Kamaraj was pre-eminent as a freedom fighter and social activist. He was the first chief minister of Tamil Nadu
Kamaraj was born on July 15, 1903, in a family of traders. His real name was Kamakshi Kumaraswamy Nadar but was shortened to Raja by his mother. Though he left his schooling halfway through, Kamaraj taught himself during periods of imprisonment. He managed to learn English from his co-workers in the Congress Party. Kamaraj joined the Congress as a full-time worker, at the age of 16. He started off from the lowest rungs, inviting speakers, organizing meetings and collecting funds for the party. He participated in the Salt
Satyagraha in 1930. Kamaraj was arrested on several occasions during the freedom struggle. He was elected Chairman to the Municipal Council, while he was in jail. On April 13, 1954, Kamaraj became the Chief Minister of Madras (now Tamil Nadu). He served three consecutive terms.
Kamaraj strove to eradicate illiteracy by introducing free and compulsory education upto the eleventh standard. He introduced the midday meals scheme to provide at least a meal per day to millions of poor students. Free school uniforms were aimed at weeding out caste, creed, class distinctions from young minds. A number of irrigation schemes were completed in record time. The Land Ceiling Act and Tenancy Protection Act benefited small farmers and saved them from exploitation by landlords. Medium and small-scale industries prospered alongside large industrial units enabling Madras to take the lead in industrialization. Kamaraj was complimented by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of India, for making Madras one of the best administered States in India. On October 2, 1963, he resigned as Chief Minister to improve the Congress party, then fast loosing its hold. In 1964, Kamaraj was elected President of the All India Congress. He died on October 2, 1975. He was honored with the highest civilian honor, the Bharat Ratna, in 1976.