Rajagopalachari was born into a Tamil Brahmin[Sri Vaishnava] family in a small village called Thorapalli of the then Salem District. (Now Thorapalli is in Krishnagiri District.) He had his school education at Hosur and college education at Madras (Chennai) and Bangalore. He was married to Alamelu Mangamma when he was young and they had five children. His wife died when he was 37 and he solely took the responsibility of taking care of his children. Rajaji studied law in Bangalore and started his practice at Salem. As a lawyer he was very successful. When in Salem, Rajaji showed keen interest in the social and political affairs. He was even elected as the Municipal Chairman of Salem and he held that post for two years. He was affectionately hailed as the "Mango of Salem".
In the year 1919 Rajaji chose to follow Mahatma Gandhi, who had just returned from South Africa. In the year 1921, Rajaji was selected as the General Secretary of the Congress Party and he came into close contact with Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel, Maulana Azad,Anugrah Narayan Sinha, Rajendra Prasad etc. and began to gain stature in the party.
On leaving government, he was among the first recipients of the Bharat Ratna, the Indian government's highest civilian award.
When Rajaji was piloting the Press Bill in the Parliament in the year 1951, Shyama Prasad Mukerjee interrupted and said "Rajaji! Please remember that you have ceased to be a lawyer". Rajaji shot back: "Yes indeed, I accept that I have ceased to be a lawyer. But I have not ceased to be reasonable!".
Rajaji became the Premier of Madras Presidency in 1937 and he made Hindi a compulsory language in schools. This was immediately opposed and protests were organised by Periyar Ramasami and Sir A. D. Panneerselvam a few people were killed in the Anti-Hindi agitations. He introduced prohibition in 1937 and to compensate the loss of revenue introduced sales tax for the first time in India. He resigned along with other Congress governments in 1939 due to viceroy of India, Lord Linlithgow declaring that India was also at war without consultation and no discussion on the question of immediate independence.
C.Rajagopalachari who had become the Chief Minister of Madras State for the second time between 1952 and 1954, had introduced the scheme of conducting classes in the schools in the forenoon and asking the students to learn the traditional jobs of their parents in the afternoon. At the first stage it was implemented in the rural areas of the state. The Dravidian leaders assessed that the scheme was a clever device to keep the Shudra and Panchama castes as illiterates or semi-literates. Their children had just begun to attend school after centuries of denial of educational opportunities. They dubbed C. Rajagopalachari's scheme as Castiest Education Plan (Kula Kalvi Thittam) and began to agitate under Periyar's leadership demanding its withdrawal. As a consequence, the Chief Minister had to resign in March 1954, and Kamaraj assumed office on 14th April. Kamaraj abolished the half-day-teaching scheme, and assured Periyar that his Government would extent educational facilities to people in every nook and corner of the state.
Rajaji became the Chief minister due to a constitutional impropriety in 1952.In the 1952 elections Congress Party was reduced to a minority in the State Assembly and the Communist Party of India led coalition appeared to be in a better position to form the Government. But Governor Sri Prakasa nominated Rajaji to the Legislative Council without the advice of the council of ministers and the selection of a nominated member as Chief Minister and further majority was obtained by luring opposition MLA to join the party and Nehru was furious and wrote to Rajaji that" the one thing we must avoid giving is the impression that we stick to office and we want to keep others out at all costs Rajaji refused to contest a bye election and remained a non elected member.
Dr. P.C. Alexander himself a former Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra governor writes that the most conspicuous case of constitutional impropriety was the one by Sri Prakasa when he invited Rajagopalachari to form the government in the Madras state. During this time Potti Sriramulu called for a separate state by the name of Andhra and went on an unconditional fast until his goal was achieved. He died following complications that arouse during the fast and violent riots broke out in the Telugu areas of Madras State. Jawaharlal Nehru had initially warned that this method of fasting to achieve administrative or political changes will put end to democratic government but after death of Potti Sriramulu Nehru agreed to the demand for separate state of Andhra but refused to include Madras (now Chennai) city in Andhra. Serious allegations arouse that Rajaji did not intervene to break the fast or provide medical help for Sriramulu even though the fast had continued for over 50 days. On a side note, only one other person,Jatin Das, before Sriramulu, in modern Indian history actually fasted to death. In most cases they either gave up, hospitalised or arrested and force fed . The State of Andhra was carved out of the Madras State in 1953, Rajaji remained aloof from the Andhra State and related issues. He removed controls on foodgrains and introduced a new education policy based on family vocation. According to this policy students had to goto school in the morning and to compulsorily learn the family vocation, like carpentry, masonry etc after school. It was severely opposed as casteist and dubbed Kula Kalvi Thittam (Hereditary Education Policy) by his close friend Periyar who vehemently opposed it. This policy was under attack this from within the Congress as well as outside it. This ultimately led to his resignation in 1954.
The party proved to be a good opponent to the ruling Congress. The party won 45 Lok Sabha members in the 1967 general elections and was the single largest party in the opposition. It was the principal opposition party in the states of Rajasthan and Gujarat. It also formed a coalition government in Orissa. It also had a significance presence in the Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Bihar. In the mid 1960s it won nearly 207 legislative assembly seats all over India, as against 153 by the communists, 149 by the socialists and 115 by the Jan Sangh. But the Party started to disintegrate after the death of Rajaji. It finally merged with Charan Singh's Bharatiya Lok Dal in 1974.
His novels and short stories, themselves would have won him public adulation. He also translated 'The Tirukkural' from Tamil to English. 'Tirukkural' is an ancient piece of the Tamil literature and is often referred to as 'the flower of Tamilnad'. His ability as a writer, is in a sense, unparalleled, not just in India alone.
Some of his poetry was set to music and sung by Carnatic music's dominant personality M.S. Subbulakshmi at several occasions of importance, and once at the United Nations Kurai Onrum Illai http://www.rajaji.net/Rajaji-Original/kurai.htm - (meaning - No regrets have I My lord, None) is a very famous song in the semi-Carnatic music genre written by Rajaji and the most popular version, (widely acknowledged as soul-stirring) has been rendered by M.S. Subbulakshmi. Rajaji also composed a hymn http://www.rajaji.net/Rajaji-Original/hereunderthisunitingroof.htm which was sung in 1966 at the United Nations, again by M.S. Subbulakshmi.
In 1954 during the United States' Vice President's 19 country Asian trip, Richard Nixon was lectured by Rajiji on the consuming emotional quality of nuclear weapons. Rajiji told Nixon that it was "wrong to seek the secret of the creation of matter. It isn't needed for civilian purposes. It is an evil and will destroy those who [try]'. Nixon apparently did not interpret this as anti-American, and in RN reported no argument with Rajiji's ominous prophesy.^ [Nixon, One of Us, Tom Wicker, New York: Random House, 1991. p.138] Also, "... they discussed the spiritual life, particularly rereincarantion and predestination. Nixon filled three pages of notes recording what the sage had told him, claiming in his memoirs thirty-six years later that the afternoon 'had such a dramatic effect on me that I used many of his thoughts in my speeches over the next several years'." ^
He was invited to the White House by President Kennedy; perhaps the only civilian, not in power, ever to be accorded formal state reception. The two discussed various matters and it is said that the great Indian statesman tried to impress on the young President the folly of an arms race - even one which the US could win. At the end of the meeting President Kennedy remarked "This meeting had the most civilizing influence on me. Seldom have I heard a case presented with such precision, clarity and elegance of language".
The nonagenarian's public life, spanning nearly eighty years are perhaps best recognized by Mahatma Gandhi's rich tribute to him praising him as: "the keeper of my conscience". Rajaji died in December, 1972 after a short illness.