He entered active politics in 1942. He plunged into the vortex of the freedom struggle while studying at the Christian College in Chennai. He was founder-president of the Indian Student Congress and the World Youth Assembly.
He was first elected to the Lok Sabha from Thiruvalla in Kerala in 1962 on a Congress ticket. When Congress split in 1969, he stayed on as the General Secretary of Congress (Organisation) founding the organization along with Morarji Desai, Nijalingappa and Kamaraj. He was politically active in resisting the Emergency (1975–77) and organized underground cells. He was next elected in 1977 from Ranchi in Bihar as a Janata Party candidate. He represented Mumbai North in 7th Lok Sabha from 1980 to 1985.
He had been the Chairman of the Gandhi Peace Foundation since the death of its founder-chairman Diwakar in 1989. He was the founder-chairman of the Gandhi Vichar Parishad at Wardha. He was also Chancellor of the Gujarat Vidyapeeth.
Varma belonged to the royal family in Mavelikkara in southern Kerala. He died in 2006, aged 81. He is survived by his younger son Harshvardhan Varma. His elder son Goutham and wife Mangala died within a span of a few months in 2015.