Tanguturi Prakasam Pantulu was an Indian freedom fighter and the first Chief Minister of the state of Andhra. He was widely revered as Andhra Kesari.
Childhood and Education
He was born in a Niyogi Brahmin family in the current-day Andhra Pradesh.When he was 11, his father passed away and his mother had to run a boarding house (restaurant) at Ongole to make ends meet and ensure that her kids had good education.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 to clear his matriculation examination as he fell into bad company and regularly entered into brawls apart from devoting a lot of time to acting in plays. He however managed to go to Madras and become a second-grade pleader. He became a successful lawyer in Rajahmundry and made a lot of money in a short time. He also became well regarded in a short period of time and was elected the Chairman of Rajahmundry when he was 30. This was the beginning of his stint in public life.
He reached England in 1904 and took to his studies diligently. He joined the India Society and worked for the election of Dadabhai Naoroji, a famous nationalist, to the parliament. His exposure to other nationalist leaders and experiences in England further aroused his interest in public life.
Struggle for independenceWhen 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, the police did not allow protests in some sensitive areas. Nevertheless, the crowd grew large and restive near the high court (Parry’s corner) and the police resorted to firing with a view to control it. However, a young man 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).
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, congress party again contested and won in the Madras Presidency. This time, Prakasam became the chief minister 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 was not gracious in losing power and levelled corruption charges against the new ministry.However, he was more interested in the welfare of common people and visited Hyderabad state during the Nizam rule in 1948, without heeding warnings for personal safety by Jawaharlal Nehru. He met Qasim Rizvi, the leader of Razakars (who were allegedly under the pay of Nizam and terrorised general public) 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 1st October 1953, the state of Andhra was created and Prakasam, due to his reputation, was made the 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 1st November 1956, the erstwhile Hyderabad state was merged in the Andhra state to form Andhra Pradesh. Neelam Sanjiva Reddy, 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 passed away on 20 May, 1957.
However, his legacy as a freedom fighter is cherished to this day, especially in Andhra Pradesh.