Thursday, July 14, 2016

Sitaram Yechury's inaugural keynote at EMS Smriti, Thrissur 13th June, 2016

Idea of India: A New Agenda for Reclaiming Secular Democracy

The following is the speech delivered by the CPI-M General Secretary at the EMS Smrithi, Thrissur, (Kerala) on June 13, 2016.

Mainstream, VOL LIV No 27 New Delhi June 25, 2016

I am, indeed, very happy to be back at the EMS Smrithi. I am honoured to inaugurate this 2016 discussions on the ‘Idea of India: A New Agenda for Reclaiming Secular Democracy’.

‘Idea of India’ — The Backdrop
The emergence of Nation-States was integral to the long process of transition of human civilisation from the stage of feudalism to capitalism. This period also threw up in Europe, the struggle for the separation of the State from the Church. The triumph of capitalism over feudalism, at the same time, signified the separation of the political authority from the myth of a divine sanction to rule invoked by Kings and Emperors across the civilisations during the high time of feudalism. The agreements of Westphalia finally signed in 1648 laid the principles of sovereignty of the Nation- State and the consequent international laws and is widely believed to establish an international system on the basis of the principle of sovereignty of States; principle of equality between States; and the principle of non-intervention of one State in the internal affairs of another State usually referred to as the Westphalian system. Westphalian Peace was negotiated between 1644-48 between the major European powers. These treaties laid the basis for a host of international laws many of which remain in force today.

During the course of the defeat of fascism in World War II and the consequent dynamics of decolonisation, the people’s struggles for freedom from colonialism threw up many constructs regarding the character of these independent countries. For sure, such constructs arose out of a long struggle in individual countries against colonialism, including India, during this period.

‘Idea of India’ — Evolution
The concept of the ‘Idea of India’ emerged during the epic people’s struggle for India’s freedom from British colonialism. What is this ‘Idea of India’? To put it in simple terms, though conscious of its complex multiple dimensions, this concept represents the idea that India as a country moves towards transcending its immense diversities in favour of a substantially inclusive unity of its people.

Prof Akeel Bilgrami, in his introduction to a volume of essays containing revised versions of lectures on the relations between politics and political economy in India given at a seminar in 2010 at the Heymen Centre for Humanities at Columbia University, New York (a Centre that he chaired then), says about my observations on the ‘Idea of India’, then, the following:

“(This) might be viewed as an ideal of a nation that rejects the entire trajectory in Europe that emerged after the Westphalian peace. What emerged then (and there) was a compulsion to seek legitimacy for a new kind of state, one that could no longer appeal to older notions of the ‘divine right’ of states personified in their monarchs. It sought this legitimacy in a new form of political psychology of a new kind of subject, the ‘citizen’, a psychology based on a feeling for a new form of entity that had emerged, the ‘nation’. This feeling, which came to be called ‘nationalism’, had to be generated in the populace of citizens, and the standard process that was adopted in Europe for generating it was to find an external enemy within, the outsider, the ‘other’ in one’s midst (the Irish, the Jews, to name just two), to be despised and subjugated. In a somewhat later time, with the addition of a more numerical and statistical form of discourse, these came to be called ‘minorities’ and the method by which this feeling for the nation was created came to be called ‘majoritarianism’.” (Social Scientist, January-February 2011)

The RSS/BJP objective of replacing the secular democratic modern Indian Republic with their concept of a ‘Hindu Rashtra’ is, in a sense, athrow back to the Westphalian model where the Hindu majority subjugates other religious minorities (mainly Muslim: the external enemywithin) to foster ‘Hindu Nationalism’ as against ‘Indian Nationhood’. This, in fact, represents a throw back to notions of nationalism that dominated the intellectual discourse prior to the sweep of the Indian people’s struggle for freedom. Such a State, based on ‘Majoritarianism’—their version of a rabidly intolerant fascistic ‘Hindu Rashtra’—negates the core, around which emerged the consciousness of Indian Nationhood contained in the ‘Idea of India’ as a reflection of the emergence of “a political psychology of a new kind”.

The RSS/BJP ideologues dismiss the ‘Idea of India’ as a mere idea—a metaphysical concept. They reassert as a given reality Indian (Hindu) nationalism, negating the epic freedom struggle of the Indian people. From this struggle emerged the concept of Indian Nationhood rising above the Westphalian concept of ‘nationalism’.

The RSS/BJP today are spearheading the most reactionary ‘throwback’ to Indian (Hindu) nationalism as against the Indian Nationhood (the ‘Idea of India’) consciousness that emerged from the epic people’s struggle for freedom from the British colonial rule. Akeel Bilgrami asserts to this: “The prodigious and sustained mobilisation of its masses that India witnessed over the last three crucial decades of the freedom struggle could not have been possible without an alternative and inclusionary ideal of this kind to inspire it.” (Social Scientist, Volume 39, Number 1-2, 2011)

India’s diversity—linguistic, religious, ethnic, cultural etc.—is incomparably vaster than in any other country that the world knows of. Officially, it has been recorded that there are at least 1618 languages in India; 6400 castes, six major religions—four of them originated in these lands; six anthropologically defined ethnic groups; all this put together being politically administered as one country. A measure of this diversity is that India celebrates 29 major religio-cultural festivals and probably has the largest number of religious holidays amongst all countries of the world.

Those who argue that it was the British that united this vast diversity ignore the fact that it was the British which engineered the partition of the subcontinent leading to over a million deaths and a communal transmigration of a colossal order. British colonialism has the ignomous history of leaving behind legacies that continue to fester wounds through the partition of countries they had colonised— Palestine, Cyprus, in Africa etc. apart from the Indian subcontinent. It is the Pan-Indian people’s struggle for freedom that united this diversity and integrated more than 660 feudal princely states into modern India giving shape to a Pan-Indian consciousness.

Role of the Left 
The Indian Left played an important role in this process of the evolution of this ‘Idea of India’. Indeed, for this very reason, given the Left’s visionary commitments to the long struggle for freedom, the Left’s role is absolutely central to the realisation of the ‘Idea of India’ in today’s conditions.

Let me illustrate this with reference to three issues that continue to constitute the core of the ‘Idea of India’. The struggles on the land question unleashed by the Communists in various parts of the country last century—Punnapara Vayalar in Kerala, the Tebagha movement in Bengal, the Surma Valley struggle in Assam, the Worli uprising in Maharashtra etc.—the highlight of which was the armed struggle in Telengana— brought the issue of land reforms to centre-stage. The consequent abolition of the zamindari system and landed estates drew the vast mass of India’s peasantry into the project of building the ‘Idea of India’. In fact, such struggles contributed the most in liberating crores of people from feudal bondage. This also contributed substantially in creating the ‘Indian middle class’.

In today’s conditions, the issue of forcible land acquisition has acquired a very dangerous dimension. Subverting the Parliament legis-lation, many BJP-led State governments are implementing schemes which permit the indiscriminate acquisition of agricultural land forcibly dispossessing lakhs of farmers, aggra-vating the agrarian distress even further. The question of land, hence, remains a crucial issue for the Left, the most important political force that is today focusing on developing the agrarian struggles against the mounting distress and the neo-liberal policies that are intensifying the process of primitive accumulation of capital.

Secondly, the Indian Left spearheaded the massive popular struggles for the linguistic reorganisation of the States in independent India. It, thus, is chiefly responsible for creating the political ‘map’ of today’s India on reasonably scientific and democratic lines. The struggles for Vishalandhra, Aikya Kerala and Samyukta Maharashtra were led, amongst others, by people who later emerged as Communist stalwarts in the country. This paved the way for the integration of many linguistic natio-nalities that inhabit India, on the basis of equality, into the process of realising the ‘Idea of India’.

Even after the linguistic reorganisation of States, today, many problems and demands for smaller States reflect the lack of equality amongst the various ethnic identities that exist in the country, particularly in the North-East. These can only be resolved by ensuring that all the linguistic groups and ethnic national identities are treated equally with concrete plans backed by finances to tackle the economic backwardness of these areas; and having equal access to all opportunities. It is only the Left that sincerely champions this cause to strengthen the unity and integrity of India.

Thirdly, the Left’s steadfast commitment to secularism was based on the recognition of India’s reality. The unity of India with its immense diversity can be maintained only by strengthening the bonds of commonality in this diversity and not by imposing any uniformity upon this diversity like what the communal forces seek currently to do. While this is true for all the attributes of India’s social life, it is of critical importance in relation to religion.

Following the partition of India and the horrendous communal aftermath, secularism became an inseparable element for the realisation of the ‘Idea of India’. The Indian ruling classes, however, went only half-way in meeting the Left’s objective of defining secularism as the separation of religion from politics. This means that while the State protects the individual’s choice of faith, it shall not profess or prefer any one religion. In practice, the Indian ruling classes have reduced this to define secularism as equality of all religions. Inherent in this is the in-built bias towards the religious faith of the majority. This, in fact, contributes to providing sustenance to the communal and fundamentalist forces today.

On this score as well, in today’s conditions, it is the Left that remains the most consistent upholder of secularism, spearheading the efforts to forge the broadest people’s unity against communalism and the steadfast fighter to defend the religious minorities; to ensure their security and equality as citizens of our country.

These are illustrative of some constituents of the ‘Idea of India’. The drawing in of the exploited majority of rural India; the drawing in of the socially oppressed people, especially those who continue to be subjected to obnoxious caste- based oppression and atrocities; the drawing in of the numerous linguistic nationalities; and the drawing in of the multi-religious Indian population, above all, the drawing in of all Indians in an inclusive path of economic and social justice, constituting the core of the inclusionary ‘Idea of India’, remains an unful-filled agenda. The struggles for realising these incomplete tasks constitute the essential agenda of the CPI-M and Indian Left.

Battle of Visions
The emergence of the conception of the ‘Idea of India’ was a product of the Indian people’s struggle. It arose from a continuous battle between three visions that emerged during the course of India’s struggle for freedom in the 1920s over the conception of the character of independent India. The mainstream Congress vision had articulated that independent India should be a secular democratic Republic. The Left, while agreeing with this objective went further to envision that the political freedom of the country must be extended to achieve the socio-economic freedom of every individual, possible only under socialism.

Antagonistic to both these was the third vision which argued that the character of independent India should be determined by the religious affiliations of its people. This vision had a twin expression—the Muslim League championing an ‘Islamic State’ and the RSS championing a ‘Hindu Rashtra’. The former succeeded in the unfortunate partition of the country, admirably engineered, aided and abetted by the British colonial rulers, with all its consequences that continue to fester tensions till date. The latter, having failed to achieve their objective at the time of independence, continue with their efforts to transform modern India into their project of a rabidly intolerant fascistic ‘Hindu Rashtra’. In a sense the ideological battles and the political conflicts in contemporary India are a continuation of the battle between these three visions. Needless to add, the contours of this battle will continue to define the direction and content of the process of the realisation of the ‘Idea of India’.

Further, the Indian Left argued then and maintains today that the mainstream Congress vision of consolidating the secular, democratic foundations of our Republic can never be sustainable unless independent India frees itself from its bondage with imperialism and breaks the stranglehold of feudal vestiges. The Congress party’s inability to take the freedom struggle to this logical culmination became clear by its serving the interests of the post-independence ruling classes — bourgeoisie in alliance with the landlords, led by the big bourgeoisie. This, by itself, weakens the foundations of a secular democratic Republic. First, it relegates the anti-imperialist social consciousness that forged the unity of the people during the freedom struggle to the background, thus permitting and buttre-ssing a social consciousness dominated by caste and communal passions. Secondly, instead of strengthening an inclusive India, it progressively excludes the growing majority of the exploited classes. This is resoundingly vindicated by our experience during these six decades of independence. This provides the ‘grist to the mill’ of the communal forces, or the third vision, to strengthen itself exploiting the growing popular discontent against the policies pursued by the ruling classes.

A mere declaration of the creation of a secular democratic Republic and its reassertion by the Congress today, by definition, remains limited in its ability to realise this inclusive ‘Idea of India’.

There is another equally important factor that prevents the realisation of the ‘Idea of India’. The path of capitalist development being pursued by the ruling classes is one where there is an increasing collaboration with international finance capital and in compromise with feudal landlords. The Indian capitalist path of development, hence, is not along the classic lines of capitalism rising from the ruins of feudalism but in compromise with it.

The inability to eliminate the vestiges of feudalism means, at the level of the super-structure, the perpetuation of the social conscio-usness associated with feudalism and other pre-capitalist formations. The domination of religion and caste, integral to the social consciousness of pre-capitalist formations, continue to remain powerful in today’s social order. The efforts at super-imposing capitalism only create a situation where the backwardness of consciousness associated with feudal vestiges is combined with the degenerative ‘consumerism’ of today’s globalised capitalist consciousness.

The Caste Factor: The process of class formation in India, as a consequence of such circumscribed capitalist development is, thus, taking place within the parameters of historically inherited structures of a caste divided society. It is taking place not by overthrowing the pre-capitalist social relations but in compromise with it. This results in the overlapping commonality between the exploited classes and oppressed castes in contemporary India. Class struggles in India, therefore, can advance only through simultaneous struggles against both, economic exploitation and social oppression.

Thus, at the level of the superstructure, feudal decadence is combined with capitalist degene-ration to produce a situation where growing criminalisation of the society, coexists and grows in the company of such social consciousness dominated by caste and communal feelings. Instead of overcoming such consciousness for the realisation of the ‘Idea of India’, precisely these elements that are sustained and exploited by the ruling classes for their political-electoral benefits.

Such a reality provides the fertile ground which engenders the current Rightward shift in Indian politics buttressing the efforts for the negation of the ‘Idea of India’ and the erection of a ‘Hindu Rashtra’ in its place.

Fascism? Does all this mean the emergence of fascism in India? The most authoritative and to date scientific analysis of the nature and emergence of European fascism was made by Georgi Dimitrov in his penetrating address to the Seventh Communist International in 1935. He defined fascism as the “open terroristic dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinistic and most imperialistic elements of finance capital”. The capturing of state power by fascism is not an ordinary succession of one bourgeois government by another but the substitution of one form of the ruling class state by another—bourgeois parliamentary democracy by an open terroristic dictatorship.

This came as a response, in Europe, of the ruling classes to the actual crisis that threatened its class domination. This was the case with the German monopoly capital, as a part of the global capitalist crisis of the ‘Great Depression’ that began in 1929, in the period preceding Hitlerite fascism. This threat emerged as a response to the crisis generated by the ruling classes’ own rule both from within its own camp as well as, and often simultaneously, with the challenge to its class rule by the toiling sections of the working people—the proletariat.

The situation obtaining in our country today is not similar to the period leading to the emergence of fascism in Germany. The threat of the immediate seizure of power by the proletariat is not yet on the agenda. Further, the crisis of the bourgeois-landlord class rule, notwithstanding the sharply increasing authoritarian tendencies, recently seen in the Uttarakhand developments and the undermining of institutions of parliamentary democracy, has not reached a stage where the jettisoning of parliamentary democracy by the ruling classes is on the immediate agenda.

Hence, the assumption of power by the RSS-led BJP does not mean the establishment of fascism in its classical sense. Undoubtedly, the RSS vision of its ‘Hindu Rashtra’ is a fascistic vision. However, if the RSS does succeed, then it is a qualitatively different situation. That, however, isthe situation that the revolutionary forces must work to render as unrealisable. The present situation, therefore, can be more appropriately described by the fact that the crisis of the bourgeois landlord class rule has reached a stage where one section of the ruling classes, the most reactionary section, represented by the RSS/BJP and the Saffron Brigade, has succeeded in capturing state power, at the moment. And, they are vigorously using this to advance their vision of establishing a fascistic ‘Hindu Rashtra’.

However, there are striking similarities in the propaganda methods employed by European fascism and the RSS. The RSS/BJP today adopt fascistic methods of appropriation of popular symbols, create a false consciousness of deprivation amongst the majority community and appeal to extreme jingoism as their methods to advance. Dimitrov had said: “Fascism acts in the interests of extreme imperialists but presents itself to the masses in the guise of a wronged nation and appeals to outraged ‘national’ sentiments.” In order to present the RSS as such a champion, a false consciousness is created that the Hindus had been and continue to be deprived, while, at the same time, generating hate against the Muslims (taking the cue from Hitler’s rabid anti-Semitism) to the effect that they are responsible for such a ‘deprivation’ of the Hindus. To achieve its goal of a ‘Hindu Rashtra’ it has perfected the Goebbelsian technique of ‘telling big enough lies frequently enough to make them appear as the truth’.

Georgi Dimitrov says: “It is in the interests of the most reactionary circles of the bourgeoisie that fascism intercepts the disappointed masses who desert the old bourgeois parties. But it impresses these masses by the vehemence of its attacks on the bourgeois governments and its irreconcilable attitude to the old bourgeois parties.”

Further, Dimitrov notes: “Fascism puts the people at the mercy of the most corrupt and venal elements but comes before them with the demand for ‘an honest and incorruptible government’ speculating on the profound disillusionment of the masses...fascism adapts its demagogy to the peculiarities of each country. And the mass of petty bourgeois and even a section of the workers, reduced to despair by want, unemployment and insecurity of their existence fall victim to the social and chauvinist demagogy of fascism.” (Dimitrov, Georgi, Selected Works, Volume 2, Sofia Press, 1972, page 12)

Dimitrov could well be talking about the RSS/BJP’s current campaigns and the people’s experiences with its control of the State since the 2014 general elections. This shows a chilling convergence with fascist methodology. Impor-tantly, this strengthens the grip of the ruling class hegemony, which requires to be urgently confronted.

Unless confronted, the very conception of the ‘Idea of India’ that we are discussing will be rendered redundant. At the same time, it is clear that the unity and integrity of our country and the unity of the social fabric of our immensely diverse society cannot be maintained unless the ‘Idea of India’ is fully realised. Such a realisation is only possible when the revolutionary forces in our country advance in order to beat back the current communal offensive that negates the ‘Idea of India’. This is the only manner in which the process of the unfolding of the ‘Idea of India’ can advance.

The Agenda
But then how can this be achieved? What constitutes the various elements of the agenda that must engage us in today’s conditions?

First, communalism divides the Indian people on the basis of their religious identity. This is not only detrimental to the security and livelihood of the religious minorities, but also undermines the unity and integrity of our country and people. By doing so, communalism disrupts the very unity of the most exploited classes in our society on whose strength alone the revolutionary movement can advance. The communal forces today, therefore, represent a lethal counter-revolutionary force in our country. This has to be vigorously combated and defeated by forging the broadest people’s unity.

The agenda that we are discussing today for reclaiming secular democracy requires, first and foremost, the strengthening of class and people’s struggles. The objective of such popular upsurges must be the strengthening of the Left and democratic forces in our country, which has to be based, in turn, on the basis of an alternative policy framework to the existing bourgeois-landlord class rule.

Secondly, there is a need to recognise the class-caste overlap that exists in our country today. Class struggle in India has essentially two elements—economic exploitation and social oppression. Class struggle in India, therefore, stands on these two legs. Unless both these aspects are simultaneously taken up by the revolutionary forces with equal emphasis, the class struggle cannot begin its walk forward, leave alone running ahead. Issues of social oppression centring around the obnoxious caste oppression will have to be a part of the new agenda as much as the issues against economic exploitation have traditionally been. This inte-gration of both these aspects is an important element of this new agenda.

Thirdly, the ‘Idea of India’ can never blossom unless the constitutional guarantee of equality “irrespective of caste, creed and sex” is scrupulously respected and implemented. Unless this is done, the confidence of the minorities in the Indian State cannot be strengthened. It is precisely playing upon this element of targeting religious minorities that the communal forces seek to consolidate their grip over State power. Championing the interest of the minorities is, hence, an important element of our agenda.

Fourthly, there are various popular and social movements that champion various important issues that need to be integrated in this struggle. Issues like environmental concerns are assuming a very serious dimension threatening the future existence of life on our planet. There are many others like the movements on the issues of children’s rights; for a universal public health system; for a security net to be guaranteed by the State for the old and disabled people; the movements against gender oppression and for gender equality etc. etc. A common ground must be found to integrate such popular social movements with the larger revolutionary and democratic movement. This is again an important element of this agenda.

In addition to this, there are many other aspects that would legitimately be part of this agenda whose final objective would be to consolidate the unity of our diverse people into a single force for creating a better India for our people and for our country by permitting the unfettered unfolding of the ‘Idea of India’.

Inaugural speech of EMS Smrithi by Sitaram Yechury at Thrissur on 13th June, 2016

#IdeaOfIndia #EMSSmrithi2016 #Thrissur Must tackle issues 

of both, economic exploitation and social oppression 


Thursday, March 19, 2015



CPI(M) Kerala State Secretary Com. Kodiyeri Balakrishnan delivering Com.EMS Memorial lecture after paying floral tribute in-front of Com. EMS Namboothiripad Sculpture in EMS Park in front of Kerala Legislative Assembly on Com. EMS's 17th Death Anniversary.

CPI(M) Polit Bureau members Com. Pinarayi Vijayan, Com M.A Baby, CPI(M) Central Committee Members Com. V.S Achuthanandan, Com. Vaikkom Viswan, Com. Thomas Isaac, Com. E.P Jayarajan, Com. K.K Shailaja were also present.

Friday, October 23, 2009

An Exceptional Communist

By Prakash Karat

JUNE 13, 2009 marks the birth centenary of E M S Namboodiripad, whose life and work has left an indelible imprint on the communist movement in India. Born in 1909, EMS's remarkable life spanned the entire gamut of the social and political movements of the 20th century in India.

As a young student he became the standard bearer for social reforms in the orthodox Namboodiri community to which he belonged. He became a Gandhian Congressman who participated in the Civil Disobedience Movement as a student and went to jail. He was one of the founders of the Congress Socialist Party when it was formed in 1934 at the all India level. He became a key organiser of the peasant movement against feudalism and imperialism in Malabar. By 1936, he joined the Communist Party, being among the first group of five members in Kerala.

Thus began the extraordinary journey of EMS as a communist who became the foremost leader of the communist movement. It is not possible to make a full and proper evaluation of EMS as a Marxist thinker and his great contribution to the communist movement in a short article. But there are five distinctive features which stand out in his revolutionary life.

Firstly, EMS was pre-eminent among all the communist leaders in his creative application of Marxist theory and practice. His extraordinary intellectual prowess enabled him to grasp the essence of Marxism and apply it in a creative fashion to Indian conditions. It is this outstanding ability which enabled EMS to become the first to lay down the theoretical basis for the abolition of landlordism in Kerala after a concrete study of the socio-economic conditions. He also had the unmatched capacity to translate theory into practice. His thesis on the jenmi-landlord system in Malabar became the basis for providing practical guidance to the developing peasant movement. His exposition of agrarian relations and the democratic content of the agrarian revolution laid the basis for the pioneering land reforms which were later initiated when he became the chief minister of the first Communist ministry in Kerala in 1957.

EMS also showed how a Marxist analysis of society and history should be conducted in his study of the evolution of the linguistic nationality formation of the Malayalis and Kerala society. His Aikya Kerala and the study of “National Question in Kerala” became the basis for the major democratic movement in post-independence India for the linguistic reorganisation of the states. On all the major questions of India's politics and society, EMS made an original contribution because of his firm grounding in Marxist theory. He analysed history, society, politics and culture from the Marxist standpoint in the most authentic manner. These interventions and views would provide the catalyst for discussions and debates amongst not only Left intellectuals but also among all thinking sections of society.

It would not be an exaggeration to state that no other communist leader has made such a contribution to the development of Marxist theory and practice in the ex-colonial countries or the developing world.

As a Marxist-Leninist, EMS was deeply committed to the cause of world socialism and internationalism. But after decades of experience of the international communist movement, the CPI(M) leadership of which EMS was part, broke from the practice of heeding the line emanating from Moscow. EMS and his comrades began the arduous quest to apply Marxism-Leninism to evolve the correct strategy and tactics of the Indian revolution based on their own experience. EMS played an important role in this process.

The second important feature was the pioneering role that EMS played in developing the correct perspective for the Communist Party's participation in parliamentary forums. He himself charted out the course for communist participation in government by becoming the chief minister of the first communist ministry to be formed in India in Kerala in 1957. The 28-month stint of the communist government blazed a new path by adopting land reform measures, democratic decentralisation and a pro-people police policy.
EMS throughout was firmly committed to democratic decentralisation. Both as a Party leader and as an administrator EMS conceived of and worked to execute a more federal and decentralised system from the centre to the states and down to the panchayats. It was EMS who did the most in translating the Left vision into public policy making and execution. To EMS must also go the credit for clearly demarcating from revisionism and parliamentarism when he drew the proper lessons of communist participation in government. He saw this as part of the class struggle and laid out clearly that participation in government should be accompanied by extra parliamentary work which will strengthen the working class movement.

The third distinctive feature was EMS's original contribution to the Marxist understanding of caste and class relations. After analysing the caste structure in Kerala society in the early decades of the 20th century, EMS drew out the class content of the caste configurations and was able to develop the communist outlook and practice which harnessed the anti-caste revolt and the democratic aspirations of the lower castes to the wider goals of the proletarian movement. Unlike many in the earlier generations of communists, EMS did not ignore the realities of the caste system and was able to utilise the impetus for social change for building the wider unity of the working people. In later life too, EMS also sought to apply Marxism to an ever changing caste-class correlation. As an authentic Marxist leader, EMS's interests spanned all aspects of society and social change. He was equally insightful in interpreting culture and on ways to build an alternative cultural hegemony to that of the ruling classes. From his earliest days fighting for social reform he was deeply committed to women's emancipation and as the general secretary he played a key role in the Party addressing issues of gender equality and women's oppression.

The fourth unique feature was EMS's unparalleled role in communicating to the people the ideas and the politics of the Party. No other communist leader had such a prodigious output in terms of articles, reviews, commentaries and books. In Kerala, there was a remarkable dialogue between EMS and the people through his daily writings.

EMS was the editor of a number of Party publications starting from Prabhatham which began as a paper of the CSP in 1935 in Kerala and ending in his last years once again as the editor in chief of Deshabhimani. In between he was the editor of a number of papers in the united party and of People's Democracy and The Marxist. The collected works of EMS in Malayalam which are being brought out will run into over a hundred volumes. These writings put together are an impressive and enduring legacy for the people and the country.

The fifth distinctive feature of EMS was that he was a communist of special mould. Despite his intellectual prowess he was modest and devoid of egoism. The love and reverence of the people of Kerala never turned his head. He lived a life of utmost simplicity after giving up his property to the Party. As a leader he set the standards for democratic functioning and by sheer example exercised a great moral influence over the cadres to live up to the expectations of the people.

For the Communist and Left movement in India the theoretical and practical work of E M S Namboodiripad is a rich and abiding legacy. The essence of that legacy – study of Marxist theory, its creative application to the live and concrete conditions of society, the firm belief in the emancipatory goal of socialism and a total identification with the people – has to be transmitted to succeeding generations of activists committed to the people's cause.

Peoples’ Democracy, June 14, 2009

CPI(M) Commemorates EMS Birth Centenary

KERALA: THE two day national seminar on the ‘World of EMS’ was held to commemorate the birth centenary of Comrade EMS Namboodiripad at his birth place, Perinthalmanna in Malappuram district. Inaugurating the seminar CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat recalled his experience with EMS Namboodiripad, who was the first chief minister of a democratically elected communist government in Kerala and the general secretary of the Party for nearly one and a half decade.
Prakash reiterated that the Party would continue its struggle against neo-liberal economic policies and the pro- imperialist stand of the UPA government. He also emphasised the importance of a self-critical analysis on the recent electoral setbacks and assured that the Party would examine whether it had distanced away from certain sections of the society. He also added that the electoral defeat is only temporary and the Party will continue to be the leading force in resisting the pro-rich, anti-people policies. The consolidated attacks of the right wing political parties, and other sectarian forces backed by imperialism can never hamper our struggle to resist neo-liberal economic policies and UPA government’s servile attitude towards imperialism, he said.

It is none but EMS Namboodiripad who identified the threat of majority communalism against democratic ethos and designed our strategy against the fascist forces. Even in the early eighties, he warned about the strengthening of the right wing Hindutva forces and their penetration into our secular society. Talking about the contributions of Comrade EMS Namboodiripad, Prakash described him as the most original and outstanding Marxist produced by the developing world in the 20th century. No other Marxist thinker theorised about the class and caste associations of our society as EMS did. He evaluated Indian national movement from a working class perspective and played a pioneering role in developing communist perspective for parliamentary forums.
The minister for local administration, Paloli Muhammedkutty presided over the seminar. Presenting a paper on democratic perspective of development, Prabhat Patnaik, vice chairman of the State Planning Board said that Kerala could never duplicate other states in development. If we imitate other states, much of our freedom would be negated and indiscriminate encouragement of capitalist investment would be dangerous to Kerala, he said.

The Finance minister T M Thomas Issac recalled the role played by EMS Namboodiripad in the successful implementation of decentralisation of power in Kerala.

The evening session kindled nostalgic revolutionary memories of Comrade EMS when Prakash Karat laid the foundation stone for EMS Memorial Complex on the banks of river Nila in a ceremony charged with emotions in which thousands of comrades and sympathisers participated. A Vijayaraghavan, MP presided over the function and the daughters of EMS, Dr Malathi, EM Radha and son in law Dr A D Damodaran attended. Dr Sumangala, the grand daughter of EMS sang melodious revolutionary songs belonging to the resistance music genre.

On the second day, the session started with CPI(M) Polit Bureau member S Ramachandran Pillai’s paper on ‘EMS and Coalition Politics in Kerala’. He urged the activists to follow the model of EMS in waging restless and sustained struggles against bourgeois social system and reactionary ideas. He also cautioned the Party activists not to confuse between the third front and the third alternative, which the Party seeks to build. He warned the Party activists to be vigilant against the influence the existing bourgeoisie society is trying to exert on them. Instead of being influenced by the unequal society, the communists should try to change the society, he said and called upon the activists to be prepared to face any challenges.

Many other learned scholars and practicing politicians presented their views on various facets of Comrade EMS’s life and related these to the contemporary task of the communist movement. Madhavankutty, famous journalist criticised the media for targeting CPI(M) adversely. Speaking on ‘Coalition Experiments and Media,’ he accused the media of giving shape to a ‘mega media rainbow coalition’ against the CPI(M). KKN Kuruppu, historian presented a paper on coalition politics in pre independent days. T N Seema, AIDWA state president spoke on Left perspective on women’s interventions.

The last session which dealt with EMS’s relationship with the cultural front was inaugurated by M A Baby, minister for Culture and Education. The session was presided over by Prabha Varma, the poet and was enriched by the presence of luminaries from the cultural front. Veteran poet Akkitham and Dr K G Poulose, vice chancellor of Kerala Kalamandalam participated. Baby described EMS as a leader who recognised the importance of cultural activities for the movements which work for social change.

The two days of discussion on EMS’s life, politics and contributions recharged the comrades with inspiration and confidence with the light radiating from the brilliance of the ‘Genius of the epoch’.
Kolkata Observes EMS Centenary

ADDRESSING a large indoor rally to remember E M S Namboodiripad, the legendary communist leader, in his centenary year, CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat said that the party would go to the people as in the past, learn from them and battle ahead, defeating all adversities.

The function was organised at the Calcutta University Centenary Hall on July 31 evening, with Biman Basu in the chair and CPI(M) state secretariat members on the dais.

Prakash Karat said EMS was not merely a theoretician, he was also of that rare quality that allowed one to put theory into practice. He would analyse the evolving situation and draw correct lessons from them. He placed a remarkable address on the problems plaguing the Malabar kisans when he was speaking at a legislative session in Delhi in the pre-independence years. This was the address that later served to inspire the land reforms movement in the country and gave birth much later to the movement for land reforms in places like Kerala and West Bengal.

EMS’s was also a correct analysis of the nationalities question in Kerala and, apart from calling for an integrated concept of what was then called a province, EMS also spoke firmly in favour of democratic decentralisation of power, financial as well as administrative.

Prakash Karat said the CPI(M) was at present under assault from the forces of reaction, indigenous and foreign. The attacks assumed a sharp dimension during the run-up to the 15th Lok Sabha elections and has continued since in Bengal.

From the date of the announcement of election schedule, 70 comrades have been martyred here in West Bengal, said Prakash Karat. In Kerala, the attack was open and overt. In Bengal the attack is covert and in the guise of ‘Maoism.’ Prakash Karat was bitterly critical of the politics of ‘Maoism’ being practiced in some parts of the country.

Analysing the election results of the 15th Lok Sabha elections, Prakash Karat pointed out that the results were an “exception in Bengal where the LF has been in office for 32 long years.” The CPI(M) has full confidence, and it would learn from the people the correct lessons to drive forward in the days to come. The life and achievements of EMS would serve as source on inspiration in this task.

Sunday, July 5, 2009



I came to know that CPI (M) Kerala State Committee and EMS Academy are observing this year the birth centenary of Comrade EMS Namboodiripad. This observation in honour of one of the outstanding exponents of Marxism of our times is a fitting tribute to his memory.

My relation with Comrade EMS spans for over 60 years and the bond that we shared during all these years was very cordial. We worked together for many years, taking many decisions to build up political–ideological and organizational movements achieving our goal to build an exploitation-free society. There were debates, exchanges of opinions and most importantly consensuses, in our joint effort to build a communist party based on a correct ideological path as a part of the collective leadership of the party. He was both a visionary and a communist with a strong practical bent of mind. He had a strong political acumen and at the same time he was a versatile and knowledgeable politician with commendable hold on a vast range of issues.

He was brought up in a wealthy and respectable Brahmin family, but he gave up his studies to join the movement for India’s independence from the colonial rulers. It was in the 1930s that he established contact with the communist revolutionaries of Bengal and Punjab. The country and generally the world, then was witnessing a turbulent phase that was marked by intense anti imperialist and anti fascist struggles. Comrade EMS too was influenced by the intensity of this struggles and he was slowly drifted into the socialist fold and then in the subsequent years started working to build the communist party.

His campaign against ill belief and superstitions and prevalent casteist feelings had started even earlier when he undertook the tedious task of reforms among his own family members. He took an exemplary role in building up the communist movement in the state of Kerala.

It was in 1939 itself that he became a part of the parliamentary politics in Kerala. In the early years of the 40’s he had to go underground and he went to work with the poor peasants and became a part of them by adopting their lifestyle in a befitting manner. The love and sensitivity that he showed towards the poor peasants remained an intrinsic part of his characteristics for the rest of his life.

He was elected to the leadership of the Party from the time since its very first congress in 1943. He made invaluable contribution as a leader of the Party.

In the fifties, when the party was in the midst of an inner- party ideological struggle he played a significant role by guiding the party and insisting on the fact that a communist party should retain its revolutionary characteristics. He was elected Party General Secretary in 1962 when the ideological struggle in the party became intensive. Comrade EMS boldly expressed his opinion in the party, and many a time we had debated on his opinions. I too, had some opinions in the party on ideological issues and later it was decided to incorporate both the opinions into the party fold for elaborate discussions. All of us at that time decided to work together to strengthen the party. After the division of our party in 1964 Comrade EMS took a vital role in building up party organization and also penning down our party’s programme. During his tenure as the general secretary from 1977 to 1992 he contributed commendably to shape up party’s political–organizational line.

From the fifties onwards he played an important role at the party centre and gave his vital inputs as part of the collective leadership of various movements. In the subsequent elections in 1957 when Kerala became a full fledged state under the Indian Union, the first communist government under his leadership emerged. It was under his chief ministership the first non - congress government was established in any state of independent India.

While we were not successful in West Bengal at 1957 assembly election, Kerala was building a new history under the leadership of Comrade EMS Namboodiripad. For the first time, the people elected a Communist government in the country and reposed on us a new responsibility for the days ahead. I still remember it was the third week of March 1957. As soon as we learnt of the news Kakababu, Comrade Muzaffar Ahmad, immediately sent a telegram to Trivandrum saying, "We have just heard of the success of the Communist Party in Kerala. We congratulate you on behalf of members of the party in West Bengal and all democratic forces in the state." The Communists alone got sixty seats. Independents backed by the Communists got five, PSP nine and the Congress won forty three seats. The total number of seats was 126. Comrade E M S Namboodiripad was elected the legislative Party leader with Achutya Menon as his deputy. E M S became the first Communist chief minister of the country. The other ministers included K. P. Gopalan, T. A. Majid, P. K. Sathan, Joseph Mundaseri, V. R. Krishna Iyer, K. R. Gouri Amma, Dr A. R. Menon and K. C. George.

I remember, on April 7, we called a meeting at the Kolkata Maidan to celebrate the formation of a Communist government in the country and the gaining of strength of the CPI in Bengal. The rally, which was presided over by Muzaffar Ahmad, began with a famous song which had been written in the memory of the martyrs of Kerala’s Malabar district. I proposed a resolution which said, "We have gone one step ahead with the victory of the Communist Party in Kerala. Our congratulations go out to the people of Kerala and we resolve to forge stronger ties among the democratic and peaceful forces in this state in the fight against imperialism."

After taking over as chief minister, E M S introduced a 16-point programme including major land reforms, farmers’ rights on their land and growth of the agricultural industry. He also appealed to the industrialists to take an active role in progress of the state's economy. The new government started work in earnest. In a matter of few days, the historic Ordinance which gave agricultural rights to 10 lakh labourers and five lakh sharecroppers came into being while one lakh acre of agricultural land was distributed to landless farmers. All political detenus were released. The Kerala government also announced that the police would not be used to break any democratic agitation.

All these were noble efforts, particularly compared with the experience of long Congress regimes earlier. This was a major responsibility; on the one hand the government had to function within the bourgeoisie-zamindar political structure while, on the other hand, the onus was on the government to lend a revolutionary role to the people’s struggle.

In 1952, the Communist Party had won 27 of the 60 Lok Sabha constituencies that it had contested while out of the 122 it had contested this time, 29 had been elected. But the number of votes polled for the party had doubled.

The party had formed the government in the state during second general elections by becoming the single largest party. Jawarharlal Nehru was the Prime Minister then, while his daughter, Indira Gandhi, was the president of the AICC. We all know how tirelessly Prime Minister Nehru and his daughter tried to prevent the Communists from coming to power in Kerala. However, they did not succeed.

E. M. S took over as chief minister amid a wave of people’s support and encouragement in Kerala. But on July 31, 1959, the President used Article 356 to dismiss the state Assembly.

There were many tactics which were adopted to prevent the Communist ministry from working to a programme. The AICC with Mrs Gandhi at its helm entered into an unholy alliance with reactionary and opportunistic forces and parties. A disinformation campaign was launched which said that the masses wanted the Kerala government to go. It isn’t exactly a top secret that Prime Minister Nehru had called E.M.S. and asked him the resign, dissolve Assembly and call fresh elections. But E.M.S. ignored this pressure tactics and thus the unrelenting efforts to dismiss the Kerala government continued.

The progressive attitude and some of the virtuous Bills on land reforms and the education system had set the cat among the pigeons in Kerala. These steps had come rudely shocked the vested interests in the state. The so-called popular "mass movement" against the Kerala government had not touched the majority of the people of the state because by the time, an agitation to protect the state government had spread throughout the nation. The people’s demand was to get the Congress out of Kerala.

When the disinformation campaign failed and the much expected mass movement against the Kerala government did not come by, the Centre resorted to Article 356 and imposed President’s rule in Kerala.

On June 6, E.M.S. had come to Calcutta and two lakh people were there to receive him at the Maidan. Women blew conch shells to welcome the first Communist Chief Minister of the country. I was in Delhi when the decision to impose President’s rule in Kerala was announced. Bhupesh Gupta and Dinesh Roy were there along with me. We had gone to present a memorandum of grievances against the West Bengal government.

On August 7, a huge rally was taken out which culminated in the Maidan protesting against the action in Kerala. On July 14, a resolution was adopted at the National Council of the CPI which rejected the proposal for re-election in Kerala.

On July 15, 1959 Triguna Sen, journalist Vivekananda Mukherjee, Dr Paresh Chandra Sen, Satyajit Ray, Susobhan Sarkar, Hemanta Mukherjee, Gopal Chandra Halder, Sambhu Mitra. Mihir Sen, Binoy Ghosh, Asitbaran, Suchitra Mitra, Mrinal Sen, Ritwik Ghatak and other intellectuals like Nandagopal Sengupta appealed to the President and the Prime Minister in which they said, "Those who are unified to oust the Kerala government by unholy means are working to strike at the roots of Indian democracy. We request that such efforts be stopped immediately. "A separate appeal entitled Intervention shall not be allowed in Kerala" was sent to the President by playwright Bijan Bhattarcharya, actor Bhanu Banerjee and scientist B D Nagchowdhury. On July 15, 1959, a letter signed by 17,336 residents of Calcutta was sent to the President carrying the same message.

On July 3, the party’s West Bengal state committee held a rally at the Monument which was attended by more than one lakh people. Indrajit Gupta and I spoke on the occasion. I said that the need of the hour was not to get disillusioned but defend the forces of democracy against Congress dictatorship with fortitude and discipline. A strong movement was necessary for this. Amar Bose of the Forward Bloc (Marxist) presided over this rally. On the same day, when the demand to place the Kerala Governor’s report in the Lok Sabha was rejected, the majority of the Opposition members staged a walkout. At that time, Dangey was the leader of the Communist Parliamentary Party. On that very day, I was addressing a press conference in Delhi where I placed the views of the West Bengal State Council of the party. It was during this press conference that we got news that the Kerala government had been dismissed.

Shortly before going to Delhi, I had met Dr Roy. He had told me that he was against the tactics of the Congress in Kerala and that he did not like the way an elected government was being harassed. He had indicated this to the Congress Working Committee. I remember Dr Roy telling me that it needed a strong hand to run a government. I asked him what he would have done if he had been in E.M.S.’s shoes. The Chief Minister replied, “I would have arrested all the agitators and taken strict administrative steps." Needless to say, we had ourselves been subject to the "strong administrative steps" as suggested by the Chief Minister. Bhupesh Gupta and I went to meet Feroze Gandhi after the press conference. He did not stay in the residence of the Prime Minister at that time and had shifted to one of the flats allotted to parliamentarians on North Avenue. While asking us to sit, Feroze Gandhi said "A murder has been committed today. Democracy has been killed in Kerala." That day, he told us many other stories. That does not require mention here.

However, during this brief tenure the state government embarked on radical land reforms and had taken concrete steps on democratization of education system and strengthening health facilities and took steps to uphold the rights of workers and farmers. The stand taken by EMS government acted as a torchbearer for future struggle in the history of Indian democracy. He was successfully able to consolidate the struggle both inside and outside of the Parliament. His legendary skills helped in shaping our party’s political strategy in the later stages of struggle.

In 1967 assembly elections, non-Congress governments came up in eight states of India, including West Bengal. In Kerala again a non-Congress government was formed under the stewardship of Comrade EMS. But unfortunately CPI, a partner of the left withdraw themselves from this government and joined hands with the Congress. Again the non-Congress government in Kerala though destined to fall was able to have an impact by introducing pro-people policies distinct from its predecessors. This invaluable experience helped us immensely while we managed the successful Left coalition in the State of West Bengal in 1967 and 1969 as part of the United Front government.

Comrade EMS was a glaring example of a communist leader, who showed all the qualities that one communist should have, and he rightfully had earned accolades, nationally and internationally.

Though he was extremely busy to keep his political and organizational commitments, still he managed to find out time to write the history of India from the Marxist point of view. He contributed immensely to Marxist literature. His writings on the history of India’s Freedom struggle, trade union movement, and cultural movement are considered to be masterpieces. His fame as an eminent author and as an acclaimed intellectual was spread even beyond the Party circles. His opinions, writings also served as guidelines to our party at some of the important junctures of national politics. Comrade EMS was not only a national leader but also a leader of the international communist movement.

Apart from Party Polit Bureau and central committee meetings we met and exchanged each other’s views many a time. His simplicity, exemplary honest behavior, his life as a communist earned respect of those who came in touch with him. In his death the country has lost a prodigal and idealistic personality.

Comrade EMS’s contribution in all these seven long decades will be a milestone not only for our party but to the entire nation. After 1992 due to illness his movement was restricted to his home state of Kerala though he regularly wrote his opinions about different subjects to various party forums on different issues and was a regular contributor to the party’s literary circuit. His ability to study sequentially different issues was another rare attributes of his memorable life.