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Remembering a great leader
By Arif Zain

Eighteen years have passed since C.H. Muhammad Koya died. Not a single day passed without some reference to the former chief minister of Kerala since 28 September 1983, the day he departed. it was the darkest day in the recent past for Kerala Muslims.

‘C.H.,’ as he was fondly referred to by all, was one of the most outstanding personalities in the history of modern Kerala and the guiding force for the Muslim community of the state.

C.H. Muhammad Koya will justly claim several pages in the annals of history while many other community leaders despite their present standing would be swallowed by oblivion. An able leader with a tremendous mass following, an eminent journalist, author of a dozen books, silver-tongued orator, exemplary statesman and founder of the University of Calicut, C.H. was all these and more. The vacuum left behind by his premature death in his party, the Muslim League, is yet to be filled.

C.H. was born in a lower middle class family from where he rose to become the chief minister of the state. While in power, he handled almost all the portfolios of home, education, public works, tourism, social welfare, Waqf and revenue. But his hands remained free from corruption. Only after his death it was detected that his tiny house had been mortgaged.

C.H. was appointed as minister of education in the EMS Namboodirippad’s ministry in 1967. The education department was his deliberate choice. He knew the importance of education to his community and to the masses in general. Many of his friends warned him not to take up that portfolio, as it was a nightmare for all those who had handled it earlier. It must have been the backwardness of his own community in the sphere of education that prompted him to take up the challenge. As a minister of education he was instrumental in formulating many progressive reforms. It is worth remembering that the policy of making education free upto the tenth standard was implemented during his tenure as education minister.

Perhaps even more important from the point of view of the Muslim community was the provision of scholarship for Muslim girls at the high school stage. Any comparison of the number of Muslim girls enrolled in the primary and secondary classes between the early 1970s and 1980s will bear witness to the result of this policy. He certainly made the educational system of the state more broad-based and extended its benefits to a larger number of people. As a means to attract Muslims to modern education, he introduced Arabic as a subject in schools from the primary level. This worked wonders.

People, who were reluctant towards modern education, rushed their children to schools, where knowledge was imparted, as they believed, in the language of the Qur’an. To teach them, many Arabic teachers were appointed. Thus a considerable number of Muslims found their place in government service. This move invited furious criticism from certain quarters to which C.H. paid least attention. His brave steps bore fruits within a short span.

C.H. was an untiring advocate of communal reservation; he fought and won to get his community listed in the OBC list. To those who opposed the reservation, he said, if a mother feeds her weak children by giving more milk, why should other children oppose it? C.H. was also the first education minister who implemented university students’ representation in administrative and academic bodies such as the Senate, Syndicate and Academic Council.

As an administrator he was popular with all sections of society, because he shared their sorrows, understood their difficulties and anticipated their needs. To the immense satisfaction of C.H. the government of Kerala carved out a new district of Malappuram.

The establishment of Calicut University was the realization of Koya’s long cherished dream. His heart was bound to this institution that became a special object of his interest and care. He saw the university would be a lever to lift up the backward region of Malabar. He selected a remote, rural, hilly area in Malappuram district because it was a really neglected region where people largely belonged to the most backward religious minority.

Backward classes and minority communities got a fair share in the development of the university. He nominated a few Muslims and Ezhavas to the Syndicate, Senate, academic councils and faculties and immediately the foul cries of ‘Pakistan’, ‘Aligarh’ etc were raised. When Prof MM Ghani came as vice chancellor there was again hue and cry. But when people saw his work, utter sincerity and unblemished integrity, they all wanted him to continue beyond his term.

C.H. was known for his duty consciousness, he he used to say that a minister for education could not be an indifferent spectator. The University of Calicut which is shedding light with its motto nirmaya karmanashri is itself his lasting monument.

Shri. Trigun Sen, former union minister for education, had mentioned Koya’s tireless effort to make this university a reality at the time of the inauguration of the university.

Koya did not believe in complaining and crying-a favorite pass time of Indian Muslims. Rather, he appealed the people to light even a candle instead of cursing darkness.

C.H’s most important contribution to Kerala Muslim community is that he brought Muslim masses to the national main stream.

Muhammad Koya acquired the reputation of being a good speaker. A picture of the vast sea of men waited for his speeches till late hours of the night is still fresh in people’s mind. The quality, which made an indelible impression on one and all, was his ready wit and humour. He had the most appropriate and apt quotes for every occasion from the Qur’an, Ramayana, Mahabharata, Bible, Panchatantra and other great works.

Koya’s wit was always scintillating and his sense of humour was astounding, these qualities made him a platform artist of the higher calibre. For almost two decades C.H.was a towering presence in the state Assembly. The house sat up with rapt attention whenever he intervened the debates. In the Lok Sabha in which he was a member from 1967 to 1972, C.H.was able to make an impressionable mark within a short time.

His felicitous phrases and pungent humour lent charm to his oratory but what was best in this Muslim League leader is his freedom from communal allergy and his large hearted commitment to public good. He never used his oratory skill to generate communal hatred
Because of this, perhaps Koya enjoyed unusual popularity among all sections of society.
He believed in the joint progress of all sections and the united efforts of all are indispensable for strengthening the democratic and secular character of India.

Had C.H not becomes a full–time politician it could be said that he would have made his imprint a journalist .He was a great success as journalist. Some of the editorials he wrote in Chandika, mouth piece of Muslim League, to which he was supreme were such as would prove the power of his pen Chandika with which he started his career as a journalist, was every thing to him. During midnight hours he wrote articles and news analysis for Chandrika. Koya fought for the cause of community via the columns of Chandrika.

C.H.’s literary activity as travelogue also kept him apart from the ordinary politicians. His books, Co-London-Cairo, Five days in Malaysia and In Libyan Jamahiriya are the best example of his ability for narration and talent for analysis.
C.H. made his remarks in several fields of human endeavor as Assembly speaker, minister, statesman, M.P, men of letters etc. above all he was a lover of mankind.

Koya neglected his health and disobeyed doctors’ orders regarding dietary regulations.
It is natural that this karmayogi left this world while discharging his duties. He was 56 when he died. C.H. must be a guiding force for those in public life.

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