On April 20, 2021, the Kerala government issued an executive order granting ₹2.59 crore as special allowance to the members of the Zamorin royal family in Kozhikode for the financial year 2021/22, triggering a debate in the state on the rationale behind doling out pensions to members of the royal family in a modern democratic society.
The Zamorin (Samoothiri) was the ruler of the princely state in the south Malabar region of India from the 12th to the 18th century. According to 2013 records, there are 826 members who belong to the royal family and are entitled to get ‘royal pension’ in ‘compensation for the land’ given to the state when the kingdom was abolished.
On August 30, 2017, a government order had increased the ‘family and political pension’ for the members of the erstwhile royal family of Njavakkadu, Meenachil and Kottayam from ₹600 to ₹3,000 a month.
This hike in the royal pension was meant to be with retrospective effect from January 1, 2011.
Aggrieved by this order, other ‘royal families’ of Kerala approached the High Court with the plea that enhancing the pension only for the Njavakkadu royal family is a violation of their right to equality. And, requested the court to direct the government to provide an equal amount to them as well.
The single bench of the High Court of Kerala ordered the government to consider their claim for pension under the ‘family and political pension scheme’ and to take appropriate decision on the matter. A total of 55 royal families in Kerala received the benefit of this judgment. The government did not make any effort to challenge this judgement, but solemnly acknowledged it.
Thus, a government order was passed on October 29, 2017, stating that the family and political pension distributed to the members of all the royal families in Kerala was enhanced from ₹1,000 to ₹3,000 a month. The order further stated that the government had taken this decision considering the representations made by the members of Kshatriya Kshema Sabhas across the state.
Besides, the order made it clear that the decision has been taken in adherence with the High Court order. As of now, every individual member of 56 royal families in Kerala receives ₹3,000 a month. No matter how young or old they are, no matter whether they are poor, rich or super rich. Even the members of the princely state of Travancore are receiving the pension that amounts to ₹36,000 a year.
Family and Political Pension Abolition Bill 1969- An unfinished initiative introduced by EMS
People are now questioning the rationale behind providing pension to these ‘royals’ only because their ancestors were kings once upon a time. “This is nothing but the remains of feudalism which needs to be abolished,” said Dr K N Ganesh, historian and writer, who sees no earthly, good enough reason to continue the pension for the royal family members in a modern democratic society.
EMS Namboodiripad, the legendary communist leader of Kerala, the first chief minister of the state had introduced a bill way back in 1969, to abolish the family and political pension to the members of the royal family. Presenting the Family and Political Pension Abolition bill in the Assembly on March 25, 1969, EMS had suggested that all such pensions should be abolished and the royal family members should be given a fixed amount in compensation (He suggested an amount equal to 16 times higher to the then existing amount).
The archives of the Legislative Assembly debates show that each member of the Assembly had a progressive world view and an exceptional commitment to the values of democracy. This is what EMS further said in his speech in the Assembly at that time. “These pension schemes were established by the princely states for landlords as remuneration for the land invaded and occupied by them. This is nothing but the remains of feudalism and we suggest abolishing it”.
Backing the bill, P S Namboothiri, the then leader of CPI, said in his speech in the Assembly that this pension was nothing but a gift by the British Empire for the local kings for their help to suppress the Indian freedom struggle.
“Even if the government is entitled to provide compensation to the then royal families, there is no justification in spending money from the public exchequer to provide pension to their heirs”, said P S Namboothiri in his speech.
However, the bill which was sent to the select committee for scrutiny never saw the light of day. The nine-member select committee kept the bill untouched for six months and then the ministry lead by EMS was dissolved on November 1, 1969. Neither the Left nor the Congress governments that subsequently came to power in Kerala re-introduced the bill and the practice of royal pension continued to thrive.
Today, the question that is being asked in Kerala is whether the chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan will pick up where the legendary communist leader EMS had left off and revive the bill to abolish the royal pensions?
According to Manu S Pillai, the author of ‘Ivory Throne’ , the practice of providing family and political pension is inherited by the modern states from the princely states that existed in the pre-Independence era. “The pension to the Travancore and Cochin royal families was part of the integration agreements of 1949”, he said. While talking to The Federal, Pillai added that this is a non-inheritable right and there is no rationality in continuing the practice by providing pension to the younger generation as well.
The tribal kings have never received pension
Not all kings in Kerala however get ‘royal treatment’. Raman Rajamannan, the ‘King’ of Mannan dynasty, the one and only tribal kingdom in south India has a different story to tell. Mannans, one among the 36 extant tribal communities in the state claims to have established a sovereign kingdom of their own tracing their history back to the 18th century.
They said to have fled to Kerala from Tamil Nadu during a war between the Chola and Pandya kings and established a kingdom of their own in Kerala, locally known as the ‘King of Kovil Mala’ (the place where they belong to).
Raman Rajamannan, the ‘13th King’ of Mannan dynasty whose former name is Binu is an ordinary farmer and a BPL card holder. The kings of Kovil Mala do not own a lofty castle or durbar, but live and die in poverty.
He became the head after his brother Aryan Rajamannan (Rameshan) met with an early death at the age of 28 in 2012. Raman Rajamannan alias Binu who lives in Kattappana in Idukki District said to The Federal that their applications to receive ‘royal pension’ have been rejected more than once.
“We know that the royal families in Kerala get pension, we also have applied a few times, but were rejected,” pointed out Raman Rajamannan, who is a graduate in economics.
Rajamannan is not clear why they have been refused the pension. “I did not understand the reasons they cited,” said the ‘tribal king’, who rues the way democracy functions in this country and why some royalty is more royal than others.