Date:11/05/2006 URL: http://www.thehindu.com/2006/05/11/stories/2006051117560400.htm
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Kerala - Thiruvananthapuram

Wellingdon - a campaigner for people's rights

C. Gouridasan Nair

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: In B. Wellingdon's death, Kerala has lost a vital link with the political processes during the formative years of the State and a tireless campaigner for people's rights. He was a rebel who turned into a samnyasin, but retained the fire of rebellion within him till the very last.

Wellingdon came of age as a political activist when Kerala, like the rest of the country, was in tumult. Although he hailed from Kollam, Wellingdon did his college studies at the Sacred Heart College, Ernakulam, and Kerala Varma College, Thrissur, and mostly had Thrissur as his base of activities.

He was a district-level organiser of the Congress and one of the founder-leaders of the State unit of the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) along with veterans like C. M. Stephen, B. K. Nair and Abu Mohammed.

He took to full-time political activity after a brief stint as a high school teacher.

The real turn in his life came when he met Father Vadakkan, a fiery campaigner for land rights of marginal farmers, especially in the high ranges, in 1955. Soon he was in the forefront of the `Liberation Struggle,' the widely reviled campaign that culminated in the unceremonious ouster of the first Communist Government in Kerala, led by E. M. S. Namboodiripad.

There was an attempt on his life at the time, but escaped miraculously with a severe wound. Within the next one decade, the anti-Communist metamorphosed into a fellow traveller of the Communist Party and he was catapulted to the second E. M. S. Namboodiripad Ministry (1967-'69) as Health Minister and a close ally of the Chief Minister.

The decade-long journey from the anti-Communist camp to the Communist camp was also the story of struggle for the land rights by the settler farmers of Kerala. He stood by Father Vadakkan to form a Farmers' Union and lead struggles of settler farmers for their land rights.

The Government of time insisted on vacating the farmers and destroyed their houses and cultivations. The situation became explosive in places such as Churuli, Keerithode, Amaravathi and Udumbanchola and the legendary Communist leader A. K. Gopalan rushed to the defence of the farmers.

Father Vadakkan and Wellingdon joined him. As AKG went on a fast unto death at Amaravathi, adding an inspiring chapter to the history of popular struggles in Kerala, Wellingdon went on fast at Kottiyur. His fast lasted 21 days.

He also led a march by farmers from Kottiyur to Thiruvananthapuram, known as `Kottiyur Jatha.' The agitation culminated in the Government grant title deeds to thousands of farmers.

As the 1967 Assembly elections approached, Wellingdon and his associates formed the Karshaka Thozhilali Party (KTP).

The party fared well in the elections that saw Wellingdon being picked to become Health Minister in the seven-party coalition Government led by Namboodiripad.

He was the youngest member of the Cabinet. To him goes the credit for having created a Directorate of Homoeopathic Medicine in the State and he played a pivotal role in the launch of lottery in Kerala. As Health Minister, he ordered takeover of the T. D. Medical College at Alappuzha.

Soon, he was caught in a maze of allegations and the Namboodiripad Government fell on account of internal contradictions. Although he won the next election and became an MLA, the fortunes of the KTP took a nosedive. Wellingdon himself slowly drifted away from active politics and joined Father Vadakkan's `Samagra Sena' to campaign against liquor, war and communal disharmony. In between, he was editor of `Thozhilali' daily, brought out by like-minded persons from Thrissur.

Wellingdon, well-versed as he was the Vedic texts and in the teachings of Sree Narayana Guru, also began to turn to lead the life of a near samnyasin and was for sometime manager of schools run by the Sivagiri Mutt.

But the rebel in him was still alive as was evidenced by his impromptu decision in 1989 to go on fast at Ramankulangara in Kollam where two youth, opposed to the ban on trawling imposed by the then E. K. Nayanar Government, were killed in police firing.

The fast ended when the Government decided to compensate the families of the deceased and Father Vadakkan offered him a glass of lemon juice, one of the last high points in a strongly bonded relationship between the two campaigners for people's rights.

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