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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.
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
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 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.
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’.
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.