Dr Nalla Thampi Thera Paramananda who contested against Indira Gandhi in Rae Bareli secured over 9000 votes in the 1977 election.

The Wayanad doctor who took on Indira Gandhi in Rae Bareli and Rajiv in Amethi
news Politics Wednesday, April 03, 2019 - 14:44

“Why choose to go from riches to rags?”

That was the main question I posed to Dr Nalla Thampi Thera Paramananda in my capacity as a cub reporter, soon after meeting him in his poorly maintained single room rented accommodation in the heart of Sulthan Bathery town back in March 2000.

The medical practitioner, who was born in a wealthy Tamil speaking family of Nagercoil near Kanyakumari, smiled simply and innocently before stating in categorical terms that it was the life he chose willfully in a world full of inequalities. 

It was not in any way a doctor’s residence. The stethoscope that stopped functioning long back was seen in a corner of the room where files carrying old newspaper cuttings and court orders occupied the prime place. At least three kerosene lamps were seen in the room where Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) severed the power because of failure to clear the pending bills. He said his in-laws were taking care of his wife and two children. The house owner had even hired goons to threaten him whenever he resisted a forcible eviction for not paying the rent. 

“Are you the same Dr Nalla Thampi Thera Paramanand who contested in Rae Bareli against Indira Gandhi in 1977?” I asked him with utter disbelief.

“Yes,” said the diminutive figure that carried a rare kind of energy that was capable of moving a mountain. 

Taking on Indira in Rae Bareli

“It was the lone election in which Indira Gandhi suffered a humiliating defeat. Her own home constituency elected Janata Party tycoon Raj Narain with a thumping majority. I was able to garner 9311 votes and emerge third despite my inability to speak fluent Hindi. Speaking more accurately, this Tamil-speaking Kerala resident had won 2.80% of votes in Rae Bareli, the Hindi heartland,’’ said Nalla Thampi.

Those were the post-Emergency days and Nalla Thampi was in his prime. A medical graduate with principles, Nalla Thampi hated the Emergency and the totalitarianism it involved. So, he decided to travel all the way from Wayanad to Rae Bareli using transport buses and unreserved compartments of trains. 

While Rahul Gandhi is looking south to contest from Wayanad besides Amethi, the man who travelled all the way to Rae Bareli to take on his grandmother is no more. He died on June 16, 2010 after devoting an entire life to the cause of landless Adivasis in Wayanad and other districts of Kerala. Like Indira Gandhi and Raj Narain, Nalla Thampi is also now a fond memory. 

“I wanted to make a political point then. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. So, I went to Rae Bareli. I had no clue that the electorate would be generous to offer me more than 9000 votes,” Nalla Thampi told me then. 

Nalla Thampi’s engagement with electoral politics did not stop there. Post the assassination of India Gandhi by her own security guards, Nalla Thampi went to Amethi in 1984 to fight against Rahul Gandhi’s father Rajiv Gandhi, aggrieved by the way the Congress was being reduced to a family business. A sympathy wave was sweeping the whole country that time and Rajiv was emerging as the country’s conscience keeper. Amethi was not ready to listen to Nalal Thampi and he was able to fetch 539 votes. 

“In these two occasions, I found how political parties and leaders were splurging huge amounts of money to retain their traditional citadels. So, I filed a case in the Supreme Court in 1985 demanding fixing of spending limits on candidates and political parties. Though the court had rejected the petition on technical grounds later, the judges had given me a patient hearing,” recalled Nalla Thampi, who on most occasions argued the cases he filed.

Fighter for tribal rights

Though born as a non-tribal, Nalla Thampi always associated himself with the dispossessed and disempowered tribal community of Wayanad. Till his death following a cardiac arrest, he stood solidly with the tribals and their land rights and in the process even contradicted with mass tribal leaders like CK Janu. His mortal remains were cremated at a public graveyard at Vithukaudu near Mepadi in Kalpetta as none of his relatives from Nagercoil turned up to claim the body.

“Nalla Thampi Thera must be remembered for his protracted legal war against the denial of land rights to tribals in the Kerala High Court and in the Supreme Court many times for over three decades,” remembers OK Johnny, Wayanad-based writer and documentary filmmaker. 

It was in 1976, Thera began his career as a medical practitioner at Wandoor in Malappuram district, which presently forms part of Wayanad Lok Sabha constituency.  The very next year, he reached Wayanad district and since then worked in almost all rural areas in the district among the tribal people.

When the state government failed to restore the alienated lands of the tribal people, as per the Kerala Scheduled Tribes Restriction on Transfer and Restoration of Alienated Lands Act, 1975, he filed a case before the Supreme Court to direct the government to implement it. Finally, the court directed the state government to distribute one acre of land to landless tribal people within six months in 1999. That court order forced Kerala’s major political parties to join together irrespective of their ideologies to enact a legislation legalising all encroachments on tribal lands. 

A well-known litigant, he had filed many public interest cases in the Supreme Court and various High Courts. He had filed a petition before the High Court of Bombay and Madras on the Bofors issue against Rajeev Gandhi and against Indira Gandhi on the West German submarine deal.

The medical practitioner who took a graduation in law later only to support the tribal cause is no more. However, the tribal land issue in Wayanad continues to remain unresolved and complex. 

Tribals in Wayanad would definitely benefit if someone briefs Rahul Gandhi about this humble crusader who traveled to Rae Bareli and Amethi to fight against his father and grandmother. 

KA Shaji is a south Indian journalist who regularly reports from the backward parts of the region and works in the areas of environmental protection, social advocacy and grassroots level development. 



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