ALAPPUZHA: Union Minister of State for External Affairs V Muraleedharan ignited a controversy over the 68-year-history of the Nehru Trophy Boat Race (NTBR) when he asked if the first prime minister was a sportsman for the race to be named after him. Several leaders have come out against the Union minister’s remarks. At the same time, the history of the world famous regatta stands tall, as a testimony allaying all controversies.
Jawaharlal Nehru’s connection with the annual boat race is not merely in its naming. Rather Nehru’s zeal for the regatta led to the renaming of the event after his death. His visit with his family to Kuttanad in December 1952, during his first tour of Kerala after independence, led to the origin of one of the largest water sports events in the world. A snakeboat race was arranged to welcome Nehru, daughter Indira and grandchildren Rajiv and Sanjay in the backwaters of Kuttanad. After reaching Kottayam, they took the waterway to Alappuzha.
En route, the residents of Kuttanad arranged a gala event to mark the prime minister’s visit. The Nehru family arrived in a boat owned by Joseph Murickan, a prominent farmer in the region. A boat race involving nine snakeboats was held in Vattakayal. The Nadubhagom Chundan became victorious and an excited Nehru jumped into the snakeboat and travelled with rowers to the Alappuzha boat jetty from Vattakayal.
After reaching Delhi, Nehru sent a silver trophy carrying his signature to the then Kollam Collector N P Chellappan Nair (Alappuzha district was formed only in 1957). It carried the inscription: “To the winners of the boat race which is a unique feature of community life in Travancore Cochin.”In 1954, the Kollam Collector formed an organising committee and began the Prime Minister’s Trophy Boat Race. After Nehru’s death, the regatta was renamed the Nehru Trophy Boat Race. According to K S George, president of Nadubhagom Boat Club, the history of the boat race says it all.
“If anybody tries to change history, we have nothing to say. My valiyappan (forefather) Payyanad Chacko Mappila received the trophy from Panditji. Later in 1974, I received the same trophy from Indiraji after winning the NTBR. We emerged winners in many races and the last event held in 2019, apart from the inaugural Champions Boat League. The legacy of the boat race and the history of Nadubhagom cannot be twisted,” said George.
A moment to cherish
After reaching Delhi, Nehru sent a silver trophy carrying his signature to the then Kollam Collector N P Chellappan Nair.It carried the inscription: “To the winners of the boat race which is a unique feature of community life in Travancore Cochin.”