R.K. Shanmugam Chetty was born on 17 October 1892 to R. Kandaswami Chettiar and Srirangammal in Coimbatore. In 1910, he joined Madras Christian College where he studied for a B.A. degree. Later, he studied law at the Madras Law College. Even as a student, he was greatly influenced by nationalist leaders like Gokhale, S.N. Banerjee, and B.C. Pal, Motilal Nehru, Lala Lajpat Rai, Rabindranath Tagore and Mrs. Annie Besant. He joined the Bar Council in 1919. In 1924, he was invited by Mrs. Annie Besant to join a deputation of the national convention to England. Although he admired Gandhiji and sympathized with the freedom struggle, he did not approve of the ‘Non–violent Non–cooperation’ movement. He advocated national progress through constitutional means in gradual stages. He pressed for full rights of citizenship for all Indians, wherever they had settled, and also for equal treatment for different races. In the economic sphere he opposed the salt tax, the high expenditure on the army, and imperial preferences in trade. He was Dewan of Cochin during 1935–41. As a Diwan of Cochin, he encouraged the cooperative movement and industrialization and even in that orthodox state, he opened public roads for the Harijans. He was interested in the ‘Tamil Isai movement. He was fearless and placed his conscience above other affiliations.