Sunday, June 21, 2009

Remebering an icon of modern Kerala

Trivandrum, 13 Jun 2009: Today, as the people of Kerala observe the 100th birth anniversary of EMS, who laid the foundation of modern Kerala, the space he left in the political and cultural landscape of the State -- that of an anti-imperialist, social reformer, literary critic, Marxist thinker, theoretician and historian, -- remains unfilled.
The first Chief Minister of united Kerala once said, "Individuals become leaders only because they serve the people of the country. The minute they start doing something else, the minute they drop their ideals and ideology and work against their party or the people, they cease to be leaders." Elankulam Manakkal Shankaran Naboodiripad was a rarity among Indian leaders who abided by this rule through his public life that lasted more than seven decades. He helped evolve a Communism that was specifically evolved for the country.
In idealism and exhaustive pursuit of ideology, EMS stood out as a model for political India. He thought differently from his contemporaries, lived dangerously to overcome the limitations of his times and worked constantly for the freedom of the individual and society from the clutches of imperialism, feudalism, fanatic casteism and communalism.
Born in an aristocratic Namboodiri family in Perinthalamanna taluk of the present Malappuram district on June 13, 1909, EMS was educated at home. He was given ritualistic training in Sanskrit language and literature, logic and the scriptures. Later, he was taught Malayalam, Hindi and English. But EMS insisted that he be sent to school. At school he had members of all castes and religion as fellow students. EMS' earliest struggles were against the feudal system to which he belonged. He became a member of an organisation of Namboodiri youth that fought against the retrograde customs in the community.
When EMS began college, Travancore and Cochin were coming alive to the national freedom movement. He abandoned his degree course to join the Independence movement. Even as a schoolboy, Namboodiripad went to Madras to attend the All India Congress Committee (AICC) conference. Later, he attended the Payyannur conference of the AICC, which was inaugurated by Jawaharlal Nehru whose socialist leanings within the Indian National Congress had attracted EMS' admiration.
After 1932, EMS devoted his energy to fighting British imperialism and this was a period when he was either incarcerated or forced into hiding. The experience gave EMS the opportunity to meet freedom-fighters from different parts of the country. While in jail at Kannur and Vellore, he established links with socialist leaders within the Congress. In 1934, he joined the Congress Socialist Party. EMS retained links with the Pradesh Congress Committee and attracted national attention when he was elected PCC secretary.
Even when he worked as the PCC secretary, EMS had doubts about the effectiveness of Gandhi's peaceful agitations to achieve social revolution and freedom. His meeting with P. Krishna Pillai in the Kozhikode sub jail helped him substantiate his critical outlook regarding Gandhi's vision. The two of them began to work closely together, first as leaders of the Congress Socialist Party and later as leaders of the Communist Party. Krishna Pillai, A.K. Gopalan and EMS founded and built the Communist movement in Kerala.
By the end of 1937, EMS was again elected to the PCC but soon right-wing Congress leaders prevented anybody with left leanings to contest the elections to the Madras Legislative Assembly.
EMS was elected to the Madras Provincial Legislative Assembly in a byelection and became a member of the inquiry committee established to study the tenancy relations in the Malabar region in 1939. When the Congress members reached a consensus in favour of the landlords, EMS presented the lone dissenting note in favour of the tenants. This was the harbinger of the most comprehensive land reforms in South Asia for which EMS provided the initiative nearly two decades later.
In 1940, the British Government banned the Communist Party. Communist leaders in Malabar went underground. In 1947, soon after he emerged from hiding, EMS announced the sale of his family estate and donated the handsome proceeds to the Communist Party.
In 1957, the world's first elected Communist Government came to power in Kerala. Within a week, the EMS-led Government introduced an ordinance (and later legislation) that fixed an absolute ceiling on the land a family could own and ordered distribution of all excess lands to the landless. It also granted fixity of tenure, freedom from eviction and the benefit of a fair rent to be set by impartial land tribunals. Cultivator-tenants were conferred the right to buy at a modest payment and over a phased period the title deed of the land that they worked. The land rights of unauthorised hutment dwellers were defined.
Many opposed the legislation, which together with the Education Bill passed by the EMS Government created a dramatic change in society. The result was one of the first dismissals of a State Government under Article 356 of the Constitution. This was engineered by Prime Minister Jawaharal Nehru at the behest of his daughter Indira Gandhi who was then the Congress president, alleging a breakdown of law and order in the State. This year is also the 50th anniversary of that dismissal.
As required by court, the Act was later replaced by another law which contained the provisions of the earlier Act. Two successive non-Communist Governments did not implement this new law, which was challenged in the court on the grounds that it contravened the fundamental rights. During the second tenure of the Communist Government in 1967-69, the EMS Government placed a new land reform (Amendment) Act before the legislature, which restored and amplified the radical proposals in the Kerala Agrarian Relations Act, 1960. Through major amendments, the land that could be held under ceiling was reduced and the jenmi system abolished. The new Act, the Kerala Land Reforms (Amendment) Act, was passed without a dissenting note in 1969.
EMS was also the architect of Aikya Keralam (unified Kerala) incorporating the erstwhile princely states of Travancore and Cochin and parts of the British Malabar districts. EMS steered the progressive literary and intellectual movement in Kerala and made his mark also as the first Marxist historian in the State.
EMS evolved as Marxist thinker and theoretician after the Communist Party of India (CPI) split in 1964. He was elected to the CPI Central Committee in 1941 and to the party Politburo in 1950. In 1962, he was elected general-secretary of the undivided CPI. In 1964, after the party split, he was elected a Politburo member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), a post that he held until the very end. He was the CPI(M) general-secretary from 1977 to 1992, when he returned to Kerala on account of failing health.
EMS often expressed his concerns about the development crisis in Kerala in the last one year of his life and said that the acclaimed Kerala model was insufficient to address urgent developmental needs. He prescribed decentralisation of power, which the State Government incorporated in the People's Campaign for the Ninth Plan.
Even on March 19, 1998, EMS dictated two articles to his personal assistant, Venu. One was on the need for a joint effort to fight the forces that threaten secularism in the country - coincidentally on the day the Bharatiya Janata Party ascended to power at the Centre - and the other on "Desabhimani's responsibility today", to mark the anniversary of the newspaper's Kottayam edition.
The CPI(M) has made elaborate arrangements to commemorate EMS' anniversary. Party general secretary Prakash Karat will inaugurate a two-day seminar at Perinthalamanna. State secretary Pinarayi Vijayan will inaugurate the building of a memorial for the great leader near the Elamkulam mana today