R-Day Fete: A Tribute To Public Representatives of Coimbatore

India was ruled by several rulers for centuries and some of the Indian empires were among the most powerful on Earth. However, the villages were ruled by the people directly. A lot of evidence shows us that democracy prevailed at the village level. Utharamerur in Tamilnadu was perhaps one of the best examples. The inscriptions that exist in the village talk about the democratic system belonging to the period between 750 AD and 1250 AD. Elected representatives had to be educated and should not have encroached upon public property. Their residential house should belong to them in order to contest the elections. The representatives had to be between the age of 35 and 70 years. The departments were administered by people who were backed by competence. Famous archeologist Dr. R.Nagaswamy has written a lovely book on Utharamerur and its democratic functions. Of course the book throws a lot of light on the temples, streets, activities and institutions connected with the village. The Sundara Varadaraja Perumal temple is talked about in a detailed manner by the great scholar. It is truly fascinating to learn about our ancient democratic institutions.
The representatives took complete care of the region and women were safe. Food security and physical security was taken care of by the administrators. The economy seems to have been quite good. It was perhaps the time when the Indian economy was number one globally. Centuries passed and changes took place. Disruptions took place due to change of guard over the centuries and the advent of the Europeans changed the picture. The elements of the industrial revolution were not made available to the Indians on an equitable basis for quite some time. Therefore the economic benefits reached a very few people while native business began to go down. Eventually it reached a very low level and Indians were dependent on their European masters for science, technology and infrastructure. This was coupled with famines like the Eswara Year famine which impoverished the Kongu country around the year 1877. The socially downtrodden, the women and the economically downtrodden had to suffer. They lost their voice because survival was becoming a challenge. It was around this time that a few from the well placed sections of the society could afford to serve the country. This was possible because of the resources at their disposal. Landlords, bankers and advocates besides dubashes and merchants were the few who afford serving the society. Therefore a study of the institutions of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries would appear one sided. Since survival was in question, it was left the fortunate few with a good heart to serve the society.
The public representatives who had served Coimbatore in the first half of the twentieth century belonged to the category who were educated, fortunate while wanting to serve the land and its people. Of the big number of public representatives Diwan Bahadur C.V.Venkataramana Iyengar (1873 – 1944), V.C.Vellingiri Gounder (1880 – 1948), T.A.Ramalingam Chettiar (1881 – 1952), Diwan Bahadur C.S.Rathinasabapathy Mudaliar (1886 – 1956), Dr.R.K.Shanmukham Chetty (1892 – 1953) and S.R.P.Ponnuswamy Chettiar (1907 – 1992) stand out as the best multi faceted contributors who happened to hold public office for a large part of their life. The above mentioned leaders attended to public work without fear or favour. Their time was fruitful to the city and the district. It is interesting to note that all of them were members of the Coimbatore Cosmopolitan Club, which was founded in the year 1891. It is one of the oldest functional democratic institutions in this part of the country which was founded by Indians. T.A.Ramalingam Chettiar and Diwan Bahadur C.S.Rathinasabapathy Mudaliar were Presidents of the old institution.
C.V.Venkataramana Iyengar and V.C.Vellingiri Gounder were in the legislature. It was the visionary C.V.Venkataramana Iyengar who suggested that the authorities tap the water from Pilloor for this region. V.C.Vellingiri Gounder was also in the Council of States prior to the year 1935. This was when India, Burma, Pakistan and Bangladesh were being administered the Viceroy from New Delhi. He brought in a cut motion on the Mettur Dam Project and the later day canal project was an outcome of the same. Vellingiri Gounder was known as VCV and he was against wasting public resources on salaries of Government employees while people suffered. His wit and humour displayed much of this positive attribute. He did much as the Zilla Board Chairman. A full book will not be enough for this great leader. He helped T.S.Avinashilingam Chettiar in his pursuits. The Dalits were being educated by T.S.Avinashilingam Chettiar and VCV helped the educationist do it with aplomb. Quite a few projects were executed in the interest of the farmers by VCV during his worthy public life.
T.A.Ramalingam Chettiar was a Chairman of the Coimbatore Municipality, Chairman of the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam, Member of the Constituent Assembly and the first Member of Parliament to represent Coimbatore. He was a multi faceted genius like the other five who have been named in this essay. T.A.Ramalingam Chettiar got the ghat section constructed at Tirumala during his tenure. He ensured that the Government Arts College and the Union High School managed to survive and grow. The great man was a lover of art and literature. He had supported the efforts of U.Ve. Swaminatha Iyer. His pioneering efforts in the field of Co operation require a special mention and he can be called as the ‘Father of the Co operative Movement’. He helped the rich and poor alike. In fact he managed to get relief for G.D.Naidu from the Income Tax authorities. He had given monies to his cook, driver and personal attendants.
Diwan Bahadur C.S.Rathinasabapathy Mudaliar (CSR) can be called the ‘Father of Modern Coimbatore’. He served as the Zilla Board Chairman and Municipality Chairman for over one decade. It was during his term that the city got the Siruvani water and Pykhara power. The sub urban extensions like R.S.Puram came up during his time. CSR was also the Chairman of FICCI (Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry). He was also the first President of the Rotary Club of Coimbatore which was founded in the year 1944. His father Sadasivam Mudaliar had founded the Janopakara Bank in the year 1883. It happened to be the oldest institution in Coimbatore to be registered under the Companies Act. CSR built the Municipal Market in order to raise money for the local body on Big Bazaar Street and it was the first of its kind in India. He was on the Board of the Reserve Bank of India and the State Bank.
Dr.R.K.Shanmukham Chetty was the First Finance Minister of independent India and he founded the Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry in the year 1929. He was responsible for the founding of SITRA (Southern India Textile Research Association) and SIMA (Southern India Mills Association). The great man was the Speaker of the Central Legislature and the Diwan of Cochin for 7 years. He had met up with the US President Franklin. D. Roosevelt at the White House in Washington. He fully believed in good governance and had been called a economic genius by none other than Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Nation. Dr.R.K.Shanmukham Chetty had a huge library and was a well read person. Kovai Kizhar C.M.Ramachandra Chettiar talks about Dr. R.K.Shanmukham Chetty in his book on Coimbatore. Very few people have been mentioned by the fabulous historian.
Dharma Moorthy S.R.P.Ponnuswamy Chettiar (SRP) was the Chairman of the Coimbatore Municipality at the dawn of freedom. He was a leading industrialist who supported education. Six of his seven sons went abroad for the higher studies. He was a Member of Legislature and yeoman service. SRP was responsible for the development of a number of industrial estates (Guindy, Ambattur and Kurichi) in Tamilnadu. He co ordinated between the mill owners at the time of forming South India Viscose. SRP was a Vice Chairman of the mills association. A number of fabulous infrastructure projects came up due to his efforts. It was on his request the Diwan Bahadur C.S.Rathinasabapathy Mudaliar handed over the Victoria Town Hall to the Municipality. SRP had made huge donations to promote institutions which stood for the differentially abled and under privileged as well.
Women and the people from the under privileged section of the society could not do much because of survival issues. However T.V.M. Thillai Ammal, Govindammal Ayyamuthu, Kamala Subramaniam, Savithri Shanmugham, Kulandaiammal, Parvathi Krishnan and others joined public life later. Govindammal and Kamala fought for independence. While T.V.M.Thillai Ammal worked for the cause of women. Alda Fowler was in the legislature. Therefore the above mentioned women could serve only in the freedom struggle or after independence. Some women did good work in their farms and this helped their families to grow and create enterprises. They were yet to enter public life. For example women like Chinnammal Rangaswamy Naidu of Peelamedu did much with their farms. The money raised by her helped her husband to become an even more successful entrepreneur. Later on women like Ganga Nair served as Municipal Councilors. It was the good work of these great people identified in this note which gave an opportunity for the women of this region. The good work helped the socially under privileged get into main stream society only after the attainment of freedom.
It was under these circumstances that these great sons of Coimbatore served their city and country in a fantastic manner. Let us pay a tribute to them at the tome of the Republic Day.
—Rajesh Govindarajulu

Related posts

Leave a Comment