N.K.Premachandran(Ex MP and Ex Minster of Kerala)

Twenty nine years have passed since N.Sreekantan Nair walked into the sunset. A personality that strode ahead of the times, he was present at many a critical juncture that still reverberate with the compelling echoes of many a historic struggle that epitomised the times that he lived in. An indefatigable champion of the proletariat, he also personified the philosophy of comradeship of the toiling masses.

Born on 15th July 1915 at Ambalappuzha, he was the only son of Janaki Amma and Neelakanta Pillai. Having completed his graduation in English literature with a first class from University of Kerala in 1935, he had many lucrative career offers to pursue. But he turned his back on such opportunities and immersed himself in social activism and dedicated his life to the cause of upliftment of the working class. This, coupled with politics, was the cherished ideals that he always held close to his heart throughout his life. Though a son of Alappuzha district, the stage on which he enacted his epic struggles was based in Kollam. And Kollam, in turn, embraced N.Sreekantan Nair as their own.

Even in the 1940s, Trade Unionism was characterised by a sense of dependency on political parties. However, N.Sreekantan Nair espoused the cause for unity of the working class as a means to protecting their rights within the broader framework of class interests and social justice. His unique contributions towards instilling the toiling masses with the ethos of association, collective action, workers’ rights coupled with unimpeachable political responsibility is uncontested in the annals of trade unionism of the State.

Sreekantan Nair’s decisive interventions, especially in the Cashew, Coir, Textiles and Mineral Sand sectors in Kollam, are legendary. If present –day repression is epitomised by ‘quotation gangs’ acting at the behest of their moneyed masters , the situation during that period was characterised by the prevalence of goons and anti-social elements being engaged by Cashewnut barons to subjugate trade union activity. And N.Sreekantan Nair confronted this challenge physically and paid them back in the same coin. His towering physique, accentuated by his indomitable courage and fighting spirit, were eagerly imbibed by the workers and became their steady source of inspiration.

His courage, adventurism, determination and dedication to the cause he championed rubbed off on the workers and galvanised them to direct action. This culminated in the historic events that unfolded on ‘Idavom 12’. On the Malayalam month of Idavom 11, 1124, sixty four years ago in May, workers at the Parvathy Mill (formerly A.D. Cotton Mill) struck work. The Police, led by the notorious police officer Mariabhootham, brutalised on the striking workers, not sparing even women workers. Upon hearing this, N.Sreekantan Nair rushed to the spot, confronted Mariarbhootham and snatched away his cross-belt. This incident passed into legend and stands testimony to the deep affection he had for the working classes.

The next day, the mineral sand workers in Chavara and Karunagappally organised a Collectorate march in support of the rights of the Mill workers and against the torture unleashed by the police. When the procession reached Puthenthura near Neendakara, the police again resorted to physical violence and that day is commemorated amongst mineral sand workers as ‘Idavom 12’ strike.

These miners, perpetually on the brink of starvation, joined the mill workers on strike in a show of unprecedented solidarity to safeguard the rights of the latter. This incident provided the clarion call that firmly established the tenet that for the sake of class solidarity and commitment to workers’ rights, police brutality is an inevitable ingredient. Through numerous such struggles, N.Sreekantan Nair was able to capture the trust and confidence of the workers in Kollam. He was elected five times to the Lok Sabha from Kollam constituency. In Parliament, his voice became the proverbial ‘lion’s roar’. On the issue of the imposition of “Hindi”, his protest in parliament created an uproar, but because of the respect commanded through sheer force of his personality, no action was taken against him by the central leadership.

Along with Com. Thridipkumar Chaudhuri, who spearheaded the Goa liberation struggle and other such national level interventions, Sreekantan Nair’s stint in parliament can best be termed as the ‘golden period’ for Revolutionary Socialist Party.

Had he not immersed himself so deeply in Trade Union activities and the freedom struggle, N.Sreekantan Nair might well have attracted international attention in the literary arena. Even in the midst of all his responsibilities and commitments, his literary creations are noteworthy. He made a commendable mark with his essay “ Ente Amma”. “ Ithu thane Marxism”, ‘Aikya Kerala’, ‘Vanchikkapetta Venad’, ‘Kazhinjakala Chitrangal’, ‘ Sahithyashakalangal’ are some of his other writings. N.Sreekantan Nair also translated Thakazhi’s “Coir” to English and “Road to Delhi” by Sivaram was translated to Malayalam and titled “Chalo Delhi’

Above all, N.Sreekantan Nair can be best characterised as having a deep affection for his fellowmen. The rigidities of party organisational principles and tenets were often effortlessly disarmed when confronted by his firmly entrenched humanitarian philosophy. Organisational decisions and rules never stood in the way as he never compromised in his unflinching faithfulness to and unwavering interest in the cause of the oppressed classes. As a consequence, towards the latter part of his public life, N. Sreekantan Nair was subjected to many adverse and bitter experiences.

Let there be no doubt, that in these tumultuous times of modernity- where human values and love of mankind, once held sacrosanct and inviolable are in terminal decline - the memories of leaders like N. Sreekantan Nair will serve to instil and reinforce in us those very beliefs and principles by which they lived. Even as he breathed his last on 20th of July 1984, thunderclouds of working-class liberation struggle that N.Sreekantan Nair epitomised and espoused all his life, were gathering in the distant horizon. Death might have stilled his heartbeats, but the rumblings of working class unity and solidarity that he advocated still reverberate. His legacy will live on.

Values do not die(T.J.S.George)(Famous writer and biographer )

Politics is a strange game. It has a way of turning heroes into zeros and losers into victors. The Soviet Union was once an inspiration to the masses and a celebrated superpower; one fine morning it just vanished. Jawaharlal Nehru was once the darling of the people and a model for the world; he died from the humiliation inflicted by China and, a half century later, the world seems to have lost interest in him. By contrast, Mahatma Gandhi was a defeated man at the moment of independence because he saw his country divided and his people turning into killers in the name of religion. But today he is a cult figure, books and films on him are coming out endlessly and he is celebrated in every nook and corner of the world.

Similar examples abound in Kerala's history, too. They all proclaim one message. Politics built around an individual will only last as long as that individual lasts; politics built around values will last much longer because values do not die. People like N. Sreekantan Nair and K. Pankajakshan did not become rulers of the land. They were not guided by the lust for power. Their aim, instead, was service. Such leaders live in the hearts of people while many who become ministers and chief ministers end up as portraits on government walls.

Of the many qualities that made Sreekantan Nair a people's hero, two stand out: his selflessness and the softness of his heart. Given the mass appeal he enjoyed from the start of his public life, Sreekantan Nair could have taken any position of power he wanted. But he chose to be an elected representative of the people in Parliament and nothing more. He was satisfied serving the working class, especially those along his beloved coastal belt. He stuck to socialism without diluting it. In comparison with those who wielded power and became rich, he was an unsuccessful politician. But in terms of values, he remains a loved and respected figure, a true success.

Given his height, size and formidable moustache, Sreekantan Nair could be easily mistaken for a tough guy with rough ways. But actually he was childlike inside. The tenderness of his love for his mother is wellknown. Friends, too, were a weakness – a beautiful weakness he enjoyed just as much as the friends did. When someone was in distress, he would spend time and money to extend a helping hand. I am one of the many who received his love for many years. I am the richer for it. With my family, I salute him.