Kerala has the unique distinction of being a region
where patriotic Indians revolted against the British
rulers even before the first freedom struggle of 1857,
which was labelled by the British as 'Sepoy Mutiny'.
In the three zones of Kerala, namely, Malabar, Cochin
and Travancore, there were uprisings against
the British in the end of 18th century and in the
beginning of 19th century. In Malabar, it was a native
prince, Kerala Varma, Pazhassi Raja who led the
revolt, while in Cochin it was spearheaded by Paliath
Achan, the Prime Minister of Cochin State and in
Travancore by Veluthampy Dalava, the Prime Minister of
the State. All these revolts were brutally suppressed
by the British.
By the end of 19th century, people of Kerala began to
take interest in the affairs of the country as they felt a
new hope of liberation, with the advent of the Indian
National Congress in 1885. The earliest leader of the
organisation from Kerala was G.P. Pillai, the well-known
Editor of "Madras Standard" who had initiated agitations
for civil rights in Travancore State. A forceful writer
and orator, he had wide contacts in India and Great
Britain and became General Secretary of the Indian
National Congress twice. Gandhiji who was then emerging as
a leader, had acknowledged the help and guidance given to
him by G.P. Pillai in the South African Indian issue and
also in the Temperance Movement (Prohibition). C. Sankaran
Nair, the noted jurist, was another person from Kerala who
adorned the leadership of the nationalist organisation.
Sankaran Nair has the distinction of being the only
Keralite to become the president of the INC during its
long history spanning over a century.
The fifth Malabar District Political Conference held at
Manjeri on April 28, 1920 in the presence of Anie Besant
adopted a resolution rejecting the proposed Mongague-Chelmsford
Reforms and this generated widespread enthusiasm among the
people who wanted radical constitutional reforms and
freedom from British regime.
In 1921, while trying to address a banned public meeting
in Madras K. Madhavan Nair, U. Gopala Menon, Ponmadath
Moideen Koya, Kurur Neelkantan Namboothiripad and
Moothedath Narayanan Menon were arrested and sentenced to
six months imprisonment. In the same year in April, people
all over Malabar, Cochin, Travancore assembled on a common
platform and held the first All Kerala Political
Conference at Ottapalam under the presidency of Andhra
Kesari T. Prakasam.
Historic Vaikom Satyagraha, which attracted all India
attention was started on March 30, 1924. The Satyagraha
was started to establish the right for all people to walk
through the temple roads. Leaders like K.P. Kesava Menon
and T.K. Madhavan led the agitation.
A 'Savarna Jatha' proceeded to Trivandrum and presented a
mass petition to the Regent Maharani of Travancore
requesting her to remove ban and give freedom to all
people to walk through the Vaikom temple roads and to put
an end to the practice of untouchability in the State.
Gandhiji held discussions with the authorities of
Travancore and later had correspondence with them. When
Satyagraha entered the twentieth month, the temple roads,
except the one on the eastern side, were opened to all
people and the Vaikom Satyagraha ended.
Cooperation Movement and Salt Satyagraha
As decided at the Nagpur session (1920), Non Cooperation
movement was started throughout the country.In Kerala,
too, there was widespread boycott of foreign goods, courts
and educational institutions. The Malabar Rebellion of
1921 and the students agitation of 1922 in Travancore were
events of great political significance during this period.
The Salt-Satyagraha under the leadership of Gandhiji had
its own repercussions in Kerala. Payyannur in Malabar, was
the main venue of the Satyagraha in Kerala. Many batches
of Satyagrahis from different parts of Kerala marched to
Payyannur to take part in the Satyagraha.
Many leaders like K. Madhavan Nair, K. Kelappan and
Muhammad Abdur Rahiman were arrested for breaking salt-law
and were sentenced to rigorous imprisonment. Side by side
with the Salt Satyagraha, picketing of toddy shops and the
boycott of foreign goods were also organised and large
number of satyagrahis courted imprisonment. As there was
no salt satyagraha in native States, freedom fighters from
Cochin and Travancore went outside the States and broke
salt law in British Indian provinces and were imprisoned.
Civil disobedience movement came to an end with the
release of Gandhiji and Gandhi-Irwin pact was signed on
March 4, 1931.
At the fifth All Kerala Political Conference held at
Badagara from May 3 to 6, 1931 under the presidency of
J.M. Sengupta, many important resolutions
including the one demanding temple entry for the so called
untouchables, were passed. The famous Gurvayur Satyagraha
(1931-32) was an off-shoot of this resolution. As Zamorin
Raja, the hereditary trustee of Guruvayur Sreekrishna
Temple did not agree to allow the untouchables to worship
in the temple, local leaders decided to launch a
satyagraha for achieving this end. Appeals of eminent
people throughout India including Gandhiji, Mahakavi
Rabindranath Tagore and others to allow the untouchables
into the temple had no effect on the adamant Zanmorin.
A satyagraha was started under the leadership of K.
Kelappan, with many satyagrahis being manhandled and
arrested. As a last resort, Kelappan began 'fast unto
death' to achieve the aim. When Kelappan's condition
became critical, and there were numerous appeals to save
his life, Gandhiji intervened and persuaded him to end his
fast. After that, a referendum regarding temple-entry of
untouchables was conducted among the Hindus of Ponnani
Taluk, where the temple was situated and a huge majority
of the people voted in favour of throwing open the temple
The Quit India Movement launched in August 1942 was
widespread in Cochin and Malabar, though not so extensive
in Travancore. During the Quit India Movement there were
sensational and violent incidents in Malabar involving
disruption of communication and attack on government
offices and police stations. The Keezhariyur Bomb case, in
which 27 persons including Dr.K.B. Menon, Socialist leader
and Secretary of Indian Civil Liberties Union were
charge-sheeted, was the important episode of the struggle
in Malabar. Even underground papers like 'Swathantra
Bharatam' were brought out during the struggle.
Travancore and Cochin
After the Haripura session of the Indian National Congress
which decided that separate organisations should be formed
in native States for the agitation for responsible
government, the Travancore State Congress and the Cochin
State Prajamandal were formed.
Both in Travancore and Cochin the autocratic regimes tried
their best to suppress the agitation for responsible
government and complete Independence. In Cochin State, the
Government's attitude was more liberal than that of
Travancore government. In Travancore, Dewan Sir C.P.
Ramaswami Iyer declared that Travancore will remain
independent without joining the Indian Union, after the
British left India. People of Travancore continued their
struggle and they had to fight against 'Independent
Travancore Plan' also. As a result of the agitation,
at last, Dewan Ramaswami Iyer had to leave Travancore
State. With India achieving Independence in August 1947,
Travancore and Cochin acceded to the Indian Union.
Even after the British left India, the Portuguese and
French governments were not prepared to leave their
settlements on Indian soil. So the people in these
settlements had to wage war against these powers. In Mahe,
which was a French enclave on the Malabar coast, the
people underwent a heroic and prolonged struggle till the
French left their settlements in India. Freedom fight in
Mahe forms a part of the struggle for freedom in Kerala.
It may be mentioned that Kerala had a proud share in the
Indian Independence Struggle.
Payyanur is famous for its remarkable role in the freedom
struggle of the country. This small town had done a lot
for the national movement. Uppu Satyagraha (Salt
Satyagraha) of 1930, Quit India Movement, Khadi
Propagation are some of the activities that brought
Payyanur to the national arena. Because of its immense
contribution to the Independence Movement Payyanur was
called as "Second Bardoli".
The freedom movement of Payyanur got a new vigor and
energy from the agitation for boycotting Simon Commission.
The KPCC conference of 1928 held at Payyanur, presided by
Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, opened a new chapter in the
history of the Independence movement .
There were more organisations formed to fight for their
rights. The Samyukata Rashtriya Congress consisting of an
alliance of Christians -Muslims - Ezhavas ( a powerful
community of Kerala) formed an alliance to seek
reservations in Government. This is the first time
community based party system came into Kerala's landscape.
Later the Thiruvithamkur State Congress was founded by
Pattom Thanu Pillai to fight against the high handedness
of the last Dewan of Thiruvithamkur, Sir C P Ramaswamy
Iyengar(popularly known as Sir CP). There is no doubting
the Dewan's capabilities at governance, but what made the
Congress to move against him was his streak of
authoritarianism. The movement started in 1938 and led to
widespread violence all over the state. The Congress was
outlawed. There was sympathetic movements from across the
border from Kochi too.
The Independence from the British did not end the rule of
the Maharaja. Sir CP opposed Thiruvithamkur's accession to
the newly independent India. The Congress who contested
the elections to the state, won an overall majority and
wanted accession at all costs. The debate only ended with
an attack on the person of Sir CP. This left the Dewan
thoroughly demoralised and he disappeared from the scene
soon after. The state acceded to India soon after.
It was another move towards reunification of Malayalam
speaking population that on 01 Jul 1949 a new state was
formed called Thirukochi, consisting of old princely
states of Thiruvithamkur and Kochi . The question of
reorganisation of Kerala now appeared imminent. The
Malayalam-speaking regions of Malabar and Thirukochi were
ultimately joined together as one state on 01 November
1956 and christened KERALA .
Kerala's post independence history is a saga of Leftist
movement elbowing out the principal national party -
Indian National Congress. The deep social, communal and
economic divisions within Kerala was on the boil. Capable
and energetic leaders took over and nurtured a Communist
movement against the full might of state suppression.
Among them EMS Namboothiripad, AK Gopalan and P Krishna
Pillai were the unquestioned leaders. Sir CP had
single-mindedly hunted them. But this only helped the
movement to grow in strength. By 1957, they had become the
first democratically elected Communist Government anywhere
in the world.
Though the Government had the brightest luminaries in the
ministry ever seen in Kerala, it was doomed to failure
because of the extreme schism in society which this
government caused. Soon Swatatntra Samaram or
"Independence war" had broken out in the state leading to
civil disobedience, riots and mounting civilian
casualties. Using the pretext of breakdown of law and
order, Smt Indira Gandhi was able to convince her father
Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru to dismiss the government
The story of Kerala after 1959 is a story of many
governments of the Congress-led or Left-led parties coming
and going at regular intervals. Kerala has seen no fewer
than 17 Ministries till now.