When it was a Part C State, the government in Coorg was a mobile administration going to the people anticipating their needs
The discourse on the imminent birth of Telangana brings back memories of the glorious career of Coorg, now Kodagu district, as India’s tiniest state. The flashback is both sad and inspiring.
Not many are aware of the challenge the Lilliputian Part C State of Coorg had thrown to the advocates of big States by proving, beyond any doubt, that small States can thrive on their own. Every day in Coorg, the government’s dispensation was an engagement with people and was indeed a mobile administration going to the people, anticipating their needs.
For no fault of it, Coorg was snuffed out of existence. Recommendations of the States Reorganisation (Fazl Ali) Commission led to Coorg, then known as the Switzerland of South India, merging with the Mysore state, a backyard district of the new State in 1956.
Since then, heroic campaigns were launched by N.U. Nachappa, leader of the Codava National Council, who unsuccessfully knocked at the doors of the Union government demanding the restoration of the independent status of Coorg.
Telangana could be a ray of hope for Nachappa and his never say die compatriots to pick up the thread and join the race.
The movement for a unified Kannada land had stretched over nearly a century.
A Rs. 15,000-crore plan, based on the D.M. Najundappa Committee report on regional imbalances relating to the Hyderabad Karnataka region is also on the anvil. Similarly, the Bombay Karnataka region had smouldered under incensed grouse of neglect.
This piece does not attempt at lobbying for the rebirth of Coorg as an independent State. All that is intended is an essay in looking at things in their proper perspective. The virtues of the experience of Coorg as a civilised, modern, and democratic entity stand out in dire contrast to the sordid record of the titans of contemporary times.
Now, the anatomy of the dwarf — the birth place of the Cauvery which sprouts in Brahmagiri in Talacauvery, Coorg, with Mercara as its capital — was a marvel of 60x40 mile geographical dimensions.
Its population at the time was 1,30,000. It had affinities, for long, with the neighbouring Kannada land ambience. It had its own language without a script. So, Kannada was the mainstay which qualified its merger with Mysore. Before it bloomed into a Part C State alongside of Himachal and others, it had stints of royalty and direct British suzerainty.
It was the land of coffee, accounting for almost the whole national production, orange, honey, the best specimen of teak and other woods of commercial value spanning its ever green forest wealth, fed and supported by an unfailing south-west monsoon.
The land of Field Marshal K.M. Cariappa and General Thimmaya composed of sons of the soil, together with immigrants, Coorgs are a proud race influenced by westernisation.
This pride built into their psyche a strong sense of identity which they were keen on protecting and it found expression in the birth of the Takkadi party.
In the early 20th Century, the shadow of movement for unification of Karnataka had been cast on an unwilling Coorg.
The Takkadi party with a veteran Gandhian in Pandyanda Belliappa, was a dominant political force and voice of Coorg with its anti-merger plank. It lost the first Assembly elections in 1952 to C.M. Poonacha of the Congress, equipped to shoulder the responsibility of steering the fortunes of the first Part C State.
The Assembly had a strength of 24 members and the Cabinet consisted of just two members. While the Chief Minister was C.M. Poonacha, (who also held the finance portfolio), the other was Home Minister, Kuttur Mallappa. The head of State was the Chief Commissioner, Colonel Dayasingh Bedi. As the governor’s equivalent, Colonel Bedi was presiding over the meetings of the Cabinet.
The new democratic dispensation was a kind of a second liberation for Coorg. All through the Poonacha regime, the relationship between the government and the people was exemplary and cordial.
Because of its tiny size, people from the farthest tip in the South Kutta, near the Karntaka-Tamil Nadu-Kerala tri-junction, could reach the capital at midday, finish their call on the administration and go back to their home early in the evening.
There was no corruption. Neither was there beggary and no mosquitoes and malaria, the curse of Malnad of which Coorg was part. Literacy was almost cent per cent which was far higher than the national average.
Despite the fact that Coorgs enjoyed the licence to bear arms, surprisingly nobody talked of gun-related offences and crime.
On the other hand, the gun was the harbinger of new life as gun shots were fired at the birth of a baby as there were gunshots to mark bereavements.
Does one believe that weddings, though gala affairs, were a co-operative venture with the invitees contributing their share of the expenses of wed locks.
Talking about financial viability of the tiny State, agricultural income tax, covering the whole gamut of agrarian activity, including forest produce, formed the mainstay of the budget supplemented by traditional Central aid.
(The writer is a veteran journalist.)