As the Kerala Assembly celebrates its Diamond Jubilee, the state might seem settled in its stable and predictable bipolarity. Alternating almost automatically between the LDF and the UDF every five years, Kerala’s politics today reveals little of the tumult of its earlier years. But, as a look back at the state’s history reveals, Kerala walked a long, hard road to this settled pattern.
The Kerala Chronicles looks at some of the fascinating ups and downs, triumphs and tumults of Kerala politics, since the state’s birth in 1956 to the current day.
For many decades of his political career, Kannoth Karunakaran remained a force to reckon with in Kerala. But his very first term as Chief Minister ended just one month after it began.
And the moving force behind this ignominious fall of the first post-Emergency government in Kerala was an engineering student, a scholarship holder, singer and performer, who had little connection with politics in the state.
Early in the morning on March 1, 1976, P Rajan, a student of the Regional Engineering College, Calicut, was picked up by the police from the college campus, along with another student, Joseph Chali, following a Naxalite attack on the Kayanna police station. Rajan, they alleged, had Naxalite connections.
Hearing about the arrest from the Principal of the college the next day, Rajan’s father TV Eachara Warrier began a frantic search for his son, running from police station to police station. He also petitioned the highest authorities of the police and government.
Rajan, however, was never found after that.
Karunakaran, who had continued through the Emergency as the Home Minister of the C Achutha Menon government, created history by becoming Chief Minister in 1977. At a time when the rest of the country punished the Congress for the excesses of the Emergency, Kerala was the only state to give it a victory with 111 seats in the Assembly.
Karunakaran was sworn in as the new CM on March 25, 1977. On the same day, and just days after the Emergency was lifted, Warrier – a retired teacher of Hindi – had filed a writ petition in the Kerala High Court.
Rajan’s case drew massive public and media attention, and the state was rocked by a series of protests by students and activist groups.
Warrier alleged that he had met Karunakaran, who represented the Mala constituency in Thrissur where Rajan was from. The Minister had told him that Rajan had been involved in a serious crime, but he would do what he could to help him, said Warrier.
Karunakaran and others, including the IG, the DIG (Crime) and the Kozhikode SP, however, filed counter-affidavits stating that Rajan had never been picked up by the police, and was not in police custody.
The court relied on a pair of witness testimonies to disbelieve the police and the government. The first witness, K Rajan, himself in police custody, stated that he saw policemen, including the Superintendent of Police, torturing Rajan in a tourist lodge in Kakkayam. Two other witnesses, Jacob George and Thomas George, students at Rajan’s college, said they saw Rajanbeing carried away by the police on March 1.
The court said that it was indisputably proved that the police had taken Rajan into custody, and ordered that Rajan be produced before April 21, 1977.
On April 19, the Government told the court that it could not produce Rajan before the court. And on April 25, exactly a month after he came to power, Karunakaran resigned from the post of Chief Minister.
Eachara Warrier’s long, hard struggle to find out the truth about Rajan found its way onto the screen in the 1989 film Piravi, starring Premji, Archana, and Lakshmi Krishnamurthy. It was eventually chronicled in his own hand in the book Oru Achanteh Ormakuruppukal (A Memoir by a Father), which won a state award in 2004.
Rajan’s remains were never found to be returned to Eachara Warrier, and he passed away in 2006, unable to ever close the door on that fateful day in 1976. As he wrote in the final lines of his book, “I don’t close the door. Let the rain lash inside and drench me. Let at least my invisible son know that his father never shut the door.”