Tamil Nadu played an important role in the Indian National Movement. Even prior to the Great Revolt of 1857, the rebellion in Panchalam Kuruchi, the 1801 'South Indian Rebellion' of the Marudu brothers and the Vellore Mutiny of 1806 were the early anti-colonial struggles in Tamil Nadu. During the nationalist era Tamil Nadu provided the leaders like G. Subramania Iyer, V.O.C. Chidambaram Pillai, Subramania Bharathi, C. Rajagopalachari and K. Kamaraj to the National Movement. Besides, the nationalist movement in Tamil Nadu was as active as elsewhere.
The earliest political organisation, the Madras Native Association was started in July 1852. Lakshminarasu Chetty and Srinivasa Pillai were the founders of this organization. The Madras Native Association was sharply critical of the policies of the East India Company's rule. Subsequently in 1884, the Madras Mahajana Sabha was established by P. Anandacharlu and P. Rangaiya Naidu.
The Madras Native Association was ultimatelySwadeshimerged with this organization.
The Madras Mahajana Sabha strongly supported the activities of the Indian National Congress. It had also initiated social reform. G. Subramania Iyer performed the remarriage of his widowed daughter in December 1889. He moved the first resolution in the first session of the Indian National Congress in 1885. He started the nationalist papers like The Hindu in English and Swadeshamitran in Tamil. In 1892, the Madras Provincial Conference was started to mobilize people in the rural areas of Tamil Nadu. The third session of the Indian National Congress was held in Madras in 1887 under the presidentship of Fakruddin Thyabji. Later a number of such annual sessions were also held in the city of Madras.
The Partition of Bengal in 1905 led to the beginning of Swadeshi Movement in Tamil Nadu. During this period the important leaders of the National Movement were - V.O. Chidambaram Pillai, Subramania Siva and Subramania Bharathi. In May 1907 Bharathi brought Bipin Chandra Pal one of the leaders of extremists in the Congress to Madras city. After the Surat split in 1907, V.O.C. and fellow nationalists started the Chennai Jana Sangam. Subramania Bharathi was a non-conformist, unorthodox and a revolutionary in social and political ideas. He edited the Tamil Weekly India .He wrote nationalist songs called the Swadesa Geethangal.
V.O. Chidambaram Pillai was a lawyer by profession and he joined the nationalist movement in 1905. He was a follower of Bal Ganghadar Tilak. He led the Coral Mill Strike in February 1908 in Tuticorin. In 1906 he launched the
Steam Navigation Company in Tuticorin. Hence he was called Kappalottiya Tamilan. There was competition between Swadeshi Steam Navigation Company and British India Steam Navigation Company. V.O.C. advocated the boycott of the British India Steam Navigation Company and this had resulted in the Tirunelveli uprising in March 1908. He was ably assisted by Subramania Siva.
Both were arrested and imprisoned. They served six years rigorous imprisonment. They were given harsh punishment inside the prison. V.O.C. was asked to draw an oil press and hence he is known as Chekkilutta Chemmal.
The arrest of the nationalist leaders, harsh punishment for the nationalist leaders inside the prison and the collapse of the Swadeshi Steam Navigation Company led to the formation of a revolutionary organization in Tamil Nadu called the Bharathamatha Association. Nilakanta Bramachari played a vital role in it. One of the followers of this association Vanchi Nathan shot dead the notorious British official Robert William Ashe at Maniyatchi junction in June 1911.
The Home rule Movement in Madras was organized by Mrs. Annie Besant between 1916 and 1918.The first indication of Annie Besant's decision to launch a Home Rule Movement appeared in New India in September 1915.
Besant sought the support of the Indian National Congress at its annual meeting at Bombay in December, 1915. She was supported in her movement by Tilak. Home Rule Movement was vigorous during the First World War.
In Tamil Nadu the Non-co-operation Movement was strong during the years 1921-23. Beginning in March 1921 there were campaigns of Non-Cooperation against the foreign regulations. In 1921 and 1922 there were campaigns against the consumption of liquor in many parts of the province. Temperance campaign was particularly prominent in Madurai. Non- Cooperation had been a success in Tamil Nadu. C. Rajagopalachari, S. Satyamurthi and E.
V. Ramaswami Naicker were the important leaders of the Non-Cooperation Movement in Tamil Nadu. At that time E. V. Ramaswami Naicker was the President of the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee. C. Rajagopalachari stressed that the council boycott was a central part of the Gandhian Programme. However, this view was not shared by Kasturi Ranga Iyengar, Srinivasa Iyengar, Varadarajulu Naidu and Vijayaraghavachari.
In the meantime, Periyar E.V.R. launched the Satyagraha in Kerala against the practice of social segregation. Later he resigned from the Congress and came out on the social segregation issue at Seramandevi Guru Kulam of V.V.S. Iyer. S. Satyamurthi of Pudukkottai was one of the important freedom fighters. He led the anti-Simon Campaign in 1929 when the Simon Commission visited Tamil Nadu.
The other important nationalist leader was K. Kamaraj from Virudhunagar. He participated in the Vaikom Satyagraha in 1924 and thus entered nationalist movement. He was the vice-president and treasurer of the Ramnad District Congress Committee in 1929. From the beginning, Kamaraj was the man of the masses. He spoke in simple and direct language. He had a sound common sense and practical wisdom.
He was fully aware of the rural Tamil Nadu. He visited each and every village and understood the different problems of the masses. He always identified himself with the common man of Tamil Nadu. Thus, he really brought the Congress movement to the villages in Tamil Nadu,
As part of the Civil Disobedience Movement, Gandhi launched the Salt Satyagraha. He undertook the Dandi March in 1930.
C. Rajagopalachari became the TNCC president in April 1930. Authorized by TNCC and AICC to direct the Salt Satyagraha in Tamil Nadu Rajaji undertook the famous Vedaranyam Salt Satyagraha March. He selected the route from Tiruchirappalli to Vedaranyam in Thanjauvr district. The March began on Tamil New Year's Day (13th April). The March reached Vedaranyam on 28 April 1930. Two days later Rajagopalachari was arrested for breaking the salt laws. Some of the other important leaders who participated in the Vedaranyam Salt Satyagraha were T.S.S. Rajan, Mrs. Lakshmipathi Sardar Vedaratnam Pillai, C. Swaminatha Chetty and K. Santhanam.
Tiruppur Kumaran who led the flag march was fatally beaten. Since he guarded the national flag in his hands he was called Kodi Kaththa Kumaran.
Commemorating his sacrifice the Goverment of India issued a postal stamp in his honour.
Similarly, the National Movement was encouraged by songs composed by Namakkal Kavinjar Ramalingam Pillai. In his songs he praised the Gandhian methods in the struggle for freedom. He sang that 'a war is coming without knife and blood'. This highlighted the Gandhian principle of non-violent struggle against the British.
Later, in 1937 when elections were held in accordance with the 1935 Act, Congress won the elections and formed the ministry in Madras headed by C. Rajagopalachari. There were nine other ministers in his cabinet. The ministry was in power from July 1937 to October 1939. The ministry had resigned along with other Congress ministries in the different provinces over the issue of the Indian involvement in the Second World War.
During Second War, after the failure of the Cripps's Proposals Gandhi had launched the Quit India Movement. In Tamil Nadu Quit India Movement drew the factory workers, students and common people. It was a wide spread movement. The Buckingham & Carnatic Mills, Port Trust and the Tramway workers joined the movement in large numbers. Quit India Movement was launched in places like North Arcot, Madurai and Coimbatore. There was police firing at Rajapalayam, Karaikudi and Devakottai. Besides, Subhash Bose's INA had many men and women soldiers from Tamil Nadu.
Finally, when India attained independence on 15th August, 1947 the Madras Government under O.P. Ramaswami Reddiar passed a resolution appreciating the Indian Independence Act.