I have crossed the C P Ramaswami Aiyar road in Chennai many times before, but did not know that the person after whom the road is named had such an illustrious history! I am glad that I do, now.
Copyright free image. Image source (Wikimedia commons)
C P Ramaswami Aiyar or Sir CP (1879 – 1966) was born in Vandavasi (North Arcot) to C R Pattabhirama Aiyar and Rangammal. Since it was predicted that he will not clear a single exam, his father was very strict about his studies and discipline. But Sir CP completed his education in flying colours and was a gold medalist in college. Sir CP wanted to work as a teacher, but his father insisted that he become a lawyer.
A few years into the legal practice, he already had more than 300 clients. He was the first to file a writ petition against Madras University VC, first to refuse the post of a Judge in Madras High Court, youngest lawyer to be appointed as Advocate General. He fought many cases for the poor, without charging them and fought to remove dishonest trustees of religious and charitable associations.
Sir CP fought many famous cases, including the Besant Narayaniah case against Annie Besant (Theosophical Society). Despite winning the case against her, they became good friends and Sir CP went on to become Vice President of the Home Rule league started by Annie Besant. The Home Rule movement was an important milestone in the struggle against British, leading to Indian independence.
Sir CP held important administrative positions in British India. He was appointed as Member of Executive council of Madras Presidency in charge of Law/Order, Police, Irrigation, PWD, Ports and Electricity. It was under his guidance that the Mettur, Pykara and Bhavani Dams were constructed and the Cochin, Tuticorin and Vishakhapatnam Ports were started. These initiatives improved the industrialization of the Madras Province greatly.
Sir CP was a rare gem who used his administrative positions to initiate social reforms. When he was a lawyer, he was the first to appoint a lower-caste Harijan, as his junior. When he was offered the position of Deewan (highest executive position for a princely state) of the Travancore state (South Kerala and some parts of South TN), his first ruling was to allow people of lower-castes into the Temples, which was met with considerable opposition from the influential upper-caste people back then.
A protest outside his house in Trivandrum did not allow his grand-daughter, Seetha to be taken to hospital to tend to a fractured arm and she had to be taken via the servant quarters. Protesters did not allow his family in Madras to go out for many days and they had to live on garden-produce.
During his period, aided by the progressive-minded Royal Family, Travancore was the first princely state to abolish capital punishment, first state to introduce free and compulsory primary education for every one, first to provide mid-day meals to poor students. He played an important part in establishing the Travancore University and donated a huge sum for its development.
Perhaps his largest contribution to the society came through his development policies that focused on industrialization and self-sufficiency. In Travancore, he was instrumental in setting up the Pallivasal Hydro-electric project, Indian Aluminum Company at Alwaye, Travancore Rayon plant at Perumbavoor, among various others. His dynamic actions, defying the British Viceroy, in setting up FACT (Fertilizers and Chemicals of Travancore Ltd) enabled the first fertilizer manufacturing unit to be established in India.
Among the criticisms he received, the suppression of the Punnapra-Valayar revolt (spearheaded by communists to redistribute land) and his role in trying to prevent the Travancore princely state (as per the wishes of the Raja) from acceding to the Indian Union, were prominent. There was even a direct assassination attempt on his life, which Sir CP escaped with minor knife injuries.
The nineteen years after his retirement to Ooty, were perhaps the most blissful for him but it did not result in any lesser activities. He was invited to speak all over the world. Being an expert in four languages – English, Tamil, Sanskrit and French and having studied philosophers like Nietzsche and Schopenhauer in his younger days, he could quote easily from a large number of sources and speak on any topic. He was the Vice Chancellor of Annamalai University and the Benaras Hindu University for a short time.
C P Ramaswami Aiyar was also a philanthropist par excellence. During his 60th birthday celebrations, he gave away a large part of his property. He donated to improve facilities in educational institutions like Pachayappa’s College, Madras University and many more. He personally helped pay the fees of many poor students.
Perhaps the best testimony to his life came from his instant death, without any pain, while talking to a journalist.
Reference: Sir C.P. Remembered, Author: Shakunthala Jagannathan.
Also see: CPR Foundation website.