At a time when the struggle for freedom in India was reaching its zenith, the people of Malabar did not look up to Dr KB Menon only as a PhD scholar who had studied abroad, but a rising leader with Gandhian values who would go on to become the mastermind of the burgeoning Quit India movement in Malabar.
Born in a small town named Cheruthuruthy near Thrissur in 1897, Konnanath Balakrishna Menon was a man of scholarly intellect right from the start, who after completing his bachelor’s degree in Philosophy from the Madras Christian College in Chennai, took to teaching and joined the Nizam College in Hyderabad, as a teacher.
Around this time, he received a scholarship, which would allow him to pursue higher education in the United States. After securing a PG degree, and completing his PhD in Economics and Social Science from the University of California, Berkeley, he joined Harvard University as a professor.
A chance meeting with Jayaprakash Narayan, who was in the USA, would go on to have a long-lasting impression on Menon, who hadn’t given much thought towards India’s struggle for independence or becoming an active agent of resistance against the British, until then.
Together, they would discuss the state of affairs in India and explore many political ideologies as two patriots with a left overview and such was the impact of this association that Menon would soon resign from his job and return to his homeland in 1936 as a different man; one who now wanted to work towards liberating his country from the British.
Back home, his entry into the freedom struggle began as the secretary of All India Civil Liberties Union, which was headed by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. Alongside, he was also made the secretary of the citizens’ forum of the princely states.
But what would make the man an iconic figure amidst all his contemporaries across the country would be his direct involvement in the Keezhariyur Bomb Conspiracy Case in 1942, where young revolutionaries of Indian National Congress in Kerala came up with the plan of making a bomb and chose the obscure village of Keezhariyur for the experimentation and enactment of the process.
The plan, which was conceptualised with the aim of destroying British government offices, rails and bridges with bomb explosions, was orchestrated by none other than Menon and it was reported that, he, himself oversaw all the works pertaining to manufacturing bombs.
Although only an experimental explosion was conducted at Maavatumala at that point, the bloodhound-like noses of the British somehow found out, and the Colonial police filed a case citing explosion attempts at multiple government offices.
Menon’s name was among the 32 people accused.
While 13 were found guilty, it was Menon who was slapped with the maximum punishment (10 years of rigorous imprisonment) while the rest were sentenced to seven years.
As much as he was a stalwart firebrand, Menon was also a simple human being. He was a staunch socialist and led a life inspired by Gandhian principles. In fact, after returning from the US, he would only wear Khadi clothes—a practice that he would carry on until his death.
Following Independence, he returned to Kerala to contest elections as a candidate of the Socialist Party and even got elected as a member of Madras Legislative Assembly in 1952 from Thrithala. Nehru was rooting for Menon as an advisor in his first national government, but such was Menon’s conviction in his beliefs and principles, that he instead asked Nehru to join the socialist block.
While he led an eventful life as a young revolutionary in India, in his twilight years, Menon ended up losing his eyesight, and quietly passed away at the Kozhikode Medical College hospital on September 6, 1967.
Not many in the country today would have heard of Dr KB Menon or of his journey from a scholar teaching at the Harvard to a stalwart revolutionary in the Malabar, who found his greater calling in the independence struggle for his motherland.
This Independence Day, let us remember forgotten heroes like Dr Menon and others, whose many sacrifices and contributions helped lay the foundation and building blocks of a nation that is India for us, today.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)