November 30, 2015
Vishwa Konkani Kendra in Mangaluru is set to bring into limelight Ullal Srinivas (U S) Mallya, consider the Maker of Modern Mangalore, to mark the 50th anniversary of his death which falls on December 19. In an appeal sent to concerned stakeholders, Basti Vaman Shenoy, founder of the Kendra, says: "We would like to observe the occasion to remember the great visionary and architect of modern Mangaluru in a befitting manner". The Kendra’s planned initiative involves efforts to name Bajpe international airport after Mallya and install his bust at a prominent location in the city. Since this godfather of the undivided DK district is hardly known to the present young generation a brief biographical recall is relevant.
We had looked forward with sweet anticipation to the landing of international flights on the second and longer runway at Bajpe Airport. New Mangalore Port has been berthing luxury cruise ships and now RO-RO ships. The traffic it handles has been creating new records with the passing years. New container berth is now functional. The Hassan-Mangalore railway line, now converted to broad gauge, links Mangaluru to Bangaluru on a daily basis. Karnataka Regional Engineering College, now renamed National Institute of Engineering Technology, is a thriving centre of engineering education and centre of research-innovation. Frequent buses cover the distance between Kasargod and Kundapur within four hours with all the rivers en route having been briged. One common link among the above is U S Mallya who lives through the projects he helped to launch and execute in the undivided South Canara (later named DK) district from the dawn of India’s Independence.
Though 2002 was marked as Mallya’s birth centenary, the present generation knows very little about this towering benefactor of the district. When I approached his close family members to get some background on him, they could not come up with any reference material on him. Then I chanced on a brief biographical sketch of Mallya written by Basti Vaman Shenoy in the series, Konkani Mahamanestha Lekhanamala, published by Karnataka Konkani Sahitya Academy. With acknowledgement to this publication, I am pleased to recall for current readers some highlights of the work done by Mallya for the undivided district.
These days people talk about "walking the talk". But, Mallya never talked. During his 18 years in Parliament, he did not make a single speech, but silently observed the proceedings from the back benches of Lok Sabha. That was his style of functioning. He lobbied for the projects in the district with those who mattered. These included the likes of Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri and Kamraj Nadar.
Mallya, one of the five children of Ullal Manjunatha and Saraswati Mallya, was born on November 21, 1902. Starting his education, up to 8th Std, at St Aloysius College, he switched to Canara High School from where he finished his SSLC. Then he joined Government College (now University College) to do his Intermediate. But, at the age of 18 years, Mallya, already attracted to Gandhiji and the freedom struggle, spearheaded by the Congress party, plunged himself into the freedom movement - turning his back on further education and the flourishing family business at Bunder. He faced police lathis and jail terms many times over. To avoid these and work for the cause, he went underground. He is said to have been master of disguises in his quest to escape capture. For instance, once he had taken shelter in Bombay in the house of an influential relative. On a tip off the police surrounded the house to capture him. Sensing the situation, Mallya dressed himself as a domestic servant and busied himself mopping the floor. As the police went in to arrest him, he left the mopping and slipped out of the exit door where he had reached in the process of mopping.
In national politics, Mallya was very powerful and influential as a member of Congress Working Committee and General Secretary, along with Lal Bahadur Shastri. He was also Chief Whip of the Congress Party in Parliament - a position no one in this region has held since his time. Mallya was close to Nehru. A Mangalorean leader and cultural tsarina, Kamaladevi Chattopadyaya, close to the Nehru family, supported him to climb up the Congress hierarchic ladder. He had a decisive voice in Regional Congress Samiti and was considered the kingmaker in the State. At the central level also, State leaders having business with Union ministers, including Prime Minister Nehru, first used to meet Mallya for felicitating the meetings. In North India, he was called Mallayya - big daddy. In those days, there was a saying that if Congress puts up a lamp post as candidate for election, it would win hands down. But Congress tickets were hard to get. Mallya had crucial role in selecting candidates and was much sought after.
To appreciate the impact of Mallya’s work for coastal Karnataka, one has to visualise the state of pre-Independence communication infrastructure. Because of a number of rivers which had to be crossed by ferry boats, travel between Mangalore and Kundapur took 36 hours. Mallya dove-tailed National Highway 17 and 42 in the first and second Five Year Plans and bridged all the rivers en route, enabling today’s fast travel - covering the distance in two hours. Other projects credited to Mallya include, Akashvani Station in Mangalore, Airport at Bajpe, Mangalore-Hassan Railway, Karnataka Regional Engineering College, all-weather New Mangalore Port, Mangalore Chemical and Fertilisers Limited and the Town Hall on Nehru Maidan.
Each one of these has interesting story behind it in terms of Mallya’s involvement. For instance, when he came to know that Lal Bahadur Shastri, as Union Education Minister, was planning four Regional Engineering colleges in the country, Mallya went to him and persuaded him to have one in South Canara. From Delhi he contacted V S Kudva of CPC (Canara Public Conveyance – a combine of bus owners) and Chief Engineer M.L. Shrestha and had temporary sheds put up at Suratkal. He told them that he would bring Shastri to inaugurate the College within 15 days – and he did. When the Circuit House was being constructed at Kadri, he discovered that the blueprint did not have provision for the public to wait. While the officials tried to put him off saying that any change in the plan would mean new sanction and delay, Mallya asked them to include the waiting lobby in the amended blueprint and took it himself to Bangalore and got it sanctioned.
When the sanction for Bangalore-Hassan Railway was in doubt, Mallya sent a telegram to Lal Bahadur Shastri, then Railway Minister, threatening to go on an indefinite fast in front of Parliament House, prompting Shastri to sanction the project immediately. When work on the new Netravathi road bridge was stalled for lack of cement, Mallya got Delhi to dispatch two wagon-loads of cement to progress the work.
Mallya got Bajpe airport sanctioned and got Nehru to inaugurate it in 1952. There is a poignant footnote to this. On December 19, 1965 Mallya was getting ready to fly to Mangalore from Delhi. On the way to the Delhi airport, he got a heart attack and was taken back to his residence where he died. On hearing of his death, then Prime Minister Shastri, on a tour of UP, returned from Lucknow, and arranged for Mallya’s body to be taken to Bajpe airport in a special Indian Air Force plane.