A freedom fighter, and chief minister of the British Madras Presidency as well as the first Chief Minister of free India’s Andhra Pradesh State, Tanguturi Prakasam Pantulu was one of the foremost Indian politicians that the country has ever witnessed. He was given the title of ‘Andhra Kesari’ meaning the ‘Lion of Andhra’.
Birth and Early Life
Tanguturi Prakasam was born on 23rd August 1837 to a Telegu Brahmin family in a village called Vinodarayunipalem. His father passed away when he was only eleven. In order to provide for the family, his other went to Ongole to run a boarding house. Running a boarding house, at that time, was not considered a very decent job and people looked down upon them.
Since Ongole as well as Vinodarayunipalem was remote area with not much opportunities of higher education, his teacher, took him to Rajahmundry. He acted in the play Gayopakhyanam by Chilakamarti Lakshmi Narasimham in 1890 along with his teacher. He wanted to become a law practitioner but unfortunately, he failed to pass the matriculation examination.
However, with many efforts, he became a second-grade pleader in Madras. However, second grade pleaders could only appeal in subordinate courts. The higher court only accepted barristers as pleaders. One day, while he was appealing for a case, a barrister witnessed it and was impressed by his legal skills and tact and advised him to go to England to become a barrister.
A young and impressionable Prakasam took those words by heart and decided to go to England. However, at that time, it was a prejudice that crossing the seas was forbidden. But he promised his mother to abstain from all kinds of occidental vices during his stay in England. In England, he had joined the Royal Indian Society and also helped in campaigning for Dadabhai Naoroji’s election to the English House of Commons.
Tanguturi Prakasam career as a Barrister
After returning from England with a barrister degree, he joined the Madras High Court. He dealt with both criminal as well as civil cases. He rose to popularity quickly and was a noted successful lawyer. On of the most important and moulding cases of his career with which he rose to prominence was the Ashe murder case. Rover Ashe was an officer of the Indian Civil Service and the collector and district magistrate of Tirunelveli District. He was popularly called as Collector Ashe.
When Ashe was murdered, Bipin Chandra Pal was giving volatile speeches against the government which had provoked two young men to commit the assassination. Tanguturi Prakasam defended the accused and made sure that minimum punishment was given to them. Prakasam was greatly influenced by the speeches of Bipin Chandra Pal, which were considered to be borderline seditious by the British Raj.
Prakasam even presided over Bipin Chandra Pal’s meetings at a time when others were scared to do so. He also began to be closely associated with the congress party and its sessions after the Lucknow Pact and signed the Satyagraha Pledge on October 1921.
Eventually, his nationalist sentiments took over him and he gave up his comfortable job of law practice at the court and immersed himself into the Indian freedom struggle. He got himself involved in various newspapers and magazines like the Swarajya which meant self-rule and Law Times, a legal magazine.
Tanguturi Prakasam also ran a national school and a production center for the making of Khadi clothes. In that same year, in December 1921, he was elected as the Congress general secretary for the Ahmedabad Session. He also toured various parts of India especially in places smeared with violent riots in order to comfort the people.
His role in the Independence Struggle
- When the Simon Commission was formed in India, there was a massive uproar as there were no Indians in it. Massive display of protests was showcased by the people. In order to control the crowd, the police were given explicit orders of lathi charge and even shots were fired at the crowd. An innocent Indian protester even died during the firing. This greatly enraged Tanguturi Prakasam and he tore open his shirt in front of the police rifles and asked them to shoot him. By now, the police had realized that any more action from their side will only worsen the situation. This incident earned Prakasam the title of ‘Andhra Kesari’ which literally means ‘The Lion of Andhra’.
- He was the principal perpetrator of breaking the tax laws in Madras Presidency and also supported the violation of the salt tax by Mahatma Gandhi’s Dandi march.
- He even propagated nationalist ideas through a journal called Swarajya which later had to be shut down because of the government’s high cost of licenses to publishing media.
- During the elections of 1937, Congress party won by a majority for the State legislature. Although Prakasam was campaigning for the post of Chief Minister himself, he stepped aside to make way for C. Rajagopalachari, popularly called ‘Rajaji’.
- Instead of being the Chief Minister after the elections of 1930, Prakasam accepted to become the Revenue Minister of that cabinet. While serving his stint as the Revenue Minister of Madras Presidency, he looked into the existing Zamindari system and laid reforms in order the cripple the discrepancies that had crept into the system due to the British.
- Because of his active role in the Indian Freedom Struggle, Prakasam, just like his fellow compatriots also was captured due to his participation in the Quit India Movement and spent up to three years in Jail.
- Finally after the elections of 1946, when the Congress party won again, h was chosen to lead the Cabinet as the Chief Minister. As the Chief Minister, he is known to have abolished all foreign textile factories and left only the Khadi mills to operate.
- After the Independence if India, Prakasam was elected as the Chief Minister of the newly created state of Andhra Pradesh on 1st October 1953.
Tanguturi Prakasam died while touring the country in order to recognize the downtrodden conditions of the dalits. He suffered severe sunstroke and was admitted to a hospital in Hyderabad where he left us all for his journey to eternal abode on 20th of May, 1957. A great soul and peoples’ leader had left mortality.