'K F Nariman Go Back': When Trivandrum Airport witnessed a political protest 84 years ago

Advocate K F Nariman, a known leader of the Indian National Congress had arrived here to argue a case for A Narayana Pillai, a noted leader of the Travancore State Congress.
Trivandrum Airport
Trivandrum Airport

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The decades-old city airport may have witnessed dramatic scenes of Youth Congress workers' in-flight protest against Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan recently, but this was not unprecedented as a similar event played out 80 years ago, albeit with different players.

It was just around two months ago that the international airport here saw a protest by three YC activists against Vijayan aboard an aircraft after it landed there.

As the furore over the in-flight protest, anxious moments at the airport and the removal of protesters by the police thereafter were yet to die down, a decades-old record says it was not for the first time that the Thiruvananthapuram airport was playing venue for such a political drama but did so in the pre-independence era also.

As many as 84 years ago, a group of protesters had thronged the airport premises with black flags and banners and shouted 'go back' slogans when a lawyer had landed from Bombay (present Mumbai).

He was none other than K F Nariman, the famous advocate and a known leader of the Indian National Congress (INC) and he had arrived here to argue a case for A Narayana Pillai, a noted leader of the Travancore State Congress, in a court in the princely state of Travancore.

The protest, staged by the local fishermen community here, was apparently masterminded by the then Travancore diwan Sir C P Ramaswamy Iyer who was a staunch opponent of the Travancore Congress and its leaders.

The incident was mentioned in detail in a souvenir published during the 1980s by the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) to mark the centenary of the INC.

According to an article, penned by renowned freedom fighter late K M Chummar, in the souvenir, Iyer, who had ruled with an iron hand, was waiting for a befitting opportunity to destroy the Travancore State Congress, a political party which was formed in 1938 to demand responsible governance in the princely state.

Targeting the party and its leaders, several repressive measures and malicious campaigns were allegedly unleashed by the Travancore administration under the Diwan against them.

During that charged political atmosphere, some articles, penned by Narayana Pillai, had appeared in the newspapers - "Malayalee" and "Malayala Rajyam", it said.

Pointing out the strong objections to its content, Sir CP, as Iyer was known, had initiated legal prosecution measures against Pillai.

The Travancore State Congress had decided to fight the case for Pillai and formed a 'defence committee' to support him.

Though the committee brought several prominent local lawyers to argue for Pillai in the court, they could not do much and it became almost certain that he would lose the case.

Thus they finally decided to bring a well-known advocate from outside the state and chose Nariman and Sir CP resolved to block him at any cost.

The Congress leaders and workers had gathered in huge numbers at the airport when Nariman arrived there on April 2, 1938.

However, Sir CP's people had brought a group of fishermen from the coastal belt there to pose as protesters.

"The fishermen were brought there in a police lorry after being given black flags and placards with writings like 'Nariman Go Back'," it said.

As soon as Nariman got down from the aircraft, they showed him black flag and shouted the go back slogan, the article said.

Enraged over this, Congress workers under senior leader P T Punnoose had clashed with the protesters following which a chaotic situation prevailed at the airport and its premises for some time.

During the clash, a policeman collapsed after he suffered beating.

The fishermen, who came to protest against the lawyer with the support of police, fled the scene after some time and Nariman was brought outside the airport safely by the leaders, the journal added.

"It may be a small episode in the eventful history of Travancore. But, in the present context, it will amuse us that even eight decades ago, the airport had witnessed a political protest," historian Malayinkeezhu Gopalakrishnan told PTI.

However, the records show that Nariman could not appear in the court and argue for Pillai as the lawyer was denied permission by the judge saying he, hailing from Bombay, had been punished with imprisonment before, he said.

In the wake of the Youth Congress's protest against the Chief Minister, CPI(M) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan mentioned about the eight-decade-old political protest at the airport in his recent article in the party's mouthpiece, Deshabhimani.

The Thiruvananthapuram Airport, the first of four airports in the state, was established in 1932.

Under the aegis of Travancore king Sri Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma, the Tata Airlines made the maiden flight to the airport using a DH 83 Fox Moth aircraft in 1935.

The airport here may be the only one of its kind in the world which closes its runway and reschedules flight operations for a centuries-old temple procession of the famed Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple here to pass.

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The New Indian Express