K. M. Panikkar

The Forgotten Historian: K. M. Panikkar"s Role in Saving Partition Refugees

The first generation of Indian diplomats after independence comprised numerous remarkable individuals who played crucial roles in representing India on the world stage. While some prominent personalities like S. Radhakrishnan, Asaf Ali, and Vijay Laxmi Pandit are often well-recognized, the contributions of K. M. Panikkar, India"s first ambassador to China, is sometimes overlooked or confined to specific contexts.

Education and work

  • Kavalam Madhava Panikkar, popularly known as K. M. Panikkar, was an Indian historian, diplomat, and professor. 

  • On June 3, 1895, he was born in Travancore, British India (now part of Kerala, India).

  • His schooling began in his home village and continued in Thiruvananthapuram, Kottayam, and eventually Madras. 

  • He got admission to Christ Church College in Oxford and sailed to England just months before World War I began. 

  • He served as a professor at Aligarh Muslim University and afterwards at the University of Calcutta after finishing his schooling at Madras and the University of Oxford. 

  • He soon found another vocation and became the editor of the Hindustan Times in 1925.

K. M. Panikkar as an Indian diplomat

  • Apart from his academic career, K. M. Panikkar was also active in Indian diplomacy. 

  • Panikkar was a part of the first Indian mission to the United Nations after India"s independence, led by Vijay Laxmi Pandit. 

  • From 1948 to 1952, he was the Indian Ambassador to China, and from 1955 to 1961, he was the Indian Ambassador to Egypt. 

  • Panikkar was well-known for his in-depth knowledge of world events and his contributions to creating India"s foreign policy during an important point in its history.

  • In 1953, he was assigned to the States Reorganisation Commission. 

  • He was also the Ambassador of India to France and Rajya Sabha member.

  •  He was also the Vice-Chancellor of the Universities of Kashmir and Mysore.

The books of K. M. Panikkar

K. M. Panikkar authored numerous books on various topics, including Indian history, international relations, and diplomacy. Some of his notable works include:

  • A Survey of Indian History

  • Asia and Western Dominance

  • Foundations of Political Power in India

  • Culture and Consciousness in Modern India

  • India and the Indian Ocean

These books reflect Sardar Panikkar"s deep understanding of Indian history, international relations, and the complex dynamics of India"s interactions with the world. They showcase his scholarship and intellectual contributions to the fields of history and diplomacy.

Sardar Panikkar"s Humanitarian Efforts During Partition

During the partition of India in 1947, which resulted in the creation of India and Pakistan, there was mass displacement and violence, leading to a large influx of refugees on both sides of the newly drawn border. K. M. Panikkar, as the Secretary to the Chamber of Princes at that time, was involved in various administrative and diplomatic roles.

In his book "In Two Chinas," K. M. Panikkar provided a detailed account of his last days in Bikaner as the Secretary to the Chamber of Princes before he was appointed as an Ambassador. 

The situation in East Punjab at that time was quite volatile. Panikkar described the tense communal atmosphere prevailing in East Punjab, where Hindu and Sikh communities had formed alliances against the Muslim population. He noted instances of violence, including acts of murder, looting, and arson, which were occurring between different religious groups.

Panikkar had resolved to take action in response to the situation. He was afraid of sparking any communal strife in Rajasthan, where Muslim invaders had repeatedly attacked Rajput kingdoms while attempting to help Muslim refugees. But he decided to go forward with it. 

With Maharaja Sadul Singh"s assistance, he dispatched the royal army to Ganga Nagar for inspection and issued a warning. The army was given orders to kill the rioters, and civil authorities were granted the authority to levy collective penalties on violent groups. 

Despite these precautions, he was concerned that violence might erupt as tensions escalated in Punjab and New Delhi. 

His pleas for assistance fell on deaf ears as the center was overrun with migrants. He made the decision to take affairs into his own hands. He guided the evacuees through the state, using special trains on the Bikaner State Railway and walking across the sands of Bikaner. The choice did not sit well with the unruly mob, but he had the Maharaja"s complete backing. 

The first convoy arrived in Pakistan with no one injured.

Gathering confidence, he ordered a second convoy to march throughout the state, this time on foot with only a Police escort. Thousands of men women, and even children walked hundreds of kilometers across the desert.  K. M. Panikkar breathed a sigh of relief when the tired convoy arrived in Pakistan.

This way Sardar Panikkar became a savior for thousands of refugees.

K. M. Panikkar passed away on 10th December 1963.

Sardar Panikkar was commemorated as one of the builders of modern India during the "Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav".

Sardar Panikkar made significant contributions to India"s foreign policy and served as India"s ambassador to China and Egypt. He was also an Indian historian, distinguished scholar, bilingual writer, educationist  specializing in foreign relations. His death marked the end of a notable career that spanned diplomacy, academia, and historical research.