Monday, August 2, 2010

[ZESTCaste] ‘He realised the importance of eliminating caste-based leadership as a factor in Kerala politics’

'He realised the importance of eliminating caste-based leadership as a
factor in Kerala politics'

P. C. Alexander Posted online: Mon Aug 02 2010, 03:48 hrs

When death takes away a distinguished personality from our midst it
has become very common to pay tribute to his memory by stating that it
has left a void which can hardly be filled. If we look at the services
which the late Mr K.M. Mathew rendered to journalism during the
half-century he was closely associated with the Malayala Manorama, we
will discover the versatility of his talents, the breadth of his
interests, and the innovative nature of the various new journalistic
ventures he started during this period.
Most people will remember Mr K.M. Mathew as a skilled expert in
journalistic management. From a circulation of about 31,000 at the
time of the demise of his illustrious father Mr K.C. Mammen Mapillai,
he raised the Manorama to the status of the largest circulation-daily
in an Indian language. This certainly was a great achievement. But
what made him truly great was the fact that he stood for certain great
moral values and principles and never sacrificed any of them for
commercial reasons. I had the privilege of knowing him during our
college years, and I can say with full confidence that those who have
admired Mr Mathew have done so because of his innate gentlemanliness
and goodness.

The most important contribution which Mr Mathew made to public life in
Kerala, I would say, was the promotion of harmony and cooperation
between different caste groups in the state. The Manorama under the
leadership of his father had become a virulent critic of the Diwan of
Travancore Sir C.P. Ramasamy Iyer in the pre-independence period. Iyer
had warned Mr Mammen Mapillai that his newspaper and the bank of which
he was chairman, the Travancore National and Quilon Bank, would have
to pay a very heavy price for it; but Mr Mammen Mapillai was not
willing to change his support to the state Congress movement for
responsible government. Ultimately the newspaper as well as the bank
were closed down by the government.

Politics in Travancore during the pre-independence period was largely
led by leaders of caste organisations representing the interest of
certain important castes in the state, but after independence, when
Travancore became part of the new Indian state, Mr Mathew realised the
importance of eliminating caste and caste-based leadership as a factor
in politics, and supporting the state Congress as a full-fledged
political party. Though not directly involved in politics, those who
knew about his work from behind the scenes understood the importance
of his contribution to the elimination of caste-based political
leadership in the state.

In this connection I am reminded of the effective role Mr Mathew
played in defusing tension in Kerala that arose from the discovery of
an old church building in a place called Nilakkal in north Travancore.
Some of the leaders of the Hindu and Christian communities took a very
uncompromising stand about rebuilding the church there, as it was on
the way to the pilgrimage to the famous Sabarimala temple. However,
through quiet diplomacy and very skilful handling of the situation, a
few people like Mr Mathew were successful in finding a compromise
which was acceptable to both the communities, and today the church in
Nilakkal has become the symbol of communal and caste harmony in the

I should also mention the personal contribution which Mr. Mathew made
to encourage talent in elocution among the young students of the
state. The All Kerala Balajana Sakhyam, founded by Mr Mammen Mapillai,
became very active among the student community in Kerala because of
the assistance and patronage which the Manorama could extend to the
young students. Mr Mathew was present on most occasions at the awards
ceremony as a gesture of encouragement to the competitors. The annual
elocution competition held all over Kerala, and the final award of
prizes to the winners in the elocution competition, have become an
excellent location for training in speech-making for the state's young

I join the thousands of Mr K.M. Mathew's friends and admirers in
paying my humble tribute to the memory of a truly great and good man.

The writer, a former Rajya Sabha MP, governor of Maharashtra, and high
commissioner to the United Kingdom, was principal secretary to Prime
Minister Indira Gandhi


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