38. COMRADE A.K.GOPALAN AND P AND T MOVEMENT
Com.A.K.Gopalan, who was rightly called as ‘Commander of the Downtrodden’, was very close with P & T trade union movement. His speeches as an M.P. in Parliament against victimisation in connection with 1960 and 1968 strikes are historic. They made great impact and was able to make much change in government’s attitude. Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru always heard AKG with rapt attention. Com. AKG was in the forefront of struggle against victimisation of 1968 strike in Kerala, not only guiding and advising, but also participating in large number of meetings, making inspiring speeches which gave solace and relief to concerned workers.
Whenever going to Delhi for union meetings, conventions etc. used to visit 4, Ashoka Road, which was his allotted quarters as M.P. and meet him. Once he asked to bring some coconuts on my Delhi visit. Carried about 20 -25 coconuts in a sack and gave to him. When opened many of them were broken. He smilingly asked me, ‘don’t you know that outside fibres should not be completely removed and tusk portion should at least be kept intact?’ Actually, I did not know. Learned a good lesson. It was hot summer and coconuts broke while in train.
When AKG used to visit Calicut in the 1970s, he mostly stayed at residence of Advocate P.K.Kunhirama Poduval at Chalappuram. Com.Suseela Gopalan, his wife, a leader in her own right and later Kerala Minister and M.P., also will be there, with a heavy plastic basket with various medicines for AKG. Poduval usually entrusted me to go to Railway Station in his car to bring them. I took this as a great honour. Immediately after reaching home, will call Dr. C.B.C.Warrier and Dr. N.S.Venugopal, Principal and Professor of Medical College respectively, who will come and examine AKG. Day’s programme will be decided accordingly.
Once Comrades AKG and Suseela Gopalan came just before a strike of Central government employees. A public meeting was arranged on the day in connection with strike. AKG was not well for some days and was not able to speak clearly. No public meeting for some time. After check-up doctors confirmed he is better. When I mentioned about the meeting in evening, he agreed to come and address. Doctors also agreed, provided that his speech is limited to 5 minutes only..
Immediately we printed notice that Com.AKG will address meeting and made announcements in car throughout city. Mudalakkulam Maidan was overflowing with people, eagerly waiting to see and hear their dear leader. Meeting started in time. Com.M.K.Kelu (Keluettan) presided. After welcome, AKG was invited to speak. He started speaking. People heard with rapt attention and happiness that he was able to speak. Five minutes over, but AKG continued speaking. Com.Suseela touched him reminding that five minutes are over. But he did not stop, continued speaking. All of us were worried. Then Keluettan stood up and requested openly to conclude the speech as advised by doctors. AKG told that since keluettan has asked, he is stopping. He stopped and sat down. He was so fond of interacting with people.
I had earlier mentioned about how Com.AKG intervened in police harassment of families of railway workers during the 1974 railway strike and restored normalcy.
Government was afraid of arresting Com. AKG during Emergency due to his serious health condition. He had come to Calicut during that period. After bringing him from Railway Station, we, (myself and Com.N.Ramesh, Union Secretary), were taking leave, when Com.AKG advised: ‘don’t try to get in jail. There is lot of work outside.’ We could not understand why he told that. Had somebody told him that I used to speak against Emergency in the Union Conferences which were being held that time?
1976. Com.AKG along with Com.Suseela Gopalan, reached Calicut by train in the morning. Went to railway station and brought them to Chalappuram residence. AKG was very ill. Dr. C.B.C.Warrier and Dr. N.S.Venugopal came and checked. He took rest. Party leaders came, met him.
They were to go to Coimbatore that night itself. I was asked confirm the ticket. As an M.P., A.K.G. was fully eligible with one co-passenger for free travel in First Class, but reservation has to be made at Railway Station with a reservation charge of Rs. 2 or so. Went to station, met Station Master, who immediately made reservation, even without taking any reservation charges. He said it a was privilege for him.
Night train going to Coimbatore side, reaching Calicut about 22.00 hours. We went to station in time; train was already in platform. With luggage, medicine bag etc. we got in to First Class compartment in which reservation was made. Went through corridor and finding door closed of the particular coupe, knocked. One person opened and told that both berths are reserved from Mangalore. Though told him that the berths are reserved for Com.A.K.Gopalan M.P., but without saying anything he closed door on my face. I was shocked. Coms.AKG and Suseela were standing in corridor behind me. Both of them very tired. They heard what was spoken. I was expecting sharp reaction from AKG, but both he and Suseela Gopalan were standing calm. I was ashamed of myself having put them in such a difficult situation. If I had contacted station master when we reached station, he would certainly have taken it a privilege to accompany Com. AKG to the compartment and no problem.
I rushed out to meet TTE or Station Master, but train started. Helplessly looked at Comrades standing in corridor with luggage on floor. I was horrified having put them in such an unhappy situation. I ran to station master and informed that AKG has not got reserved berth. He assured to do needful immediately.
Immediately went to telephone exchange and contacted our union comrades at Tirur and Shornur. Asked to go to Railway station and ensure berths for them. They got in the compartment when it arrived and got the information from TTE that as soon as the train left, Railway Officers who were sleeping in the coupe, realised their mistake, came out, apologised to Com.AKG, pleaded to be forgiven and they themselves put the luggage inside and arranged everything.
It was with much apprehension that next day I contacted Com. Suseela Gopalan at Coimbatore. But she calmly told not to worry; they have got berths without delay. It was then and then only that I was relieved. But still, sometime when I remember the incident, I feel guilty and cannot pardon myself.
AKG was admitted in hospital at Trivandrum as he became seriously sick. On 22nd March 1977 he passed away. He was unconscious for a few days. He, who fought against Emergency relentlessly, might not have known the victory of Janatha Party and withdrawal of Emergency, as he was in coma. When India got Independence on 15th August 1947, freedom fighter AKG was in Cannanore Central Jail! When ‘Emergency was thrown in to Arabian Sea’, he was unconscious.
Kerala wept as never before. People in thousands waited at every city and roads on the way, when his body was taken from Trivandrum to Peralasserry in cannanore district, his native place. All of us paid our homage and wreath when the body was kept in Town Hall Calicut. Some of us – Coms. M.C.Raman, M.V.Sadanandan and P.Kunhiraman, accompanied funeral procession in a car. Thousands waiting at Peralassery to see their dear leader. Almost all the PB Members of CPI(M) had reached.
Com.E.M.S.Namboodiripad presided in condolence meeting held and leaders addressed. When Mrs. Kamalam, former minister spoke, broke in to tears. Com.E.K.Nayanar broke down and openly wept when started speaking. EMS concluded meeting without calling more leaders and funeral took place. Most of the audience were crying while paying their last tributes to their dear comrade.
Com.A.K.Gopalan is no more. But his struggles for the downtrodden, the toiling masses, will ever remain in our memory. ( to be continued)