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(ARCHIVE) Vol. XIX No. 6, july 1-15, 2009
Justice Party policies owed much to him
(By Randor Guy)

During British rule, provincial Governors were always British. Generally they were from blue blooded families in the United Kingdom or achievers or had the proverbial ‘old school tie’ connections. One who did not have any of these qualifications but who acted as the Governor of Madras from June to October 1936 was Sir Kurma Venkata­reddirao Naidu.

Sir Kurma Venkatareddirao Naidu.

Sir Kurma occupied many high offices during his eventful career. He was a college professor, lawyer, and diplomat. In 1928, he was a member of the Indian delegation to the League of Nations, Geneva. He served as the Agent of the Government of India in South ­Africa, succeeding in 1929 the celebrated orator, teacher and statesman, the Right Honour­able V.S. Srini­vasa Sastri. He also represented South Africa at the Round Table Conference held in London. He was later Prime Minister of Madras Presidency, the last from the Justice Party, holding office until 1937 when the Congress Party routed Justicites at the General Elections and Rajaji took over the reins. Still later, he held the ­office of Vice-Chancellor of Annamalai University, Chidam­baram. The University offers a prize every year in his name, ‘The Kurma Venkata Reddy Naidu Prize.’

As a tribute and special concession to his exalted status and the high offices he held, the then European-owned Madras Southern Mah­ratta Railway ­allotted him, under instructions from the Government of India, a special salon exuding luxury whenever he travelled. This privilege was extended to very few Indians and he was the only one in the Madras Presidency to receive it.

Kurma Venkatareddirao Naidu was born in 1875  in a wealthy Telugu Naidu family  in  Eluru (then in the Madras Presidency). He graduated from the Rajahmundry Arts College, the Madras Law College and then served as Professor of Physics at the Rajah­mundry college.

 After serving on various ­local and district boards between 1901 and 1919, he entered the national political arena in 1919-1920. He joined the Justice Party on its formation  and was a member  of Dr. T.M. Nair’s non-Brahmin delegation to the United Kingdom. Later, when the Justice Party government was formed in Madras, he served under A. Subbarayalu Reddiar and the Rajah of Paanagal as Minister of Development. In 1923, the Rajah of Paanagal ­replaced him with T.N. Sivagnanam Pillai.

As an active Party man, he formulated a policy that the Justice Party should follow, which included, inter alia, social legislation and abolition of iniqui­tious laws that maintained an invidious distinction between Brahmins and Non-Brahmins, with regard to marriage, adoption and inheritance and the like. He argued that social equality must be established. Untouchability should  be removed. The ­dictates of the priesthood must be silenced. Para­cheris must be purified. Agra­ha­rams must be humanised. The hold of humiliating customs and rituals must be loosened. The portals of temples must be thrown open. The contents of sealed scriptures should be brought to light… Strong meat indeed  for the day! But that was Kurma Venkata­­ reddirao Naidu.

In a great display of fair play, he remained neutral when a vote of no-confidence was passed against the Government of the Rajah of Paanagal.

In 1924, when the Muddi­man Committee came to India to assess the implementation and progress of diarchy, he met the members and commented, “I was a Minister of Development without the forests. I was a Minister of Agriculture minus irrigation. As a Minister of Agriculture, I had nothing to do with the ­Madras Agriculturists Loan Act or the Madras Land Improvement Loans Act... The efficacy and efficiency of a Minister of Agriculture without having anything to do with irrigation, agricultural loans, land improvement loans, and famine relief, may better be imagined than described. Then again, I was a Minister of Industries without factories, boilers, electricity and water power, mines or labour, all of which are reserved subjects (subjects handled by the Governor).”

While India’s Agent in South Africa, he came under severe criticism in January 1930 from the South African Indian Congress (SAIC) for not having done enough to protect the interests of the Indian migrants. His term came to an end in 1932. When Sir Kurma was in South Africa, he promoted  a Telugu  Associa­tion in Durban which proved very popular; on one occasion, when chief guest at a conference, he spoke in chaste Telugu and found the local Telugu immi­grants responding with a standing ovation.

On leaving South Africa, he took up various positions with the Indian Government. He was Law Member of the Council of State in 1933-1934. 

He lived in Madras city in a palatial mansion on Boag Road, Theyagaraya Nagar, which later became the property of movie star Sivaji Ganesan.

Sir Kurma passed away in 1942. It is a matter of regret that today’s generation has hardly heard of him, especially in his adopted city, Madras. When the Dravidian parties in power named some of the roads and streets in some new areas after Justice Party leaders, leading lights like Maharaja of Bobbili and Sir Kurma, who were Telugus, were totally forgotten.

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