Lone surviving member of the first Corporation council remembers his term in the 1940s
In October 1940, a young advocate, who had been active in the fight for responsible government in Travancore, walked the streets of Aryasala in the capital, requesting people to vote for him in the upcoming elections to the Thiruvananthapuram Corporation. It was to be the first election to the newly formed Corporation, the first such local body in Kerala. He managed to win, becoming one of the 24 elected members of the first Corporation council.
Now 106 years old, K. Ayyappan Pillai, that young advocate, reminisces about those days, recollecting even the minute details of the campaigns and the later meetings.
“I was representing the Congress at that time. The opposition candidates were mostly independents. Adult franchise had not yet come into force here and so either graduates or tax payers could vote in that election. We mainly did door-to-door campaigns like now. Posters were made out of old newspapers. I won and became the deputy leader of the party in the council as well as the works standing committee chairperson. My family members had served in the municipal councils, before the formation of the Corporation,” says Mr. Pillai.
The first council had eight nominated members in addition to the 24 elected members. There was hardly any representation of women, unlike now when a major party like the CPI(M) has fielded 66% women candidates. Retired Chief Secretary C.O. Madhavan was nominated as the first Mayor.
He remembers the party that the council members had thrown for Diwan C.P. Ramaswami Iyer, in which he spoke rather cordially.
“Though he may be called as a despot by many, he was cooperative with the Corporation council. He suggested a system similar to that in London, where the Mayor would serve only one year, after which a new Mayor is elected. We elected Govinda Pillai a year later. The Diwan told us that we have now got a fully empowered self-governed council, which will be a training ground for us to run a responsible government that would be formed at the State-level,” says Mr. Pillai.
One of the major responsibilities for the councillors then was ensuring ration cards for the people. He remembers that the main roads were mostly maintained clean by the workers. The drains were all regularly flushed with water, which was drained into the major canals. Majority of the councillors from that first council did not contest in the next election.
A few years later, before the accession of the Travancore state to India, Ayyappan Pillai had served as a messenger between the the then ruler Chithira Thirunal and Travancore State Congress president Pattom Thanu Pillai, to discuss the formation of an interim ministry.