under the Travancore Government, and mother Nagammal.
When about seventeen years old he had to leave
India, and in Berlin, in 1933, he married Laxmi
Bai, who was a native of Manipur. They had met
in Nerlin about two years earlier.
While in the Maharajas High School, Trivandrum,
he was caught in the ferment of the Bengal Partition
Movement in 1905, and left school. Starting in
an active anti-British propaganda, he clashed
with the Police, and about 1908 had to leave India.
He reached Italy and was able to study in the
Berlin School of Languages there, and also enrolled
for engineering studies. He continued education
in Switzerland and finished it in Germany, securing
doctorates in Engineering and Economics.
He learned about twelve languages. Tilak and
Gandhiji impressed him strongly. He took up
Tilaks cry, Swaraj is my birthright
and I will have it. Foreign influence
also was strong on him. It was an English noble,
Earl Strickland, spying for Germany, who helped
him out of India and to get education and contracts
in Europe. These contracts, mainly with the
revolutionaries in many, European countries,
moulded his ideas.
His career of a political revolutionary began
even in his school days. He led the boys, shouting
anti-British slogans, and on no-tax campaigns,
feeling the injustice of the Bengal partition.
The Police were on his trail and so he got out
of Tranvanore, and reaching Europe, finished
his education there. In the meantime he was
also imbibing revolutionary ideas and wished
more and more to set the British World War he
was in Berlin, reorganising opposition to Britain,
along with the other Indian revolutionaries
In 1914 they formed an Indian Independence
Committee. An Indian Volunteer Corps
was also formed by him, with the help of the
German Government, to fight against Britain.
About this time he started a paper also, named
the Pro-India, to conduct propaganda against
imperialism and colonialism.
It seems that he joined the crew of the well-known
cruiser Emden and helped its manoeuvres to undermine
Britains prestige in India and in the
Indian Ocean. In 1915 the Indian revolutionaries
in Germany formed a Provisional Government
of Free India functioning from Derlin.
Dr. Pillai was its Minister for Foreign Affairs.
He is said to have dropped pamphlets from aeroplanes
among the Indian soldiers in France, exhorting
them to turn against the English. On account
of such activities the British Government put
a price on his head. He could not be caught.
When the Treaty of Versailles was signed, Dr.
Pillai wanted that one of
the terms must be the withdrawal of the English
On the cessation of the war he worked for the
improvement of trade between India and Germany.
As part of this programme he organised, in 1924,
an exhibition of Indian Swadeshi goods in the
International Leipzig Fair.
In course of his activities the British rule
in India, he met some of the Indian national
leaders, like Motilal Nehru, Jawaharlal Nehru
and Vallabhbhai Patel. In 1933, he met Subhas
Chandra Bose in Vienna. He requested Bose to
organise revolutionary groups in Asia to fight
European domination, and then to join him in
Germany to fight for an independent India.
Hitler then emerged in Germany. He was sarcastic
about the ability of the Asian peoples to govern
themselves. Dr. Pillai protested non-grata with
Hitler and the Nazis. Dr. Pillai soon fell ill
and left for Italy to regain his health. While
there, he heard that all his possessions in
Germany had been seized and sold away by the
Nazis for a nominal price. In despair he returned
to Germany and complained to the authorities
about the injustice done to him. Naturally,
one day he was beaten up by the Nazis. He was
physically injured and mentally shocked that
he should be so treated in his adopted country.
He had to go into a nursing home where he breathed
his last on 26 May 1934.
In political matters he was a revolutionary,
in social matters a reformer and he did not
care for some of the age-old conventions. This
is proved by his marriage to a Manipuri girl.
He believed in self-determination and self-government
for all peoples and naturally wanted India to
be free of British rule. He loved Travancore,
but being against regionalism and in favour
of comprehensive nationalism, his ideal was
India as a single unit. For him industrial and
educational advance in India was a necessary,
but a minor matter. He was all out to win freedom
for India. Once free, he believed that every
need in India would be fulfilled.
In his activities he displayed unusual dynamism
and courage, as shown by his wide propaganda
tours, his organisation of anti-British groups,
and his voyage on the Emden. He, it appears,
is the father of the slogan Jai Hind .
he had the courage, or, shall we say, foolhardiness,
to stand up even against Hitler. To Jawaharlal,
Dr. Pillai appeared to be somewhat pompous.
There is no doubt that he was an extremely active
type, with strong extremist views. His lifes
chief work was the propaganda he conducted in
Europe, specially in Germany, against imperialism
anywhere. In his revolutionary opposition to
imperialism, his main target was British imperialism
in India and the sole wish of his life was to
see India free of its foreign yoke.