Tanguturi Prakasam Pantulu (Telugu: టంగుటూరి ప్రకాశం పంతులు b. 23 August 1872 – d. 20 May 1957) was an Indian politician and independence activist and the first Chief Minister of the Indian province that was to become Andhra Pradesh. He was also known as Andhra Kesari (literally, the Lion of Andhra).
When E. Hanumantha Rao Naidu, his mentor and teacher at school, shifted to Rajahmundry, he took Prakasam along with him as that place had better opportunities for education. Though interested in becoming a lawyer since childhood, Prakasam failed his matriculation examination. He however managed to go to Madras and become a second-grade pleader. Returning to Rajahmundry, he eventually became a successful lawyer. He was elected as Municipal Chairman of Rajahmundry in 1904 when he was 31 years old.
During one of his visits to Madras on a court case, a barrister was impressed with his legal acumen and suggested that he become a barrister. As a second-grade pleader, Prakasam could not argue cases at higher courts as only barristers were allowed to do so. Prakasam took the idea to his heart and decided to go to England to pursue legal studies. It was considered a sacrilege to cross the seas during those days. However, as Mahatma Gandhi had done before him, Prakasam made a promise to his mother that he would abstain from eating non-vegetarian food, smoking and drinking. He reached England in 1904. In England, he joined the India Society and worked for the election of Dadabhai Naoroji to the House of Commons.
After completing the barrister course with a certificate of honour in London, Prakasam relocated to Madras high court. He was the first prominent Telugu barrister to be successful; until then, most of the successful lawyers were either Europeans or Tamilians. He dealt with both civil and criminal cases. Of the latter, one of the important cases was the Ash murder case. Ash was the Collector of Tirunelveli and was shot dead in 1907. This was at a time when Bipin Chandra Pal, the nationalist leader from Bengal was touring the region, making fiery speeches on nationalism. Prakasam defended one of the accused and ensured that he got away with a light sentence. Prakasam also edited Law times, a legal magazine. The same year he presided over Bipin Chandra Pal’s lecture at Madras when others were afraid to come forward, given that the government of the day considered Pal’s speeches to border on sedition. He started attending the Congress Party sessions regularly after the Lucknow pact and signed the Satyagraha pledge in October 1921. He gave up his lucrative law practice. He also started and was the working editor of a newspaper Swarajya (literally self-rule). Swarajya was published simultaneously in English, Telugu and Tamil.
He also ran a national school and a Khadi production centre. He was elected the general secretary of the Congress Party in December 1921 at the Ahmedabad session. Whenever there was unrest or strife such as a riot, he tried to be there so as to comfort people. He visited Punjab during Akali Satyagraha and the Hindu-Muslim riots in Multan. He toured Kerala during the Moplah rebellion despite a ban on visitors from outside the area and had his property at Ooty attached by the government as a consequence. In 1922, during the Non-cooperation Movement, he organised a demonstration by 30,000 Congress volunteers at Guntur. In 1926, he was elected to the Central Legislative Assembly on a Congress Party ticket.
When the Simon Commission visited India, the congress party decided to boycott it with the slogan "Simon, go back". There were a host of reasons for this boycott, the most important being that the commission did not have a single Indian in its ranks. The commission was greeted with demonstration of black flags wherever it went. When the commission visited Madras on 03.02.1928, the police did not allow protests in some sensitive areas of Madras. Nevertheless, the crowd grew large and restive near the Madras High Court at Parry's Corner and the police resorted to firing with a view to control it. However, a young man, named, Pardha Saradhi was killed on the spot. The police warned the people that they would shoot if anyone tried to come near the body. At this, Prakasam grew enraged and tore open his shirt, baring his chest and daring the police to shoot at him. Understanding the situation, the police gave way to him and other supporters. After this incident, people respected him with the epithet of "Andhra Kesari" (Lion of Andhra).
In 1930, when the Congress wanted all the legislators to resign, he did so but was not convinced about its alternative programme and hence contested and won the by-election. He joined the Nationalist Party led by Madan Mohan Malaviya but resigned from it as well and persuaded others to do so after Mahatma Gandhi and the Congress Party decided to break the salt tax law with the Dandi March. Prakasam also resigned as a legislator and was at the forefront in breaking the tax law at Madras. In the meantime, he had to suspend the publication of Swarajya due to the high deposit demanded by the government. It was revived after the Gandhi-Irwin pact of 1931 but it had to be suspended again due to cash flow problems. Unsuccessful attempts were made to restart it again in 1935.
In 1937, Congress Party contested the provincial elections and achieved majority in Madras province, among others. Though Prakasam was in the running for Chief Minister’s post, he made way for Rajaji, who returned to active politics as per the wishes of the Congress Working Committee. Prakasam became the revenue minister – his major contribution was the founding and chairing of the Zamindari Enquiry Committee which looked at the structural distortions in agriculture perpetrated due to the Zamindari system followed by the British Government. With the onset of the second world war, the Congress ministries resigned from office as they were not consulted by the government about India’s participation. Prakasam was the first prominent leader from South India to offer individual Satyagraha against the war effort in 1941.
He was arrested for more than three years for participating in the Quit India movement of 1942. After his release in 1945, he toured South India to get back in touch with the masses. In 1946, after the Congress' victory in elections in Madras Presidency Prakasam became the chief minister on 30.04.1946, as he and Kamaraj, a Tamil leader, were against Rajaji — the choice of leaders such as Gandhi and Nehru — becoming the chief minister. However, the government lasted for only 11 months, as it was felt that Prakasam was not accommodating enough to various varying interests.
He visited Hyderabad state in 1948, while the Nizam was still in power, although Prime Minister Nehru warned against doing so because of concern for his personal safety. He met Qasim Rizvi, the leader of the Razakars and warned him about pushing his luck too far. The Razakars were impressed by his courage and accorded him a march of honour.
In 1952, he formed the Praja Party (People’s party) and ensured that all the sitting ministers of the Congress Party were defeated. However, Praja party could not come into power by its own and the coalition that he cobbled up collapsed even before a show of strength could be contemplated.
Meanwhile, in December 1952, Potti Sriramulu died fasting for the cause of a separate state for the Telugu-speaking people. On 1 October 1953, the state of Andhra was created and Prakasam, due to his reputation, was made the first chief minister. However, due to opposition from the communists and halting support from the socialists, the government fell after a year. Mid-term elections were held in 1955 by which time Prakasam had more or less retired from active politics. On 1 November 1956, the erstwhile Hyderabad state was merged in the Andhra state to form Andhra Pradesh. Neelam Sanjiva Reddy, a future President of India and a staunch follower of Prakasam became the chief minister. Though retired from politics, Prakasam was active in touring the state. On one such visit to Ongole, he suffered from severe sunstroke. He was admitted in a Hyderabad hospital and died on 20 May 1957.