Thiruvananthapuram: Wayanad, which is in limelight after Rahul Gandhi chose to contest the Lok Sabha elections from there, has its connections with a former British prime minister and a hero of the Battle of Waterloo, who served in the district as a military strategist during the colonial era.
Arthur Wellesley was an Irish-born soldier of the British Army before entering politics.
After his return from Wayanad and India in 1805, Wellesley was given the title of Duke of Wellington, and went on to become the Prime Minister of the UK in 1828 and again in 1834.
As a military commander, his name has been engraved as a hero of the Battle of Waterloo, the titanic war in which he had led the British army to a historic victory over French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte.
But, the history of Wayanad, the verdant mountainous plateau known for its thick jungles, panoramic locales and aromatic spices and nestled among the fragile Western Ghats, has a different story to tell of Wellesley.
Despite all his efforts, the British commander failed to get hold of the rebel native king Kerala Varma Pazhassi Raja, who had troubled the East India Company, according to historical records.
These records say that, Colonel Wellesley, (1769-1852), brother of the then British Governor General of India, Richard Wellesley (Marquees Wellesley), was appointed as the Commander of the colonial forces of Malabar, South Canara and Mysore to suppress the growing aggression posed by Mysore ruler Tipu Sultan and Raja of Wayand, who adopted guerrilla war tactics against them.
The Raja, who belonged to the Kottayam royal family, had laid claim to Wayanad and persisted in keeping possession of it.
But the East India Company had rejected his claim as it had special trade interest there as the place was a rich reserve of high quality pepper, turmeric, cardamom and other spices.
“The military control of the province was placed under the Madras government, which appointed Colonel Arthur Wellesley as Commander of the forces in Malabar and Canara as well as in Mysore,” says the ‘Malabar Manual’, compiled by British administrator in Malabar and historian William Logan.
According to the manual, the British commander had made elaborate arrangements to strengthen the military posts and the army presence in the area and ordered the construction of roads to suppress the rebel uprising.
He also had recommended to the authorities to seize the properties and arrest the families of those who had joined the rebels and tried to foster secret tie-ups with influential local people to defeat Pazhassi Raja, who hid in the thick jungles along with his army and fought the British force.
In a letter to his fellow army man, Lieutenant Colonel Kirkpatrick, dated April 7, 1800, Wellesley described Wayanad as a country “well calculated for turbulence”.
“There never was a country which, from its nature, its situation, the manners of its people, and its government, was so well calculated for turbulence,” he had said.
Expressing displeasure over the complicated geography of Wayanad which made the military operations difficult for the British troops, he described the whole place as a “jungle”.
“The whole country is one jungle, which may be open in some parts, but in others is so thick that it is impossible to see objects at the distance of two yards; and till roads are made, the country is impracticable for our troops,” he said.
Wellesley also called the native people as “savage and cruel” in the letter.
However, records showed that despite his meticulous planning and strategies, Wellesley could not catch Pazhassi Raja as he wished.
The commander had to return to his home country before Raja was defeated by the East India Company, N Gopakumaran Nair, general secretary of Kerala History Congress, said.
Pazhassi Raja died in 1805.
A section of historians argue that he was killed by the British Army personnel but some others claim that Raja had committed suicide before being captured by the colonial force.
“Both Arthur Wellesley and his brother were asked to return to England in 1805 before the Wayanad mission was completed. He was given the prestigious title of the Duke of Wellington in 1814 for his services and later assigned with the task of taking on Napoleon,” Nair told PTI.
As a military commander, Wellesley rose to the zenith of fame by defeating Napoleon in 1815.
“If Wellesley could not defeat Napoleon in that decisive war, the history of Great Britain and the entire world would have been different,” Nair, who is also the Head of the Department of History at the University College here, said.
Wellesley had entered politics and become a Tory party statesman later.
He was invited by King George IV to form his own government, following which he became the Prime Minister in 1828. He retired from politics in 1846 and died in 1852 at Walmer Castle.
The Wayanad Lok Sabha constituency, which comprises seven Assembly segments of Mananthavadi, Kalpetta, Sulthan Bathery, Thiruvambady, Nilambur, Wandoor and Eranad, will go to polls on April 23.