Kamaraj was the Chief Minister of Tamilnadu from 1954 to 1963. He set one of the highest standards of integrity in public life in India.
Once as Chief Minister he went to his village to see his ailing mother. There had been no water tap earlier in her house, but this time Kamaraj noticed a municipal water tap. He got very upset, and scolded the Municipality officers for installing that water tap, saying that Municipal water taps are meant only for public use, and could not be installed in private houses. Having said that he ordered immediate removal of that water tap.
Kamaraj came from a poor family. His father used to earn a living selling coconuts. When Kamaraj was 6 years old his father died, and his mother had to sell her jewellery to support her family.
When Kamaraj was 16 years old the Jallianwala massacre took place in Amritsar, which electrified the whole country. This event so moved Kamaraj that he decided to devote his whole life to the freedom struggle. Consequently he never married.
Kamaraj participated in the freedom struggle enthusiastically. He was jailed 6 times by the British authorities, and he spent over 8 years in jail, between 1930, when he was arrested during the Salt Satyagrah under Gandhiji's leadership, and 1945.
After India became independant Kamaraj became a Member of parliament from 1952-1954, and then the Chief Minister of Tamilnadu for 9 years. His large heartedness can be seen from the fact that when he became Chief Minister of Tamilnadu in 1954 he nominated C. Subramaniam and M. Bhaktavatsalam, who had been his bitter opponents, to be his cabinet colleagues. This reminds one of President Abraham Lincoln's appointment of Edwin Stanton, his bitter opponent, to his cabinet in 1861.
During his Chief Ministership Tamilnadu made tremendous strides, so much so that Prime Minister Nehru openly said that Tamilnadu has become the best administered state in India.
Among his achievements were the following :
1. Literacy in Tamilnadu rose from 7% to 37%.
2. Education was given special importance. No village was without a primary school, and no panchayat without a High School. Education was free and compulsory upto class 11. This enabled poor children also to get education. Perhaps without this scheme there may have been no Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalaam.
3. The Mid Day meal scheme was launched, providing at least one free meal to students a day. This scheme was later adopted by several states.
4. An I.I.T was started in Chennai for creating first class engineers. Many of the alumni of this institution are today manning Silicon Valley in California,and are Professors in the Science, Engineering and Mathematics Departments of American and European Universities.
5. Many irrigation schemes were started and completed, and several dams and irrigation canals were built. Consequently large areas in Tamilnadu which were earlier without water could now get it.
6. Many industries were started in Tamilnadu with government support.
Kamaraj always led a simple life, and detested ostentation. He disowned sirens on his car, and often refused police protection, saying that if one did not do wrong deeds he would need no police protection. When he died he had no accumulated wealth. None of his relatives ever benefited from their relation with him.