last decades of the 19th century saw the emergence of nationalism
in India. The Indian National Congress was established in
1885 and it soon became the spearhead of the Indian Nationalist
Movement. These developments did not go unnoticed in Kerala.
A conference was held at Kozhikode in 1904 under the auspices
of the Congress and in 1908, a district congress committee
was formed in Malabar. Beyond this, there was no political
activity worth the name in Malabar.
Travancore, political agitation began with the Nairs who
found their dominance on the decline and resented the monopolization
of higher officers by the Tamil Brahmins inducted from outside.
Their appetite for political participation was whetted with
the formation of the Travancore Legislative Council in 1888
- the first ever legislative started in an Indian State.
The Malayali Memorial, a memorandum bearing the signatures
of over 10,000 people, including a sprinkling of Ezhavas,
Christians and Muslims, was submitted to the Maharaja in
1891. It was really a Nair plea for privileges and positions.
This was soon followed by an Ezhava Memorial (1896), submitted
with over 13,000 signatures pleading for extension of civic
rights, Government jobs, etc. to the lower castes.
the memoranda came to naught. But in the historical perspective,
the impact was considerable as they laid the bases for the
constitutional style of political agitation in Travancore.
activity in Kerala received a new impetus with the outbreak
of the First World War and the spread of the Home Rule Movement.
Home Rule leagues sprouted in different places in Malabar
and the activities of Congress men received enthusiastic
encouragement from the people. In 1916 and 1917, the annual
meetings of the District Congress Committee were held with
great fanfare under the name of the Malabar District Political
Conference. Resolutions were adopted at these conferences,
demanding self-government for India and the release of political
prisoners. In Travancore and Cochin also, political activities
were taken up under the aegis of the Congress. Congress
Committees were started in Thiruvananthapuram and Ernakulam.
In 1920, the following resolutions adopted at the Nagpur
Session of the Indian National Congress to organise Provincial
Congress Committees on a linguistic basis, a Kerala Provincial
Congress Committee was formed integrating Congress activities
in the three territorial divisions of Kerala. The first
All-Kerala Political Conference held at Ottappalam in April
1921 was attended by delegates from Malabar, Cochin and
Travancore. In a sense, this was the herald of the movement
for a united Kerala which - became a reality, 35 years later.
non - co - operation movement was in full swing during this
period of time. It was particularly strong in Malabar, where
the Moppilas were agitated over the Khilafat issue. The
Gandhian movement had a tremendous impact in Kerala, with
large numbers joining the satyagraha campaign. Gandhiji
visited Malabar in 1921, giving a further impetus to the
movement. Khilafat Committees sprang up in large numbers
and the fraternity between the Hindus and Muslims, through
the work in Congress - Khilafat Committees, was a truly
remarkable feature of the non-co-operation movement in Kerala,
in its early stages.
speed with which the Khilafat agitation spread, especially
in the Eranad and Valluvanad taluks, created alarm in official
circles. A perplexed officialdom clamped down prohibitory
orders in the two taluks.
were banned and many people were arrested in the name of
law and order. A tragic episode then ensued, namely the
Moppila Rebellion or the Malabar Rebellion of 1921. Police
attempted to arrest the secretary of the Khilafat Committee
of Pokottur in Eranad on a charge of having stolen a pistol.
A crowd of 2000 Moppilas from the neighbourhood foiled the
attempt. The next day, a police party in search of Khilafat
rebels entered the famous Mambaram mosque at Tirurangadi.
They seized some records and arrested a few Khilafat volunteers.
rumour spread that the mosque was desecrated. Hundreds of
rustic Moppilas converged on Tirurangadi and besieged the
local police station. The police opened fire. The mob reacted
in a mad fury. Violence spread and engulfed Eranad and Valluvanad
taluks and neighbouring areas for over two months. Congress
leaders tried in vain to check the violence. Towards the
later stages of the rebellion, owing to unfounded rumour
of Hindus having helped the police or sought police help,
there were instances of atrocities perpetrated on Hindus.
This marred the relations between the two communities. Meanwhile
British and Gurkha regiments were rushed to the area. Martial
law was clamped. A series of repressive measures followed
and by November, the rebellion was practically crushed.
Relief operations in the ravaged areas, undertaken mostly
by voluntary agencies which received help and funds from
Gandhiji, lasted for over six months.
epilogue (in the sense that it came to be known only later)
was the "Wagon Tragedy" in which 61 of the 70
Moppila prisoners packed in a closed railway goods wagon
and carried to Coimbatore jails, died of suffocation on
November 10, 1921.In the wake of the suppression of the
Malabar Rebellion and until almost the end of the decade,
struggle purely for political freedom was on a low key.
lull was largely because of the brisk activity on the
social front. The emphasis was on constructive programmes
in which all people could join together and work irrespective
of political views or affiliation. The cry for social
equality was particularly strong. This was the background
of the famous satyagraha at Vaikom Temple (1924) to be
followed up later at the Guruvayoor Temple in 1931. Both
of them exemplified the immense potentialities of satyagraha
as an instrument of social change and both were started
with the blessings of Gandhiji.
Vaikom, the particular demand was only for the grant of
right to passage to the untouchables along the approach
roads to the temple.
second phase of the civil disobedience movement, started
by Gandhiji with his famous Salt March in March 1930,
found enthusiastic response from all parts of Kerala.
In several places, particularly at Payyannur and Kozhikode,
salt laws were broken and hundreds of agitators courted
arrest. A Youth League was formed in Travancore which
was able to enlist the dedicated services of quite a good
number of spiritual and radical minded young men who later
became the prop of the Travancore State Congress.
the wake of the Civil Disobedience Movement, a parallel
movement for responsible Government had begun in Travancore
and Kochi. In Travancore, the Nivartana (abstention) movement
began as a protest against the inadequacy of the constitutional
reforms of 1932.
Ezhavas, the Christians and the Muslims apprehended that
the new reforms, owing to the provisions for restricted
franchise on the basis of possession of property and other
qualifications, would secure for them far less number
of seats in the enlarged legislature than the Nairs.
therefore demanded that the seats be apportioned on the
basis of population strength. The Government, however,
did not view their demands favourably.
abstentionists then organized a Joint Political Congress
to exhort the voters to abstain from voting. Since the three
communities together formed about 70 per cent of the population,
their agitation had the characteristics of a mass movement.
The Government at first adopted a repressive policy but
later yielded to the demands of the abstentionists to some
extent. In the election held in 1937, most of the candidates
fielded by the Joint Political Congress were elected.
Haripura Session of the Indian National Congress (1938)
had resolved that the Congress as such would keep itself
aloof from involvement in the affairs of the princely States.
The struggle for responsible Government in the States would
therefore, be the responsibility of the people of the respective
States themselves. It was in this context that the leaders
of the Joint Political Congress decided to form a new organization,
merging the identity of the Joint Political Congress. Thus,
the Travancore State Congress came into being in February
1938. It was pledged to the goal of achieving full responsible
Government for the people of Travancore. In neighbouring
Kochi, the Kochi State Congress was formed.
important feature of the freedom movement in Kerala in the
1920's and 1930's was the increasing involvement of peasants
and workers. This was to release a tremendous mass force
into the mainstream of the national movement, giving it
a new momentum and a social content. The peasant and labour
movements of the 1930's were to a great extent the cause
as well as the consequence of the emergence of a powerful
left wing in politics. In 1934, the left nationalists joined
together and organized the Congress Socialist Party.
powerful factor that helped the growth of the left movement
was the support it received from the radical section of
the nationalist Muslims in Malabar. Left groups started
functioning in several parts of Malabar and soon the Kerala
Committee was dominated by them.
lull in the political horizon had largely been made up.
By 1938-39 Kerala was fully drawn into the national struggle
for freedom as well as the struggle for responsible Government
in the princely States.
leftists preferred to remain organizationally within the
Congress and call themselves socialists. Thus both the left
and right groups joined together in order to ensure the
success of the Congress candidates in the election of 1936
in Malabar. But the rift came into the open with the outbreak
of the Second World War, the resignation of the Congress
ministries in the provinces and the starting of individual
satyagraha. The left-dominated KPCC, contrary to directive
of the Congress, observed. The left met in secret enclave
at Pinarayi and in December 1939, the Communist Party was
struggle for responsible Government had been launched in
Travancore and Cochin by 1938-39. The struggle in Cochin
was far less in intensity than that in Travancore because
the rulers of Cochin adopted on the whole, a lenient policy
of political concessions which averted violent clashes.
In June 1938 a diarchial form of Government was established
allowing popular ministers to control some departments.
This did not work and the Cochin Praja Mandalam was founded
in 1941 to spearhead the agitation for full responsibility
Travancore State Congress launched a campaign seeking dismissal
of the Dewan, C.P.Ramaswamy Iyer, against whom they had
leveled certain charges. The
State Congress and the Youth League were banned. The State
Congress then organized a civil disobedience movement. The
rising tempo of the movement forced the Government to withdraw
the ban. The Dewan refused to open negotiation until the
charges were withdrawn. The charges were finally withdrawn
following Gandhiji's intervention. This created a split
in the Congress. The members of the Youth League left the
State Congress to form the Communist Party.
end of the Quit India Movement saw Malabar returning to
elections and a constitutional Government. Administratively
Malabar was a district of Madras Province at the time of
independence. In Kochi diarchy was finally abolished and
on the eve of independence the Dewanship ended. A popular
ministry under Panampally Govinda Menon was sworn into power.
however, was not destined to have a peaceful transition
to freedom democracy. In October 1946, she had to face
one of the most violent upheavals in her recent history
- the Punnapra- Vayalar revolt. It developed as a reaction
to the constitutional scheme proposed by the Dewan, C.P.Ramaswamy
Iyer, early in January, 1946. The scheme provided for
adult franchise, but retained the dewanship as an irremovable
excertive. The State Congress rejected the scheme. The
Communists decided to launch a violent struggle to bring
an end to the oppressive rule of the Dewan.
The coastal taluks of Alappuzha and Chertala were, in
particular the strongholds of the Communist Party. By
the middle of 1946, there were many camps of party workers
at Punnapra in Alappuzha and at Vayalar in Chertala.
from the working class were recruited and given training.
This increased the tension in the area. The Government
deployed not only the police but the military also. This
worsened the situation. The All Travancore Trade Union
Congress called for a general strike on October 20, 1946.
Martial law was clamped in the area and the Dewan himself
assumed the functions of the commander-in-chief. The impassioned
workers and volunteers preferred confrontation - stones,
bamboo spikes, areca spears and swords confronting machine
guns. What followed, from 24 to 27 October, was a tale
of heroism and tragedy.
revolt was suppressed. But this did not bring the difficulties
of the Dewan to an end. A political crisis was again precipitated
when the British announced their decision to leave India.
The Dewan announced that Travancore would remain an independent
State on the lapse of British paramountcy. This unleashed
a fierce controversy. The Dewan let loose the forces of
repression. In the midst of repression and confusion,
an unsuccessful attempt on his life was made. Better counsel
prevailed and the Dewan made his exist from the State.
With the advent of freedom, Travancore was part of the
Indian Union and the first popular ministry under Pattom
A.Thanu Pillai was installed.
The movement for a united (Aikya) Kerala
movement for a united (Aikya) Kerala gathered momentum
with the attainment of independence. The first concrete
step in this direction was taken on July 1, 1949. Following
the national policy of integration, the State of Kochi
and Travancore were merged into Travancore-Kochi State
under a Rajpramukh.
next step came with the reorganization of States on a
linquistic basis in the light of the report of the States
Reorganization Commission. It was decided to add Malabar
district and the Kasargod taluk of south Canara district
to Travancore-Kochi and to separate the Tamil-speaking
southern region of old Travancore from Travancore-Kochi
for inclusion in Madras State. On November 1, 1956, the
new State of Kerala was formally inaugurated. The land
of Parasurama thus regained its identity with the unity
of the land of Bharatha.