Conservation of Kamaraj memorial houses on cards
A view of Kamaraj Memorial House at T. Nagar in Chennai. Photo : R. Ravindran.

Virudhunagar and Chennai, though geographically apart, have a historical link; they are home to memorial houses of former Chief Minister K. Kamaraj (1903-1975).

It is now under the spotlight with the Australian government and the Tamil Nadu government planning to take up conservation of the two memorial houses..In the Budget presented to the Assembly on Monday, the government announced that it would take up the Kamaraj memorial house in Chennai for renovation.

The next day, Australian High Commissioner Peter Varghese submitted a set of proposals to Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, including a draft conservation plan for the former Chief Minister's other memorial house, located in Virudhunagar, 550 km from Chennai.

[The State government had also announced that it would take up Kamaraj Mandapam in Kanyakumari for renovation].

The Kamaraj memorial house on Tirumalai Pillai Road at T. Nagar here is somewhat more spacious than the Virudhunagar house, located in a congested corner of the town and at a site, where one cannot even take the car.While the Virudhunagar house played a crucial role in the formative years of the leader, the T. Nagar house saw several major decisions taken by Kamaraj, either as Chief Minister (1954-1963) or the guiding force of the Congress party.

In Virudhunagar, he had his early education and studied up to what was then called, ‘first form', equivalent to Standard VI.

Like many youngsters of that era, Kamaraj came under the influence of the national movement and was gradually drawn into the freedom struggle. In 1936, he became Tamil Nadu Congress Committee secretary when S. Satyamurti was president.

Four years later, when Kamaraj became TNCC president, he shifted base to Chennai. However, his attachment to Virudhunagar did not go away. In March 1942, he occupied the post of chairmanship of the Virudhunagar municipality for a day and got a resolution adopted.

Kamaraj, in his initial phase as TNCC president, stayed at the party office at Royapettah here or what is now called Kamaraj Bhavan at Teynampet on Mount Road.An old resident of T. Nagar says Kamaraj moved to T. Nagar even before he became Chief Minister in 1954. That must have been 1951. Till his death, he remained a tenant of the Tirumalai Pillai Road house, which was, in fact, his permanent residence.

His relationship with Virudhunagar took a strange turn when Kamaraj lost to student leader and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam nominee, P. Seenivasan, in his attempt to re-enter the State politics in the 1967 Assembly polls.

Even when Kamaraj became national president of the Congress in 1963, he did not make New Delhi his permanent base. A criticism against him was that he functioned more out of Chennai. There was some substance in this.

The T. Nagar house continued to be important for him. It was here that he breathed his last on the afternoon of Gandhi Jayanti Day in 1975.

Later, the government purchased the Virudhunagar and T. Nagar houses and converted them into memorials.

For quite some time, the Australian authorities have been showing interest in the conservation of the Kamaraj memorial house in Virudhunagar. A draft conservation management plan has been prepared by AusHeritage, a body established by the Australian government in 1996 and a network of Australian cultural heritage management organisations.

According to the website of AusHeritage, the project is supported by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade with a grant from the Australian International Cultural Council and the office of Manickam Tagore, local MP.

The website mentions that two AusHeritage member companies – RBA Architects and Conservation Consultants and IndHeritage – are responsible for this project.

Interestingly, Vinod Daniel, Chairman of AusHeritage, was born in Virudhunagar.As for the renovation of the T. Nagar residence, an official of the State government says the Public Works Department will be approached soon for working out the expected cost of work.

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