Diwan Bahadur Mylai Chinna Thambi Rajah (17 June 1883 – 24 August 1943) was a Tamil politician, social and political activist from the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
Rajah was born to a Tamil family of Madras. He entered politics after graduation and was a leader in the Justice Party. However, he quit the party in 1923 over the party's treatment of the then Depressed Classes. He was the first leader who organized Scheduled Classes at the national level in India. He was the pioneer of Mid-day meal scheme in India. In his heyday, Rajah was considered to be a person equal in stature to Ambedkar.
Prof. Rajah was born to Mylai Chinna Thambi Pillai in 1883 at St Thomas Mount, Madras. Chinna Thambi Pillai was the manager of Lawrence Asylum. Rajah had his schooling at the Wesley Mission High School, Royapettah and Wesley College. He graduated from Madras Christian College and worked as a school Teacher and then Professor.
Rajah joined politics at an early age and was elected president of the Chingleput district board. In 1916, he became the Secretary of the Adi-Dravida Mahajana Sabha. He was one of the founder-members of the South Indian Liberal Federation. Rajah was elected to the Madras Legislative Council as a Justice Party candidate during the first general elections held in November 1920. He was elected Deputy Leader of the Justice Party in the house. Rajah was the first member of the scheduled caste community to be elected to the Madras Legislative Council. In 1922, Rajah passed a resolution demanding that the terms Paraiya and Panchama be dropped from official usage and instead be substituted with Adi-Dravida and Adi-Andhra.
In 1921, the Justice Party government of the Raja of Panagal introduced reservations for backward classes in government jobs. However, this act did not allocate quotas for scheduled castess as demanded by MC Rajah. Disenchanted, Rajah led a delegation of scheduled castes to protest the act and press their demand for inclusion. But the Justice Party did not respond. Instead, when riots broke out in Puliyanthope the same year, top-ranking Justice Party leaders regarded the Government's policy of appeasement of paraiyars responsible for the strike. Outraged at this, Rajah quit the party in 1923. He remained a member of the Madras Legislative Council till 1926. In 1928, he created and became the president of the All India Depressed Castes Association. From 1926 till 1937, he was a member of the Imperial Legislative Assembly. During April–July 1937 he was the Madras Presidency's Minister for Development in the short lived interim provisional cabinet of Kurma Venkata Reddy Naidu.
Parting of ways with Ambedkar
In 1932, M. C. Rajah concluded a pact with two members of the Indian National Congress, B. S. Moonje and Jadhav. According to this pact, Moonje offered reserved seats to scheduled castes in return for Rajah's support. This demand prompted Ambedkar to make an official demand for Separate electorates on an all-India basis.
By late 1935, Rajah had already decided not to support Ambedkar's intention of religious conversion from Hinduism. Rajah, as well as other scheduled caste leaders, felt that conversion from Hinduism would undermine the morale of scheduled caste and forward-caste Hindu activists engaged in a two-front war against both "upper"-cast reactionaries as well as the British.
The Congress, under the inspiration of Gandhi, has taken up the question of removal of Untouchability and the Hindu Mahasabha has followed suit. It is our duty to help them in their endeavor and not to throw obstacles in their way. […] Hinduism is our religion and it is sacred to us. It is our duty to preserve it and purify it. We do not want to cut away from the Hindu fold. We want better recognition - a recognition of the fact that we are men equally with the caste-Hindus.— M.C. Rajah, from a source quoted by Jaffrelot in Dr. Ambedkar and Untouchability: Fighting the Indian Caste System, p. 128
Rajah died on Tuesday, 24 August 1943 at his house on "St. Thomas Mount", today named as "Rajah Street".
- Rajah, M. C. (1939). Independence Without, Freedom Within: Speech of Rao Bahadur M.C. Rajah, M.L.A., at the Madras Legislative Assembly on the 26th October 1939 on the Congress Resolution on India and the War.
- Rajah, M. C.; J. Shivashunmugham Pillai (1930). The Life, Select Writings and Speeches of Rao Bahadur M. C. Rajah. Indian Publishing House.
- Jain Meeanakshi, Rajah-Moonje Pact: Documents On A Forgotten Chapter Of Indian History (with Devendra Svarupa, Low Price Publishers, 2007), ISBN 8184540787.