(I am giving below a brief memorial on the life and activities of Com. N.P.Padmanabhan, the revolutionary leader of the P and T and Central Government employees who organised several mighty struggles in Kerala. He was the Convener of the Confederation, Convener of the P and T Co-ordinating Committee and Secretary NFPTE for many years. Our readers may kindly point out if there is any factual error and / or may give further details to be included for which I will be thankful )
Com.N.P.Padmanabhan – The Indomitable Fighter
Comrade N.P.Padmanabhan, who was respectfully and affectionately called ‘Pappettan’, was an indomitable fighter for the cause of the working class, especially the P&T and Central Government employees. His life was a continuous struggle against the ruling class and the bureaucracy.
Padmanabhan was born in March 1926 ( exact date not known) at Eramala Panchayat in then Malabar District. His father was Shri Gopala Kurup and mother Smt. Ammalu Amma. His elder brother N.P.Balagopal worked in Deshabhimani and later became Sales Tax Prctitioner. Advocate.
Pappettan studied at Mahe School and Government Brennen College, Tellicherry. He was an excellent Volley Ball and Ball Badminton player and participated in many tournaments.
Com.Padmanabhan joined as a Postal Clerk at Tirur in 1947. From the date of his joining he was interested in the union activities. The successful P and T strike of 1946 and connected developments resulted in the formation of a united organisation, Union of P & T Workers (UPTW), on 13th August 1947. Padmanabhan became an active worker and organised the union in the Malabar area. The department was not happy and transferred him first to Wynad, then to Tellicherry Head Post Office and then to Sub-Post Office Panur. He was elected as the Secretary of UPTW, Tellicherry Branch.
The P&T Department was expanding and the employees were working under heavy strain. Though the British has left India, the bureaucracy continued as such. The working condition was severe and employees were punished for no fault of theirs. Extra hours of work were imposed on them. There was acute shortage of staff. Com. Padmanabhan stood up for the workers and organised many struggles for settling their issues.
It was at this time that the National Federation of P&T Employees (NFPTE) was formed on 24th November 1954, amalgamating all the existing unions in to one Federation and 9 compulsory affiliated unions. Com. Padmanabhan was elected as the Divisional Secretary of the All India Postal Employees Union Class III (NFPTE), Tellicherry. President of the union was Advocate V.R.Krishna Iyer, who later became Law Minister in the EMS Ministry in Kerala and then Judge of the Supreme Court. It was usual at that time to elect M.P.s and prominent trade union leaders as the Presidents of the union. Tellicherry Divisional Branch was one of the strongest in the whole of the Madras P &T Circle. Almost all the senior leaders in the Madras circle, including Coms. A.S.Rajan, D.Gnaniah, D.Lakshmanan, A.M.A.Majeed and others have visited Tellicherry and addressed meetings on invitation from Pappettan. Shri V.V.Giri, INTUC leader who later became the President of India, also attended the NFPTE meeting at Tellicherry in 1956.
Com. Pappettan brought many other youngsters in the movement, who themselves became leaders. Coms. T.M.Janardhanan, N.O.Anandan, N.C.Narayanan, K.Narayanan, P.Narayanan and others belong to this group. Myself, who joined in Cannanore in 1959 on transfer from Kottayam, also got inspired by Pappettan.
Pappettan was the leading force in organising the Five Days Glorious strike of the Central Government employees which continued from 11th July to 16th July 1960. It was brutally suppressed by the Jawaharlal Nehru Government imposing Essential Service Maintenance Ordinance (ESMO) and other black rules. Thousands were arrested, suspended, dismissed and charge sheeted. Pappettan was arrested on the first day of the strike under ESMO and convicted for 6 months rigorous imprisonment. The arrested and jailed comrades were released only after many days. It took more than 5-6 years to remove the scars of the victimisation.
Kerala P&T Circle was formed in 1961 consequent to the formation of Kerala State in 1956. The first Circle Conference of all the nine affiliated unions were held jointly at Trivandrum. Important decisions were taken in the Joint conference to hold the conferences together every year, form a Co-Ordinating Committee of P&T Unions, joint circle conference and common journal. These decisions stood the test of time and strengthened camaraderie among the workers.
In the fourth joint conference of P&T Unions, Kerala Circle, held at Calicut in 1965, Com. Padmanabhan was elected as the Asst. Circle Secretary of Postal Class III Union and shifted to Trivandrum to work from the headquarters. In the next Conference at Quilon in 1966, he was elected as Circle Secretary. In the Palghat Conference in 1967 he was elected as the Convener of the mighty P&T Co-ordinating Committee. The “P&T House” in Trivandrum, the circle headquarters of the P&T Unions, became his residence for many years.
Under the vibrant leadership of Con. Pappettan, the P&T Co-ordinating Committee became a mighty force. This was the time when serious discussion was going on about the correct line to be taken by the organisation. There was no doubt as far as Kerala circle was concerned. Unity and struggle was the accepted line. The Post Master General and the top officers were adopting a hostile line to the union activities. Workers issues were not settled. This resulted in a large number of local struggles for settlement of issues. Many struggles were organised by the Circle P&T Co-ordinating Committee under the leadership of Pappettan. The organisation became strong and militant. There was a new awakening. He was also elected as the Convener of the Confederation of Central Government employees and workers in Kerala.
This was the time when Com.E.Padmanabhan was elected as the General Secretary of the Kerala N.G.O.union, mighty organisation of the state government employees, and joined at Trivandrum. Many struggles were being organised in that sector also. There was good co-ordination between the state and central government employees. During 1967, a prolonged struggle was organised demanding supply of rice etc. through the government.
At that time workers used to joke that Trivandrum was under the control of ‘three Padmanabhans – Shri Padmanabha Swamy (deity of the Padmanabha Swamy Temple) , N.P.Padmanabhan and E.Padmanabhan.’ Such was the influence of these two great leaders.
The historic one day strike of 19th September 1968 by the central government employees demanding minimum wage, DA according to the increase in cost of living etc. was complete in Kerala Circle. Then Chief Minister of Kerala, Com. E.M.S.Namboodiripad declared that he will not implement ESMA against the striking workers, despite the threat of his government being dismissed by the centre as in 1959. But as per instructions of the Central government, hundreds of cases were filed against the striking workers by departmental officers. 300 temporary officials were terminated from service and almost double that figure suspended. Almost all the strikers were victimised one way or other. As the Convener of the P&T Co-ordinating Committee, the main responsibility of defending the workers and getting them reinstated fell on Pappettan. The three years after the strike was a period of acute hardship and hard work for getting the terminated, dismissed and suspended employees reinstated.
Donations and collections were made from the employees and other unions and somehow managed to give the terminated employees some salary every month. In some places full salary could be given. After sustained agitation, court case etc. by about three years, all the terminated employees were taken back.
Pappettan was first transferred to an interior place called Uppala near Karnataka border, then suspended and after departmental proceedings dismissed. Even after reinstating almost others, he was not reinstated, despite court orders. Department went on appeal to Supreme Court, but the same was dismissed, but still was not reinstated. He continued to be outside, but fully utilised his time for the organisation. Only after the Janatha Government came to power in 1977, he was reinstated.
It was during this time that the rented house accommodating P&T Co-ordinating Committee was purchased by the union at the initiative of Pappettan. (The present P&T House was constructed there in 1988 and inaugurated by Com. Jyoti Basu on 27th August 1989).
Com. Pappettan was elected as Secretary NFPTE, in the Federal Council held at Bangalore in 5-9 May 1978 and shifted to New Delhi to attend to his new duties. Along with Coms. N.J.Iyer, GS, RMS Class III Union and K.Adinarayana, GS Postmen Union, he fought against the revisionist leadership of NFPTE Secretary General Com. O.P.Gupta and organised valiant struggles for settlement of workers’ demands. He was re-elected as Secretary NFPTE in the Federal Council held at Cochin on 27-30 April 1980. He was also elected as the Vice-President of the All India Postal Union Class III. He stayed and worked in the NFPTE office itself for his entire tenure of office-bearer ship. After the Federal Council in February 1983, Pappettan returned to Trivandrum.
Com. Pappettan was a pillar of strength for any struggle of the workers. His leadership was clearly evident in the CRPF Strike in Trivandrum which continued for months. The sustained agitation for the regularisation of RTPs was another instance as also the agitation against the anti-worker actions of Communications Minister C.M.Stephen, at whose instance a large number of union office-bearers were transferred to distant places.
Com.N.P.Padmanabhan retired from service on superannuation on 31st March 1984. Later he shifted to his residence in Kannur, but continued his activities in the union.
Gradually his health began to deteriorate. Pappettan breathed his last on 5th March 1994 at the age of 68, due to severe cardiac attack. He was cremated at Payyambalam, Kannur. The P&T fraternity has lost one of their great leaders. Thousands of people attended the funeral ceremony and paid homage to the departed leader. A fitting memorial was erected at Payyambalam for Pappettan near the memorials of Coms.P.Krishna Pillai, E.K.Nayanar and other leaders.
His wife Smt. Devi stays with his daughter at Kochi. His son Com. Sathyanathan was employed in Postal Accounts and has since retired. His daughters Sasikala is married to Com. Chandrasenan (Retired from SBI) and Subhashini to Com. P.Janardhanan ( Retd. SDE BSNL).
Com. N.P.Padmanabhan was one of the great leaders of NFPTE, who guided and led the P&T movement in Kerala to the present position. He was an excellent speaker and agitator. He led the numerous struggles of the workers. He also guided many struggles of other CG employees. P&T House, in his time became the centre of many other organisations also.
Since 1959 till his death, I was closely connected with him. We were together at Trivandrum during 1977-81, when I was functioning as the Circle Secretary of All India Telecom Employees Union Class III. He used to write letters to me on organisational and family matters while I was in Delhi after I became the All India President/General Secretary of the union and shifted to there. I keep those letters still as a valuable possession.
Com.N.P.Padmanabhan will ever be remembered as the architect of the militant NFPTE organisation in Kerala and also for his great sacrifice for the cause of the workers.