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TN’s first polls saw a jailed communist elected to the Madras Legislative Assembly

PR was not only a popular leader in Madurai but was the architect of the trade union movement in the state.

The News Minute brings you the Dravidian Chronicles, a collection of narratives on the margins of the 2016 election spotlight. Here we chronicle smaller, subtler shifts that catalyse and metamorphose the grand narratives of the electoral juggernaut.

India was slowly finding her feet in the years after Independence.  The country’s first general election, which began in October 1951 and concluded in the spring of 1952, had 176 million eligible voters, aged 21 and above, and about 85 per cent of them were illiterate[1]. It was, as historian Ramachandra Guha [2] put it, “an act of faith.”

PR in the early 40’s with another legendary communist, P.C. Joshi, in Bombay. These were times when the party was banned. 


There was a churning in the country. The Congress under Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was accused by the Communist Party of betraying the cause of workers and peasants in the interest of landlords and capitalists. With the aim of bringing down the Congress government, the communists began a nation-wide revolution. What followed was a crackdown, as state after state banned the Communist Party of India from 1948, forcing several of its members underground.

Circa 60s: PR leading a protest in Madurai. 


This was a jeep procession being taken out on PR’s 60th birthday in Madurai. Seen standing on PR’s left is a young P. Mohan, who later went on to become MP from Madurai twice for the CPM. 


The general elections were held concurrently with the state assembly polls. Madras State held its first ever assembly elections in March 1952. Several of the Communist leaders in the state including P. Ramamurti, the founder of the party in Madras had gone underground following arrest warrants against them. “Because of his physical inability, Ramamurti could not move about in day time. He went to different places only during night and met comrades to explain new situations to them,” wrote N. Rama Krishnan in his biography on Ramamurti. The government had even announced a reward to anyone giving information about him.

Late 70s: PR led a CPM delegation to China in the late 1970s (exact year unsure) at the invitation of the CPC. Outside the plane after landing in Beijing along with legendary Maharasthrian Communist Godavari Parulekhar. 


In late 1951, the Communist leader was arrested while travelling by train to Bombay. Ramamurti, who was dressed in disguise was spotted and apprehended by a CID officer from Madras, who happened to be travelling in the same compartment. In his 2008 book, Rama Krishnan explains that Ramamurti’s arrest got “wide publicity” in the press. He was taken to Madurai Central Jail from the Amalapuram Railway Station.

 50s: PR in Moscow with Soviet Union delegates


The timing of Ramamurti’s arrest coincided with elections in the state The Communist Party decided to field Ramamurti as its candidate from Madurai North. His incarceration was not an inconvenience or a disadvantage.  PR, as he was affectionaly known, was not only a popular leader in Madurai but was the architect of the trade union movement in the state.  He built a reputation as an organiser of the working class, having helped launch strikes and agitations for over 20 years. PR was also deeply involved in organising textile mill workers in Madurai in the 1940s, not only founding AITUC union but even appearing and arguing before labour tribunals on behalf of mill workers.

Circa 70s: PR with former President VV Giri. Both were close friends and would often take the other’s cane and return it later. Giri used to carry a nicer, more polished one, while PR wouldn’t pay much attention. The joke here could be about getting the cane right the next time!


PR’s trade mark style of public address and lessons in Marxism to workers in the later years – 80s. He would climb onto a table, sit on it and talk.


“During his time in jail, he adopted various ways to come before the public. He even feigned illness in order to be taken to hospital. En route, he would talk loudly to draw people’s attention,” said R. Vaigai, Ramamurti’s daughter and a lawyer at the Madras High Court. When the Election Commission announced the results, it came as no surprise when a jailed Ramamurti ended up defeating Congress’ T. Chidambara Bharathi by a margin of 3332 votes.

[1] Guha, Ramachandra (2007) “India After Gandhi”, p. 133

[2] Guha, Ramachandra (2007) “India After Gandhi”, p. 133

Photo credit: P Ramamurti Family Archives.’s-first-polls-saw-jailed-communist-elected-madras-legislative

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