Moopanar was born on August 19, 1931 at Kabisthalam village in the composite Thanjavur district, the rice granary of Tamil Nadu. He belonged to a family of landed aristocracy that owned vast tracts of fertile land. His father R. Govindasamy Moopanar was a Congressman. The family patronised music, arts and literature. Moopanar himself was president of the Tiruvaiyaru Sri Thyaga Brahma Mahotsava Sabha from 1980 until his death. This Sabha conducts the annual Thyagaraja music festival at Tiruvaiyaru, the saint-composer’s birthplace.

Moopanar first met Kamaraj and Jayaprakash Narayan when they called on his father Govindasamy Moopanar at his home at Sundaraperumal Kovil, near Kumbakonam, in 1951. Kamaraj was then TNCC president. Moopanar became the president of the Thanjavur district Congress committee in 1965. When the Congress split in 1969 Moopanar continued with Kamaraj. After Kamaraj’s death on October 2, 1975, the two Congress factions in Tamil Nadu merged in 1976. At the merger function, Indira Gandhi announced that Moopanar would be the president of the unified TNCC.

From then onwards, his rise in the Congress was swift. He was TNCC president from 1976 to 1980, and again in 1988-89. He was a puissant AICC general secretary from 1980 to 1988. He was a Rajya Sabha member when he died. Both Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi offered him ministership but he declined.

He even shunned the Prime Minister’s post offered to him in April 1997 after the fall of the United Front government led by H.D. Deve Gowda. In a volume titled Makkal Thalaivar Moopanar, published by a TMC leader in August 2000, former Union Minister R. Dhanushkodi Adityan has recalled that CPI(M) general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet declared that “Mr. Moopanar is the best and first choice” for the prime ministership. West Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu seconded the choice. Moopanar declined the offer.

Moopanar’s humility and amiability were striking qualities. He knew partymen at all levels by name. He supported the education of hundreds of poor students by paying their fees. He donated money for various good causes but never sought publicity for these acts. In the affairs of the Congress party, he was hard to fathom. He would never reveal his mind to anybody, especially to the media. His approach in the party was one of forging a consensus by holding protracted discussions. Ultimately, he did not realise his ambition of bringing back “Kamaraj rule” in Tamil Nadu.

The TMC feels orphaned with the death of Moopanar. The party quickly tried to steady itself when at a meeting of its legislators, Rajya Sabha members and leaders on September 1, Moopanar’s son G.K. Vasan was elected TMC president.