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The leader who bared his chest to British bullets

The leader who bared his chest to British bullets
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On one evening in January 1921, Triplicane Beach in Madras (Chennai) was thick with thousands of people. It was getting dark as a number of speakers...

August 23, 2013 is Tanguturi Prakasam’s 141st birth anniversary

“I shall pass this way but once; any good, therefore, that I can do, let me do it now. For I shall not pass this way again”

Tanguturi Sri Ram

On one evening in January 1921, Triplicane Beach in Madras (Chennai) was thick with thousands of people. It was getting dark as a number of speakers started explaining their dissatisfaction with the announcement of ‘reforms’ and the rude methods adopted by the British Government. Some of the people were already on their feet when a middle-aged gentleman got up on the dais to speak. The restive audience, expecting a repetition of views the earlier speakers had expressed, were about to move away. At that precise moment, the air was filled with a roar of ‘Prakasam … Prakasam’. The audience sat down and pin-drop silence followed.

Referring to the agitation for self-governance carried under the guidance of Mahatma Gandhi, in a very short speech, Tanguturi Prakasam said with a firm voice, “the British bureaucrats have not been respecting our aspirations and constitutional approach to the issue for the last one and a half decades; our efforts have proved futile. It is high time we take up the gauntlet thrown by the alien rulers and assert ourselves”. Prakasam took no time to plunge into struggle for Swarajya.

He made his historic sacrifice and said, “In my humble way, according to the mandate of Indian National Congress, I have decided to give up my practice as a barrister with immediate effect”. Prakasam was the first and the only Telugu barrister of the most affluent class to give up such lucrative profession in response to the clarion call given by the Mahatma and he had never entered the High Court precincts after his pledge.

Tanguturi Prakasam was born on August 23, 1872, to a family of village Karanams in a hamlet called Vinoda Rayudu Palem near Kanaparthi Village in Ongole District. (now Prakasam Dist). At the age of 12, he lost his father Gopalakrishnaiah. Subbamma, his courageous mother, managed a large family of six children running a small hotel serving only meals in Ongole. Prakasam was puzzled by lawyers wearing long black coats and going to munsif courts in Ongole. What impressed him was their appearance, position and prosperity which had influenced him to become a pleader later in life.

In his school days, a local mission school teacher Hanumantha Rao Naidu had played a key role in shaping him up. Naidu trained Prakasam in stage acting for which he had received several awards.

Prakasam received a second grade pleader’s certificate from Madras Law College in 1894. At that time, he was largely influenced by Kandukuri Veeresalingam’s social reforms. Prakasam returned to Rajahmundry and earned wealth and name through his sincerity and dedication to his profession.

In 1904, he left for England to qualify himself for the Bar and passed in first class and then returned to India. He practiced law for 14 years in Madras, during which time he earned a lot of money and bought houses all over India. Gandhiji’s constructive programme and Swadeshi movement had attracted him deeply. Prakasam is remembered as a journalist more than as a politician. His ‘Swarajya’, a daily newspaper, occupied a special place at the height of its popularity during the freedom movement as it reflected the aspirations of the people and also the courage of its editor.

The finest hour of Prakasam’s life was when he bared his chest to a British soldier to shoot him. The occasion was the massive rally during ‘Simon Go Back’ movement in Madras. When guns were pointed at him, Prakasam roared, “shoot me if you can”. Down went the guns and “Andhra Kesari Zindabad” slogans rent the air in adoration and admiration of the great man.

Prakasam was also instrumental in locating Kurnool as the temporary capital of the new Andhra State in 1953. As a Revenue Minister in composite Madras State of Rajaji Ministry, he propounded “Land to the tiller of the soil” theory which paved the way for the abolition of Zamindari system. His watch word was ‘Gram Swaraj’ because he believed, like Gandhiji, that “if villages cherished, India would cherish too”.

Near Ongole, he donated his land and building to the nation to establish a rural university especially for rural youth to be trained as self-sufficient and self-reliant generation. As the first Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, in a very short span of time, he introduced several welfare programmes besides granting general amnesty to 2,000 prisoners. “I shall pass this way but once; any good, therefore, that I can do, let me do it now. For I shall not pass this way again,” was what he used to say always.

(The writer, a great grandson of Tanguturi Prakasam Panthulu, is General Secretary of Prakasam Institute of Developmental Studies and Trust)

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