The strange case of Thodla Raghavaiah
For years, I’ve been visiting the Raghavendra Temple in Raghavaiah Road, T. Nagar, that I’ve always wondered who this Raghavaiah might be. Like all roads in T. Nagar, this one, too, would have been named after some V. I. P. of the 1920s. (Or was it just another name by which Guru Raghavendra was affectionately called? Very much plausible!) But when my forays into old books helped me piece together Raghavaiah’s life I was truly surprised by the end result. I found it difficult to digest the fact that the Justice Party which was allegedly founded to fight caste-based discrimination had named one of T. Nagar’s roads after someone perceived to be one of the main villains of the Vaikom Satyagraha.
Born in a Telugu Brahmin family, Thodla Raghavaiah entered the provincial civil service on completing his studies. After serving in the forest and revenue departments, Raghavaiah was made an official of the Madras Corporation which he headed as President in 1911. In 1920, Raghavaiah was appointed Diwan of Travancore and soon became a favourite of the Raja, Moolam Thirunal. Both Moolam Thirunal and Raghavaiah opposed temple entry and made their best efforts to prevent the Vaikom Satyagraha. However, the satyagraha did eventually succeed due to Moolam Thirunal’s sudden death in 1924. Sethu Lakshmi Bayi who became the regent on Moolam Thirunal’s death was a strong opponent of caste-based discrimination and on her assumption of the regency, repealed all the discriminatory laws forbidding low-caste Hindus and Dalits from entering Hindu temples.
While Raghavaiah’s stance during the Vaikom Satyagraha lowered his standing among Indian nationalists and social reformers, it did not affect his civil service career, the slightest bit (or his reputation as a “progressive” official). Raghavaiah was made a Companion of the Order of the Star of India in 1924 and the next year his services were requisitioned by the princely state of Pudukkottai. When Raja Martanda Bhairava Tondaiman of Pudukkottai died in Cannes, France in 1928 without a heir, his six-year old nephew Rajagopala Tondaiman was chosen king and a regency council was established on insistence of the Madras government. Raghavaiah headed this regency council from February 1929 to November 1931. When the regency council was abolished in November 1931, Raghavaiah quietly retired from public life and inexplicably disappeared from state records altogether.