A true man of the masses

A true man of the masses

A long, fierce-looking, bayonet of a grim-looking British soldier was aimed at the chest of a leonine figure clad in khadi, with a shawl thrown over...

A long, fierce-looking, bayonet of a grim-looking British soldier was aimed at the chest of a leonine figure clad in khadi, with a shawl thrown over his shoulder. He had a regal presence and a lordly manner, with the carriage of a Roman proconsul. His looks breathed fire and brimstone. He advanced towards the bayonet with measured steps with his head held high.

"Stop, Stop! Otherwise I will shoot you," shouted the British soldier at the top of his voice. Any moment the long vicious bayonet thirsting for action was ready to go off. A mass of humanity behind the defiant figure was surging forward. "Shoot me if you can," shouted back the khadi-clad leader baring his chest. Seconds passed, and the soldier was amazed and nonplussed. Instead of pulling the trigger, he downed the gun and looked at the most courageous Indian.Immediately, a young Muslim volunteer standing besides the towering figure shouted, "Andhra kesari ki jai" "Simon go back". The shouts filled the air.

This historic event happened before the High Court of Madras on February 3, 1928, when the all-white Simon Commission set foot on Indian soil. The leonine figure was none other than 'Andhra Kesari' Tanguturi Prakasam Panthulu, the man of the masses. A This unparalleled act of courage passed from generation-to-generation in this country. The British government, in 1927, appointed a seven-member commission, headed by Sir Simon, to suggest constitutional amendments. Indians considered it a big insult, as it had no Indian representatives. They decided to boycott it in all stages and in all forms.

It triggered violent agitations across the country. Prakasam, despite the second resolution of high command calling for the withdrawal of hartal, called upon the people of Madras to go ahead with the hartal. The people responded overwhelmingly and the pleaders, students, workers, merchants and people from all walks of life came onto the streets of Madras.

Section 144 was imposed with 'shoot-at-sight' orders. There was heavy military presence and, hit by a bullet in firing, a young man collapsed in front of the High Court. Prakasam demanded the way to see the body of the young patriot. The soldier lost his nerve and gave way to Prakasam. "He was where people were. He was where troubles were." Prakasam's life was full of love and pathos, trials and triumphs, through hills-and-dales, in torrents and in silence. Born in a poor orthodox family in Ongole on August 23, 1872, he lost his father at the age of 12. His mother Subbamma, a courageous woman in acute poverty, managed family affairs by running a small hotel in Ongole.

These circumstances brought him in touch with bad local characters, but surprisingly, he was good at his studies. For the petty amount of Rs 3 as the school fee, Prakasam had to walk all the way to Addaki, 20 miles away from Ongole, to his brother-in-law's house, but returned empty-handed.

Mother Subbamma pledged her sacred silk (pattu) sari to get the required sum. This being so, Prakasam, by observing vakils wearing black coats moving in front of his house, was resolute he would become a vakil (barrister). His ambition tuned into reality when he became a successful barrister with the help of his teacher, mentor and godfather J Hanumantha Rao Naidu, who helped him in all angles, even by sending Prakasam abroad for higher studies in law.

Prakasam's dynamic energy, indefatigable industry and abundant commerce held the key to his phenomenal success. He was the first independent Telugu barrister in Madras and there was no question of hustling him. A Prakasam jumped into the freedom struggle and never looked back. He served the nation in thought, word and deed during his entire life. Swarajya, the English daily of Prakasam, despite innumerable financial constraints, was an outstanding manifestation of the journalistic urge in Andhra Kesari, and affected his burning patriotism. It dominated south India for 12 years, constituting a glorious chapter of our freedom struggle through journalism.

As an administrator, he left a legacy to Telugu people in the shape of Nagarjunasagar Project, the Prakasam Barrage, Sri Venkateswara University, The High Court at Guntur and so on, all launched by him as the first Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh. He made history by declaring amnesty to about 2,000 prisoners on the eve of the new State for Telugus. A As a Revenue Minister and premier of combined Madras, he abolished the zamindari system and ordered suspension of intermediaries. In 1946, he introduced a spate of reforms like the Harijan uplift fund, producer-cum-consumer co-operation, Firca development scheme, etc.

It was rightly said by ex-Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao "In policies, he was like Lord Siva, who could swallow all the poison while remaining unaffected".A Tanguturi Prakasam Panthulu passed away on May 20, 1957, leaving us all orphaned. The only real tribute to be paid to a Telugu leader par excellence is to mould our lives and strive for the prosperity of the nation.

A (The writer is general secretary A of the Prakasam Institute of Developmental Studies & Trust, Hyderabad)

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