How the Cochin Maharaja, Aikya Keralam Thampuran played a pivotal role in unification of Kerala and of Cochin State’s accession to the Indian Union

A retrospect of the transfer of power in the run up to Indian Independence

August 15, 2019 12:16 pm | Updated 12:16 pm IST

Kerala Varma VII

Kerala Varma VII

On August 15, 1947, when the British flag was lowered and the Indian tricolour unfurled, the Maharajah of Cochin State, Kerala Varma VII was present at the ceremony at the Hill Palace in Tripunithura. He ascended the throne of Cochin in 1946 and played a pivotal role in accelerating the introduction of a democratic form of governance in the State and of its accession to the Indian Union.

In June 1938 the Government of Cochin passed an Act that provided for a novel constitutional experiment in the history of the Indian states. The powers of the old Cochin Legislative Council were enhanced and made directly responsible through a popularly elected Minister chosen through majority vote from among the members of the Council for the administration of certain vital departments of the State government. For the first time in a princely state a minister whose term of office depended on the votes of the elected representatives of the people was entrusted with administrative responsibilities. And for several years to come Cochin was to be the only state in India with any semblance of responsible government.

The Cochin State Praja Mandal was formed in 1941 and was preparing the ground for an intensive agitation for a responsible government. The Praja Mandal workers were subjected to much repression by the then Diwan, AFW Dixon. The Quit India Movement in 1942 revived political activities in Cochin. The Praja Mandalboosted its image as a political party going on to win 12 of the 19 candidates they put up for the elections to the Cochin Legislature.

On the occasion of his installation as maharaja, Kerala Varma announced that a second minister would be appointed and that few more departments of the government be transferred to the administration of the representatives of the people.

On July 1946 the annual conference of the Praja Mandal was held in Ernakulam and took the decision to start a State-wide agitation for the setting up of a responsible government. Meetings and demonstrations were held all over the State on that day demanding the end of Diwan’s rule and transfer of complete power to the elected representatives of the people.

The Maharaja of Cochin, Kerala Varma sent a message to the Legislative Council, which he said was done because his subjects and the ‘wider people of India’ would be anxious to know his view on the imminent reforms. He added, “Personally I have always felt that the States are an integral part of India and should therefore act in unison with the British Indian provinces and for the benefit of the whole. For if India becomes great, every part of it becomes great and the States too derive the benefit and the glory.”

The Maharaja called the formation of the Aikya Keralam or a united Kerala by merging Malabar, Kochi and Travancore. “I have arrived at the definite conclusion that Kerala must unite and be one if it were to save itself from cultural extinction. In order to achieve this, Malabar, Cochin, and Travancore will have to join together and devise ways and means to frame a scheme of Government for the whole of Kerala without destroying the connection of the people to the ancient ruling houses,” he said.

Kerala Varma was quick to understand that such a move does not mean that the functions of his family are abdicated, but simply ‘modified to suit new circumstances’.

He closed his statement exhorting the young to ‘forget self and work with united effort for the good of Kerala and India. It is worth striving for and achieving.’ “I don’t seek any reward except the fulfilment of the dream that I have been cherishing all these years – the UNIFICATION OF KERALA.” This sincere call for public support for the cause of a united Kerala earned the Maharajah the sobriquet Aikya Keralam Thampuran.

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru said, “Some days ago, I read a declaration made by the Maharaja of Cochin on responsible Government in his State. The whole outlook and approach of this declaration was in pleasant contrast to what one usually gets from the ruler and authorities in the States, and I should like to congratulate the Maharaja. I hope he will give full effect to it as early as possible, and thus give Cochin pride of place in the Indian States. Cochin is eminently suited for this changeover to a democratic form of Government because of the high standard of education here.”

After an illustrious and eventful regime of nearly two and a half years, Kerala Varma breathed his last on July 8, 1948 to be succeeded by his cousin Rama Varma Parikshith Thampuran. But not before he attended the events where Mahatma Gandhi’s ashes were brought to Cochin as a part of the Nation's farewell to the Mahatma.

( Sources: A Sreedhara Menon and Dr. Kocha Varma )

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