About P K Kunju Sahib

Late P K Kunju Sahib

An immortal historical figure

PK Kunju Sahib was the owner of an extraordinary personality, distinguished by many features like extraordinary foresight, unprecedented observational intelligence, unparalleled willpower, extraordinary instincts…

Born and brought up in the wealthy Puthanpurayil family of Central Kerala, he could easily indulge in the luxuries of lavish life. But the glimpses of the helpless lives of neglect and orphanhood on the outskirts of hunger, unable to sew the bread and butter of everyday life beyond the well-being of his own family, broke the mind of the philanthropist. When the miseries of the human condition overwhelmed his mind, he decided to lay down his own life for the liberation of the homeless. It was then that the subject of public work was written in the syllabus of life.

Born on August 5, 1906, when Kunju Sahib was still a student, national movements for India’s independence were raging. It did not take long for him to become a part of the student agitation, attracted by the spirit of collective consciousness. After his schooling in Travancore, he went to Aligarh Muslim University for his higher studies. During his college education in North India, he came in contact with the leaders of the National Freedom Struggle which became a turning point in his life. He became part of the mainstream agitations as an active participant in the marches to spread the message of freedom to the masses. As a result, he had to leave his higher education midway. Kunju Sahib returned to Travancore. TK Madhavan, K. Kelappan, George Joseph, KP Kesavamenon and other leaders became part of the national struggles. That is how he came to participate in the Vaikom Satyagraha that started in 1924. He showed unwavering participation in the Nirvana agitation, responsible administration agitation and State Congress agitations.

There were thousands of workers employed in different fields, but political movements or leaders did not mature at that time to educate them about their rights and responsibilities. It was Kunju Sahib who first took the initiative to create a labor organization in Travancore by educating those in the labor fields. He formed an organization called Travancore Labor Association and served as its first president. It was the first trade union in the history of Travancore. He is none other than the leader who was arrested for the first time in a labor-related case.

Many publications were started in Travancore at that time as part of efforts to inculcate a sense of patriotism among the masses. A daily newspaper worth mentioning is “Kerala Janata”. As its editor-in-chief, the presence of Kunju Sahib created a new revival in the field of newspaper publishing. Through his speeches, he made a sharp attack against British misrule and authoritarianism. He was also the editor-in-chief of the weekly magazines “Rajjabhimani” and “Swaraj”.

In 1937, he won the elections to the Sri Moolam Praja Sabha. He remained in that position for ten long years. He also won the elections to the Travancore Assembly in 1948 and became the Chief Whip of the All Travancore Joint Political Congress. After the merger of Travancore and Kochi in 1949 to form the state of Tiru-Cochin, Kunju Sahib left the Congress and joined the Travancore-Cochin Muslim League and became its president. He won the elections in 1954 and became Minister of Health, Local Government and Labour. In the context of his experiences as the President of the Travancore Labor Association, he attempted to implement several labor welfare laws. His contribution as a labor leader was the implementation of maternity leave with pay for women workers, insurance against occupational accidents, free medical treatment and provident fund for workers. He also established the Directorate of Health Services as the Minister in charge of the Health Department. Legislation was also made to provide free food to inpatients in hospitals.

“Pattam Colony” is a project implemented by him to rehabilitate half a lakh landless people on forty thousand acres of barren land in Peerumet and Devikulam. As part of nature conservation programs, he designed and implemented special projects for soil erosion control. He was also the first to implement salary hikes for government employees and teachers during his tenure. Being able to make the education of the first two classes of the middle school completely free is also important in his administrative achievements. Kunju Sahib also spearheaded the establishment of a special bench of the Travancore-Cochin High Court in Thiruvananthapuram. As the Minister of Local Government Department, Kunju Sahib implemented special projects for the modernization of Kayamkulam town. It was possible to increase the area for the administrative system of the municipality and increase the income significantly. He also took the initiative to acquire land for a government hospital in Kayamkulam.

From 1957 to 1961, Kunju Sahib was the treasurer of the Praja Socialist Party. When the Kerala Waqf Board was formed in 1961, the government appointed Kunju Sahib as its chairman. He put 3500 waqfs on board and worked tirelessly to grow it into an efficient movement. He was elected as a representative of Praja Socialist Party from Krishnapuram constituency to the second Kerala Legislative Assembly. Following the amalgamation of socialist movements, Kunju Sahib won as a joint Socialist Party candidate for the third Kerala Legislative Assembly. In 1964, he was tasked with presenting the no-confidence motion in the House that dissolved the R. Shankar cabinet.

During 1967-69 I.M.S. Kunju Sahib managed the finance department in the cabinet. He thought of how to raise funds through non-tax revenues. This is the first time in India that such a revenue stream has been investigated. Kunju Sahib proved that wealth can be raised without imposing the burden of taxation on the shoulders of the common man. It was during that time that he implemented the lottery system which was the main source of revenue for the state governments. The state lottery was also implemented on the model of the lottery instituted for the establishment of the college as the manager of the college. The first prize of the college lottery was Rs 20,000 or a Hindustan Ambassador car. It was conducted in July 1967. The State Lottery Department was formed in September 1967. The goal was to raise funds to address unemployment. The unemployed were able to find employment and wealth for the government through lottery trading. Today, Kunju Sahib’s idea of  lottery is the main source of income for all the states of India. The first draw of the state lottery was held on 26 January 1968.

The State Insurance Department is the system brought by Kunju Sahib to increase the revenue of Kerala. This ensured revenue for the exchequer and insurance coverage for the employees. A government-led Chitty is also Kunju Sahib’s idea. That too was enough to increase the revenue of the state. Kunju Sahib is also the founder of Kerala Financial Corporation, an asset in the state’s financial sector.

As the founder of the MSM educational complex, Kunju Sahib aimed at the process of renaissance of a society. Madhya thiruvitamkur was an educationally, socially and economically backward region. He had a vision of comprehensive social development of the region. Maulana Azad Memorial Nursery School, MSM LP School, MSM High school played a major role in the cultural upliftment of a region. He also established the MSM College in 1964 after seeing the inadequacy of an institution of higher education. The college started in a humble way and today it has grown into a center of learning with 16 undergraduate courses, 8 postgraduate courses and advanced research facilities. The college proved its excellence by getting NAAC recognition during the golden jubilee period. It is important. It is indisputable that Kunju Sahib’s philanthropy was able to bring a marginalized area into the mainstream of society. The curtain fell on that eventful life on 23rd June 1979 as a memorial to the educational towers that have survived the times.

The great PK Kunju Sahib continues to shine even today as a beacon of light for an entire nation with his unique and extraordinary personality. He stands as an immortal memorable historical figure as a patriot and revolutionary who overcame all the obstacles and showed the world that renaissance was implemented through his own willful actions.

Dr Padmakumar Klapana

Former Head of Malayalam Department

M.S.M College

Kayamkulam