November 1 is a special day for Keralites around the world as the date marks the birth of the modern state of Kerala. Organised on linguistic principles, the modern borders of Kerala came into existence in 1956 when Travancore-Cochin state was merged with Malabar district of Madras and Kasaragod taluk of South Canara district. Parts of Southern Travancore-Cochin on the other hand went to Madras state.
The State Reorganisation Act that formed Kerala also resulted in the re-bordering of a number of other Indian states including Andhra Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan and Bombay state among others. A federal structure of governance adopted soon after Independence in 1947 had led to the formation of state borders in keeping with historical and political considerations. In 1956 the borders of states had to be redrawn along linguistic lines. November 1,1956 marks the date when language came to be officially accepted as the basis for marking borders of states in India.
The agitation for a language identity
The Nagpur Congress of 1920 had accepted linguistic provinces and submitted to the British government of India a memoranda for the recognition of nationalities of Kannada, Odiyas, Andhras, Tamils, Bengalis and Jharkhandis along linguistic lines. The report submitted said the following:
“If those who speak the same language form a compact and self- contained area, so situated and endowed as to be able to support its existence as a separate province, there is no doubt that the use of a common speech is a strong and natural basis for provincial individuality.”
The appeal to linguistic identities was a crucial factor in creating national consciousness during the freedom struggle. Gandhi had in fact advocated the reorganisation of the Indian National Congress along linguistic lines rather than along the lines drawn by the British administration. When a few provinces were created by dividing the Bengal Presidency in early twentieth century, it was just one among many such instances of territorial reorganisation along linguistic lines which came to follow decades latter. The agitation for recognition of linguistic identities intensified after the Constitution of India came into effect in 1950. Under constant pressure to reformulate the territories of states in India, the States Reorganisation Commission (SRC) came into existence in 1953. After two years of examination, the SRC recommended the rebordering of 16 several states and 3 union territories along linguistic lines. A newly formed unified territory of Malayalam speakers was a result of this institutional reorganisation.
The realisation of a dream of Aikya Kerala
The desire for a united Kerala, or Aikya Kerala, consisting of all Malayalam speaking territories was a long cherished desire for the people of this region. The modern state of Kerala was divided into Malabar, Travancore and Cochin by the British for administrative reasons and was the foremost obstacle on the way of realising the dream of a united Kerala.
The earliest resolution asking for a united Kerala was passed at the State People’s conference held at Ernakulam in April 1928. The struggle for a united Kerala gathered a new momentum in the 1940s when the prospect of Indian independence seemed nearer.
Post-independence, on July 1, 1949, the native states of Travancore and Cochin were merged together by the State Ministry of the Government of India under Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. This was one of the first steps taken towards the formation of a united Kerala. In fact, the prospect of the realisation of a united Malayali speaking territory had ensured that the Maharajas of both the native states happily conceded to giving up their individual autonomies and signed the covenant of integration. The Maharaja of Travancore became the Rajapramukh while the Maharaja of Cochin was happy to “efface himself completely in order that his people might enjoy a larger life”.
In March 1956, internal dissensions within the Congress party led to the fall of the Cabinet in Travancore-Cochin and President’s rule was imposed. It was during the period of President’s rule that the decision to reorganise the state territories of India along linguistic lines was taken. Consequently, the southern taluks of Travancore-Cochin was added to the Madras Presidency, while Malabar district and Kasaragod taluk were added to Travancore-Cochin to form the present state of Kerala. With the birth of modern Kerala, the last vestiges of princely rule in the state ended and communism took firm roots in the state that went on to be recognised by Leftist ideology in India.