Calicut is in the news for all the wrong reasons. There was a series of bomb blasts in the city a couple of years ago. The peace-loving citizens of Calicut thought it was some amateurish attempt to attract attention. There were, of course, some lone voices warning about militancy gaining ground. The Calicut Corporation promptly passed a resolution against terrorism. But then, didn’t our Corporation pass a resolution condemning US invasion of Iraq and the hanging of Saddam Hussein?
We were jolted out of complacency when the alleged kingpin of these activities was caught in faraway Dhaka and he started singing. It appears some of these outfits had been active in the city for some time. And not only the Calicut blasts but even the Bangalore and possibly some more blasts in South India were perhaps planned in our Calicut!
It is not that terrorist activities were totally unknown to Calicut. One of the earliest recorded acts of terrorism in Calicut was the assassination of the Malabar Collector, H.V. Conolly in 1855. A few convicts who had escaped from the jail, plotted to do away with the Collector. It is not clear what motivated them: some say it was because he was instrumental in acquiring large tracts of agricultural land for his ambitious canal project which is now named after him; another explanation is that he was harsh in implementing the law promulgated in 1854 providing for stringent punishment including fining of entire localities in case of outrages.also Mr. Conolly had taken the initiative for negotiating the voluntary exile of Syed Fazal Pookoya Thangal (Mambram Thangal) to Arabia, as the latter was suspected of being the rallying point for fanatics. Anyhow, that act of terrorism deprived Malabar of one of the most sagacious and sympathetic administrators.
But, the most serious act of terrorism in recent times in Calicut was staged in 1942, when the Quit India movement was at its peak. This little known incident, which is unfortunately still called after the criminal case (Keezhariyur Bomb Case) which led to the conviction of 27 accused to long terms of imprisonment, deserves a place in the history of India’s freedom movement as much as the Alipur Conspiracy Case.
The formation of the Congress Socialist Party (CSP) in 1934 as a caucus within the Indian National Congress gave an opportunity for the Communists to implement their agenda of implementing the ComIntern strategy. In many states like Kerala, the Communists dominated the Indian National Congress (INC) through their control of CSP. The strategy was exposed in 1942 when the call for Quit India movement attracted a lukewarm response from Malabar. This was because the Communists, who were originally opposing the imperialist Britain, turned overnight their supporters after Soviet Russia had joined the War against the Axis powers in June 1941.
The British administration had taken pre-emptive action in arresting all the top leaders of the INC in Malabar well before the Quit India call was made. The vacuum was filled by some young Congress workers who constituted themselves into a Socialist group. Led by the young and dynamic Dr.K.B.Menon, this group of young men from Bombay – N.A.Krishnan Nair, V.A.Kesavan Nair, C.P.Sankaran Nair and Mathai Manjooran – provided the leadership for the movement in Malabar.
|E.Vasudevan Nair who had left |
his medical studies to join the conspiracy
Dr.Konnanath Balakrishna Menon (1897-1967) is described by Nossiter as ‘a neglected figure’. Trained as an academic economist with a doctorate from the University of Berkley, California, he was teaching in Harvard where he met Jaiprakash Narain who had joined there as a student. Under JP’s influence, Menon decided to return to India and work as the Secretary of the All India State People’s Conference and a Human Rights body of which Nehru was the Chairman. He also spent two years with Gandhiji before he became disillusioned with the non-violent philosophy and landed in Calicut in the wake of the Quit India agitation.
|Kollom-where the bombs were stored|
|Koilandy Railway Station - one of the targets|
The conspiracy hatched in Koilandy (Calicut) was to mark November 9th, 1942 (subsequently shifted to 17th Nov. as the bomb-making was delayed) as the ‘Sabotage Day’ by staging a series of blasts to damage government buildings, railway lines and other installations. Bombs were originally fabricated by the ‘weapons expert’, Narayanan Nair at Keezhariyur, a sleepy village in Koilandy Taluk on the banks of the Akalappuzha River. But, when it was suspected that the Police had got wind of the conspiracy, the bomb making was shifted to Parappanangadi. Manufactured bombs were transferred and stored in the office of the Charkha Club in Kollom, Quilandy. But at some stage, a few bombs were stolen and used by some of the participants to settle private scores.
The Police had already got wind of the conspiracy, alerted by some Communist agents among the conspirators, and were lying in wait for the climax which was to be the bombing of the Koilandy Railway Station and the Registry. (Ironically, one of the participants, E.Vasudevan Nair from Kollom was the son of a Registrar!) It was the duty of Kurumayil Narayanan to shift the bombs from Kollom to the team from Kunnathara who were waiting at the Railway Station to plant the bombs. The Police, alerted by the Communists, were of course waiting to pounce on the saboteurs.
It was a long wait for all the parties – the bombs did not reach the Kunnathara team. Narayanan’s explanation was that they dozed off at the Charkha Club and when they woke up, it was day! Some charge the Kollom team with having developed cold feet. However, the Police had no difficulty in nabbing most of the conspirators, except for Mathai Manjooran, T.P.Kunhirama Kidave ( the son of K.Kelappan, known as ‘Kerala Gandhi’), M.A. Sadanandan, O. Chekkutty and Verkott Raghava Kurup, who went underground.
The trial started in the court of the Sessions Judge Mr. A. A. T. Coelho on 14th February 1944. The following 27 accused were tried apart from the five absconding: Dr.K.B.Menon, C.P.Sankaran Nair, N.A.Krishnan Nair, V.A. Kesavan Nair, D. Jayadeva Rao, O. Raghavan Nair, Karyal Achuthan, E. Vasudevan Nair, N.P. Abu, K. Narayanan Nair, K. Kelukkutty, T. Pachar, K. Narayanan, K. Kunhiraman, Unnikkutty, Cheriya Kunhiraman, K.V. Chamu, V.Prabhakaran, K. Mohammed Naha, P. Mammootty, V. Abdullakoya Thangal, S.N. Valliyil, V. K. Achuthan Vaidyar, K. Gopalan, C. Damodaran, K.T. Alavi and C. Choyunni.
It was a sensational trial keenly watched by people of Malabar. The accused got legal and financial support from various quarters including the Mathrubhumi newspaper (which formed a committee to defend the accused), M.R. Masani (who mobilised funds from Bombay) and K. Bhashyam who made similar fund-raising in Madras. A galaxy of lawyers including K.T. Chandu Nambiar, M. Narayana Kurup, K.G. Nair, P. Govinda Menon, K. Kunhirama Menon, K.V. Krishnan and Mahadeva Iyer offered to defend the accused without charging any fee.
The Judge found 13 accused guilty and let off the rest. Among those guilty, one was awarded imprisonment for 10 years and the rest for 7 years of rigorous imprisonment. On appeal by the prosecution, the punishment was enhanced by the Madras High Court to 10 years of imprisonment in respect of the entire ‘Bombay gang’ comprising K.B. Menon, N.A. Krishnan Nair, V.A. Kesavan Nair and C.P. Sankaran Nair. The punishment in respect of others was upheld. They were let off in 1946 when the interim Congress Government took over as a prelude to granting independence.
Many of the young men who took part in the conspiracy were either students (including one who was studying for medicine) or had bright careers ahead of them. They had given up their future for the sake of freedom of the country. Many who were let off after Independence were not suitably rehabilitated, apart from the meagre pension for freedom fighters. Several faded into oblivion, taking with them the dreams and aspirations of their families. We salute their spirit of sacrifice!