Moberly Manoah Rajendran was topper of 1957 IAS batch and later became Chief Secretary of Tamil Nadu and Governor of Odisha. Earlier he was a member of the UNICEF Executive Board and Vice Chairman of its Program Committee at New York. He was sponsored by a Tamil Nadu-based political party for the post of President of India in 2012.
He took over as Governor of Odisha in 1999 soon after the State was hit by a super cyclone of unprecedented severity and was given the mandate by the Prime Minister to guide the State Government in its relief and rehabilitation work which earned the praise of the people of Odisha and the Prime Minister, who recognising his leadership, dissolved the Central Cabinet Committee earlier set up by him to coordinate the relief work. Realising that most of the 10,000 lives lost in the coastal areas could have been saved if only there were good shelters along the coast, he was instrumental in getting shelters built all along the coast, with the help of organizations such as German Red Cross, Ramakrishna Mission, Syrian church and many more and emergency procedures with community participation in Disaster Relief put in place when he was Governor of Odisha. These measures, followed by the State even after his departure, were of immense benefit to the people of Odisha in subsequent natural calamities, exemplified by the thousands of lives saved when Cyclones Fani in 2019 and more recently by Yaas in May 2021, hit Odisha.
Recipient of several Lifetime Achievement Awards including the Mahatma Gandhi Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2019 from the Gandhi World Foundation celebrating 150 years of the Mahatma. He was also conferred the Honorary Lifetime Membership of the Rotary International in 2001.
Rajendran was born on 12 April 1935 into a Protestant Christian family. His father, Dr. Arumainayagam Moberly, worked for the Government of Madras Presidency as a veterinary surgeon while his mother, Rajammal Moberly, was a trained teacher. Dr. Moberly’s job entailed frequent transfers across the Madras presidency. Having been brought up primarily in rural areas, Rajendran’s formative years shaped his flair for rural development, a niche in which he would hone his skills later in his career. His consistently excellent academic performance was initiated under the tutelage of his mother who resigned from her job at a school in Madurai following her marriage.
Equipped to begin his elementary education after being trained by his mother, Rajendran was admitted to the first standard in a locally run school at Paramakudi in Tamil Nadu, at the age of four. On realizing that Rajendran’s teacher, who ignored him in class, was partial to a group of students who were privately tutored by her, Mrs. Moberly decided to homeschool her son owing to the absence of any other schools in their village. Three years under the guidance of his mother made Rajendran qualified enough to be admitted to the fifth standard at the age of seven in Devakottai, a larger town to which Dr. Moberly was transferred. In the years that followed, Rajendran changed schools multiple times as his family moved from one town or village to another as a result of his father’s job.
He completed his SSLC Public Examination from a municipality-run school in Mayavaram (presently known as Mayiladuthurai) by becoming the top scorer of the institution. A new mandate by the government specifying the minimum age limit to enroll in a college prevented Rajendran from joining college, as he was younger than the announced age limit by a few months. In the year that he had to wait to become eligible for college admission, he worked on taking courses in shorthand, typewriting and Hindi, in addition to expanding his knowledge repository by utilizing the local library in Nagapattinam which was his family’s new home.
Rajendran underwent his collegiate education at Madras Christian College (MCC) in Chennai for five years, first two years as an Intermediate student and then in the Honours (Masters) Programme in Physics which spanned three years. During his fourth year at his college hostel, St. Thomas Hall, Rajendran was elected as the Minister for Indoor Games, a position of responsibility.
Rajendran was a stellar student who not only won many prizes in MCC but also was ranked first in the final examination of his Honours degree program conducted by the University of Madras, inviting fame and recognition to his alma mater. He was awarded two gold medals by the University of Madras of which one was the prestigious Jagirdar of Arni Gold Medal that was earlier received by the Nobel Laureate C. V. Raman. Rajendran was also offered a scholarship to pursue research in Theoretical Physics at Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai, which he politely declined, to focus on his dream as an IAS aspirant.