Wednesday, December 10, 2008



As we left Thiruvanthapuram moving steadily in a left-leaning curve, we started to leave behind us the suburbia of the large and bustling city of Thiruvanthapuram. We were climbing all the while. It was the Malabar hills along the ridged nestle of which we were passing through as the circuitous but a sturdily built route became ever narrower.

We motored through and passed by Peyadi, Thirumala, and Kalaimundu, touching the margins of a plethora of small segments of tiny urban habitations -and had just passed the large S K hospital, when the air suddenly started to turn cool and moist. We were right amidst the mountain range- historically called the Western Ghats- itself, having passed the foothills.

We were soon entering the impressive 40 feet high brown-stone portals of the EMS Academy amidst some of the densest greens we have ever encountered. Nominated by the Bengal unit of the CPI (M), we had come here attend the Central Party School being organised for the comrades who worked in the Party media.

The Academy the foundation of which was laid back in 1999 by the late lamented general secretary of the CPI (M) comrade Harkishan Singh Surjeet, was named after the Communist pioneer and legendary Marxist chronicler of the annals of Indian history, Elamkulam Manakkal Sankaran [‘EMS’ as he is still popularly referred to] Namboodiripad (June 13, 1909 – March 19, 1998), and even as work goes on we were very impressed indeed with what has already been achieved.

The 40-odd acre of a medium-sized plateau on the western side of the Malabar hills had been carved out to produce a great big ground of rolling lands. On small hillocks were constructed beautifully stucco-roofed buildings, some very sprawling, some deceptively small. There was that vast mail buildings on the first floor of which 87 of us were fairly lost in the lecture hall surrounded by a wide verandah on all four sides. The Malabar hills appeared close enough to touch. There was this cavernous canteen hall, and an equally large library, which is still being built up. All walls of all the buildings carried large photographs of EMS, some them dating back to the time when EMS had been sworn in as the first Communist chief minister of a state in India.

Dr A Pratahapa chandran Nair, retired university teacher of solid state and nuclear physics, and a leader of the college and university teachers’ movement, briefed us about the Academy. The campus contained a never-ending, as we imagined, rubber plantation. There were massive patches of Tapioca trees.

There were plants and trees, some herbal, some flowery, some roots-and-tubers, some creepers the wide variety of which left us a complete non-botanist stumped for answers. This did not prevent us from enjoying the green that apparently stretched to the horizon. Only 10% of the vast plateau has been built upon and that would be about it, we were assured. We could see and enjoy myriad types of insects, flying and crawling, birds including the rare white hawk, and reptiles of various sizes, length, and shape.

Dr Nair told us that the Academy housed Party education centres. Party education in Kerala is a central hub of party functioning as it should well be elsewhere too. Classes are regularly held in the Academy with the faculty suggested by both the Kerala unit of the Party and the central committee with the latter giving the final stamp of approval.

Party education is imparted to various target groups throughout the year by a highly-proficient faculty with guest lecturers often participating in the teaching-learning process. Our classes were addressed, for example by Dr Nageswar Rao of the Osmania University who came down from Hyderabad to talk about ‘media and social responsibility.’

The massively wide swathe of rubber plantation is organised in a truly Communist fashion. The workers- men and women, the latter outnumbering the former- have formed a co-operative under the initiative of the Party. The proceeds of the sale of raw and processed, high quality rubber (milky white and thick as honey) is divided up by half, with the workers getting 50% of the sale and the rest going to funding and running the Academy. The workers we spoke to appeared quite content and happy with the state-of-affairs.

The principal function of the Academy is the imparting of Party education. The Academy organises classes at different functioning tiers of the Kerala unit of the CPI (M) – district committees, zonal committees, local committees, branches, and for various frontal organizations of the CPI (M). The Academy is no island of excellence. It seamlessly merges its activities with the CPI (M)-run Panchayats around. The Academy itself is situated right in the midst of the Vilappil village Panchayat.

There is an exchange if political-organisational ideas with the elected members of the rural bodies where the Academy provides the guidance, and the Panchayat members are the eager students – in such topics as Marxism-Leninism, political economy, and party organisation, as well as the pro-people and pro-poor rĂ´le of the Panchayat bodies in three tiers.

The future plans, Dr Nair informed us, include development of a science and technology centre, a horticultural centre, and a bio-diversity park. A recent visit by a team from the People’s Republic of China has seen plans afoot to set up a physical culture centre and a stadium at the Academy: a healthy mind in a healthy body.

As we were coming out of the Academy for this time, the Kerala Party simply would allow us to do so with a heavy heart. We saw a fresh batch of students, 155 local committee members all, trooping in to take their classes. This is the sixth student batch of LCM’s we are told. We exchange a cheery Red Salute and pass along each other’s way – with a very joyful frame of mind, the depression of departure all gone in a flash of fervour. INN

EMS Academy Hosts Party Media School

Towards Setting Peoples' Agenda: Changing Role Of Media

V Srinivasa Rao

IN the era of globalisation, the role of media has changed drastically in both technical and professional areas. Due to the availability of information through various channels like internet, SMS etc., readers and viewers of media also want to be informed accurately and on time. With the advent of 24-hour news channels, the character of print media is also changing. Most of our Party media in various states is mainly dependent on the print media.

Twenty years ago when the discussion on Party media had come up, a broad understanding was reached: 'Party newspapers should be run as comprehensive news papers and not confine themselves to just expressing views'. Lot of changes had taken place in our Party media after that. New machines with multi-colour printing were introduced, our offices were fully computerised with high-brand width networking in the technical side and new editions were started together with the introduction of district editions. Even though all these developments have taken place, our media is still lagging behind because of the high costs and skills. As far as professional skills are concerned in-house training methods are introduced. Apart from training, regular reviews were also helping us to rectify our mistakes and shortcomings from time to time. But this development is not uniform. Particularly the periodicals that are run in the weaker states are lagging behind in various aspects.

During this period, the media in general has changed a lot. Every newspaper is expressing its own views in the front-page 'news items' itself. Special stories, cooked up to serve their own agendas are being published. All these years, bourgeoisie media is affectively interacting with the readers and influencing them with their 'news'. Taking into consideration all these changes, a year and half ago the in-charges of Party media met and discussed about these trends.

In this context Party decided to hold a school and workshop for comrades working in Party media. The school was held from November 1-3, 2008 in EMS Academy, Thiruvanantapuram. 87 comrades attended from various dailies, weeklies and Party periodicals. Sitaram Yechury while inaugurating the school dealt with the forms and methods of media in the era of globalisation. He emphasised the need for strengthening the Party media both professionally and technically. He also explained about the implications of financial crisis and how the bourgeoisie media had reported it to serve its interests. He directed the comrades working in the Party media to monitor the news content-that which is useful to the people and the country and that which is not. He also explained the need of timely interference and the developments taking place in mass movements. He stated that this is the right time to place peoples' agenda affectively on the basis of real mass issues.

V Srinivasa Rao, member of Central Secretariat presented a review report since the last meeting. On the basis of this report, a discussion was held in two stages: in the first stage, state-wise and in the second stage theme-wise discussion was held. Delegates were divided into six groups to discuss on the themes such as news resources, agitation-propaganda methods, lay-out design, managerial issues etc. Finally Sitaram Yechury summed up these discussions. In his concluding remarks he exhorted the comrades to explore the opportunities available in the current situation and also advised to follow offensive ideological positions to counter imperialist globalisation propaganda and for social progress to make use of the present favourable situation.

On the second day, there were three lectures exclusively on professional subjects. Dr K Nageshwar, Professor in Journalism, Osmania University, Hyderabad explained about media and social responsibility. Prominent journalist and reporter of Frontline, Parvathi Menon presented a paper on recent trends in journalism. M A Baby, member of the Central Committee presented a paper on media and globalisation. These three subjects gave an idea on the present trends in the field of journalism and specific responsibilities of journalists working with a pro-people agenda.

On the last day, Nilotpal Basu took a class on recent political developments and the stand of CPI (M). In the evening, Deshabhimani, Malayalam daily hosted the delegates in their headquarters in Thiruvanatapuram. On this occasion, delegates interacted with the editorial staff and managers of Deshabhimani. This interactive session helped them understand various aspects.

This three-day workshop was a good experience to all those who attended the classes. Delegates hoped that even though this is a modest beginning, workshop and classes of this type would certainly help them a lot. CPI(M) Kerala state committee, EMS Academy and Deshabhimani made all the arrangements for this workshop and classes to ensure that the delegates do not face any difficulties.

V Srinivasa Rao, member of Central Secretariat CPI(M).

EMS of 1957 vintage

The transformation which EMS strove to bring about was true to the Marxian observation that men do not make history under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly found, given, and transmitted from the past.


E.M.S. NAMBOODIRIPAD is mortally no more with us. But it is blasphemy to say he is dead. He lives in the hearts and minds of millions of his countrymen and a large number of admirers abroad. Tidal waves of tributes, crores of bosoms in grief and obituary references from all over the globe testify to the great visionary's matchless contribution to revolutionary thought and his dynamic leadership luminously spanning over a semi-centennial space. But a dialectical scan of the historic stem of EMS' governance in Kerala in 1957 that stunned the world as the first democratically elected Communist Party government through constitutional parameters and courageous ballotry may well reveal the ideological mastery and adroit ability of EMS to advance a radical administration, with a margin of a single vote giving him the majority in the House.

He administered the State flawlessly according to the rules of the game, running a radical government with people's support despite hostile vested interests, including the Congress bosses who were in a hurry, waiting in vain to intervene and dismiss him from power on the pretext of constitutional breakdown, democracy being in jeopardy and the rule of law being in peril. EMS, with the versatile vision of a Communist statesman and the flexible realism of a political activist, conformed to the constitutional paradigm and political compulsion of the Nehru era.

What was the secret of this masterpiece of statecraft which held at bay the reactionary cabals and cliques and enabled this radical leader to push through his socialistic programmes? He adopted a strategy that dumbfounded his adversaries in politics by declaring that his government would implement the progressive policies of the Nehru Congress and the Avadi thesis which the Congress high command professed and consistently betrayed. He insisted that land reforms, which was the nation's pledge on gaining Independence, would be implemented without delay, that peasants would not be evicted by latifundists with clout, that labour would be assured of a fair deal and that the police would not interfere in peasant struggles and labour strikes on the side of the landlords and industrial magnates. Social justice in many dimensions would be accomplished for the people and promotion of agriculture and industry would be given high priority. People's participation would be a policy imperative.

These items on the agenda were supplemented by the liberation of education from the stranglehold of vested interests and radical reforms in this field were brought about. Electricity generation and tapping of irrigation potential, legal aid to the poor and easy access to justice found high place in the contemplated transformation of the economic order. Administrative reforms, which would simplify bureaucratic processes, decentralise the system to bring the people closer to government, were also integral parts of the EMS perspective. His dynamism, clarity of thought and leftist dialectic enabled him to carry his party and progressive sections of people with his line of thinking. A leader of light and learning was at the wheel with firm ideological grip.

Here at last was an awakening of people's power, inspired by a leader whose integrity, credentials of struggles and sacrifices were above suspicion and whose life of simplicity and accessibility was a marvellous model for the rest of the country. He drew a monthly salary of Rs. 350; so did his partymen in the Ministry, although the statutory entitlement was higher. Small wonder that he could command collective reverence and shared responsibility from his colleagues in the Cabinet and the legislators and members of his party.

What was remarkable about this legendary figure in power was that his imaginative grasp of the changes necessary, and their priorities were impeccable. All of us, Ministers, agreed with our obligations as suggested by the leader. We had disagreements no doubt, but not on fundamentals. Wherever minds differed or new policies were launched, there were informal discussions and creases of differences were ironed out. EMS would listen with respect and consent to modifications if convinced, and a consensus was always evolved. We were equals, with EMS being more equal than the rest since, obviously, he had a higher stature, a nobler perception and a longer political experience.

He was among the rarest of the rare in power.

There was a healthy practice cultivated during those days among the members of the Cabinet and leaders of the party - meeting informally almost every week to exchange views and arrive at a community of thought in executing policies. The Left ideology was never forsaken, but the constitutional and other legal limitations were always complied with. The towering personality of EMS made this epic story of Communist rule in Kerala a legend for the country as a whole. Of course, as a Marxist he knew that people, not leaders, make history. He proved, under the difficult circumstances of a Nehru at the Centre, communal forces and Congress politicians in subversive hunger for power, that "men make their own history but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly found, given, and transmitted from the past." The transformation which EMS strove to produce was true to this Marxian observation.

I DISTINCTLY recollect Dhebar as Congress president complaining to me about Namboodiripad's police policy of non-interference in peasant and labour struggles. I explained to him that whenever there was violence, the police would be vigilant, but whenever goondas of employers and landlords threatened workers and peasants with violence, the police would prevent such traditional tactics which distorted social justice and foiled the just claims of workers and peasants. Dhebar could not remonstrate anymore.

Land reforms were integral to social change as India was still feudal in the countryside and the people were asphyxiated by casteist and communal oppression. National liberation had to begin with the land and our edifice of freedom was to be built on the slogan of "land to the tillers". EMS knew the pulse of the people and gave broad guidelines for the transformation process. Thus a pioneering adventure in distributive agrarian justice was given statutory shape. All that the Revenue Minister and Law Minister did was to implement the clear ideas of EMS. Whenever there was doubt, all of us discussed together, hammered out differences and reached an agreed solution. Thus came into being the Kerala Agrarian Relations Bill. Of course, the Supreme Court struck down the Bill on a technical ground. The court could knock down a Bill but could not wipe out a militant demand of the people. So land reforms reincarnated substantially in the same form and no one can refuse to attribute this glorious achievement to EMS who was leading Kerala - in essence, the nation - from its feudal slumber. Regrettably, many parts of India still remain primitive and under the heels of de facto landlordism.

In the field of education, Prof. Joseph Mundassery, the Education Minister, under the guidance and intrepid backing of EMS, started educational reforms which remind one today of the colossal blunder of the hostile forces that conspired to create nightmares among their followers about the Bill which was introduced in the Assembly and passed. Of course, the Church and other reactionary establishments started 'Operation Overthrow'. It must be remembered that with the tacit connivance of the Congress high command and Central government departments, this upsurge took a violent turn, throwing the rule of law to the winds and violating all norms of democracy and constitutional order. The State Government desisted from using the police and insisted on minimal force where engineered clashes threatened the peace of the State. I was Home Minister and can claim that never in free India's history was so little force used against so large a violent turbulence masterminded by the Church, the Nair Service Society (NSS) and other vested interests supported by motivated dollars from abroad and concealed support from the Congress leadership. Political memory may be short and so, I may remind the present generation of Indians that, aided by American dollars, para-military training was being imparted in several Church compounds for the battle to oust the legally constituted EMS Government. I had condemned this Christoper's movement in the House as Home Minister. And yet not one was put in preventive detention and prisons were reformed to comport with human dignity - the best then in the country and I was the Minister for Prisons.

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) had held a conference in Delhi in late 1958 and eminent jurists gathered there were misled into the impression that there was a breakdown of the Constitution in Kerala State. So the Secretary-General of the ICJ visited Kerala to see for himself whether there was violation of the rule of law and departure from the norms of democracy. I spent hours with him and discussed every facet of the law and order situation. He was thoroughly satisfied that the police policy of the State was in harmony with the norms of democracy. He visited Chennai the next day and, addressing a gathering in the Cosmopolitan Club there, presided over by Justice A.S.P. Aiyar, said how he had met and held long discussions with the Home Minister of Kerala and added a passage pregnant with meaning: "Either the Home Minister was a mota Communist and he did not know that; or I was a Communist and did not know that; so complete was the identity of views on the democratic situation in Kerala." This passage was communicated to me by Justice Aiyar the very next day.

Congress general secretary Sucheta Kripalani came with similar grievances and so I called her for tea and explained to her our position. She left with no answer. The violent crisis persisted, fertilised by instigation from abroad and from Delhi. The Congress party in the State conveniently fished in troubled waters and gave leadership to this movement of chaos and anarchy. Namboodiripad requested me to apprise Nehru of the shocking developments, organised by the vested interests of Kerala and abetted aggresively by the Congress party. Many within the Congress, like V. K. Krishna Menon, did not agree with this unconstitutional programme of action. Under the direction of EMS, I met Nehru at Ooty and explained to him that under the hegemony of his party (of which Indira Gandhi was then president) the Church, the NSS and other reactionary forces were conspiring to tear up the Constitution of India and the Kerala regime which implemented the great promises of its Preamble. Nehru seemed stunned and asked 'Indu' to discuss the matter with me. That formality was a ritual and Nehru's condemnation was formal. EMS and his Government were unconstitutionally overthrown by the misuse of the obnoxious Article 356, invoking a theory of a wall of separation between the people and the government.

HISTORY, when retold with authenticity, will reveal the great developmental work executed by the EMS Ministry. New industries were started, false charges were resisted and dauntlessly we marched on without fear of honest contradiction. I may claim that so much was done in so short a span to put Kerala on the map of dynamic socialist advance under the luminous and dialectically guided leadership of one man, EMS. There was no personality cult and there was no pomp or propaganda either. I could and did sometime disagree, and frank exchange of views resolved friction.

In every field we acted collectively. New medical and engineering colleges, new irrigation projects and hydel plants were constructed. There were many agricultural reforms. On the whole the Legislative Assembly itself was lively and constructive. Many new courts were started; many legal aid programmes were initiated. Party cadres never interfered in judicial matters. The Chief Justice of Kerala was asked in high secrecy by G.B. Pant, the then Union Home Minister, whether the Communist cells were influencing crime investigations and his reply was clearly in the negative. Chief Justice K.T. Koshi himself told me this.

Nehru came to Thiruvananthapuram to see for himself what all the ballyhoo was about. He told the Cabinet that he had three points to raise with us. First, he wanted a certain section of the Education Bill to be suspended. Secondly, he wanted a case of police firing to be judicially investigated (Florey's case). And, thirdly, he desired that the 32 charges Asoka Mehta had raised in Parliament against the Kerala Government - an outrageously novel stratagem - should be inquired into. We took a day's time, had consultations among ourselves and with the party and met Panditji to tell him that we were willing to suspend a section of the Education Bill, were prepared to order a judicial probe into the police firing and finally, were agreeable to Jawaharlal Nehru himself looking into the Asoka Mehta charges; and if he found us guilty we were willing to resign. Nehru was astonished and perplexed and went back to report to his partymen who would be satisfied with nothing short of a death sentence on the Ministry, that is, the dismissal of the Government. When I met Nehru the next day he looked pale and almost comatose. I have a photograph of a dazed Panditji with me near him. Later, in Delhi, he surrendered and President's rule was imposed.

EMS was a great statesman and took this contra-constitutional action with the firmness of a profound Communist. Later he came back to power. Still later, he shone in India's sky as a great thinker, a prolific writer and speaker, a spotless statesman who will be remembered for long as one like whom few have lived in free India.

V.R. Krishna Iyer, a former Judge of the Supreme Court was a Minister in the Communist Government in Kerala led by E.M.S. Namboodiripad, which assumed office in 1957.
Vol. 15 :: No. 08 :: Apr. 11 - 24, 1998

The tireless writer


THE talk in the streets is that violence and non-violence are mutually exclusive. Following this, it is axiomatically held in the political field that the Marxian and Gandhian ideologies cancel each other at least in theory. But keen students have discovered that what stands out between these two philosophies is more their consanguinity than their contradiction. I have found that this view if extended to a relative study of the personalities of Marx and Gandhiji would unravel hitherto unknown affinities between these two world leaders.

Let us study one of these affinities. Both Marx and Gandhiji were tireless writers, their literary output being unusually massive. They did not take to the mission of writing casually, but in a severely professional manner, pressing into service all their innate skills and proficiencies. The stupendous corpus of writing they bequeathed to the world underscores the creative affinity of their selves. When every ten minutes from a quarter hour in one's wakeful life for about six decades is devoted to either speaking or writing, this incredibly corpulent mass of about tens of thousands of printed pages would be the inevitable result.

The hundred royal-size volumes of the collected works of Gandhiji is an instance illuminating the above principles.

The second would be the works of E. M. S. Namboodiripad, which has not yet been collected in their entirety. But if a rough and ready reckoning of the vast physical extent of the works left behind by him could be attempted, the final score would place him as a close runner-up after Gandhiji in this likely contest.

The sturdy foundation for EMS' literary inspirations was laid during his college days. It was none other than the doyen of social reform in Kerala, V. T. Bhattathiripad, who initiated him into the secrets of writing literary and journalistic pieces for his organ Unni Nampoothiri. The first book Nampoodiripad wrote was about Jawaharlal Nehru. All these tentative footsteps in the field of writing were taken in the early part of the 1930s. This ceased only with the final breath of the writer.

The very number count of this body of writing, under various genres and classification, would be a shattering experience. The books authored by EMS in Malayalam come to 75. In English, the number of books would be about 15, including such works as A Short History of the Peasant Movement in Kerala, The Mahatma and his Ism, Marxism and Literature and Selected Writings. A political leader of great intellectual capability that he was, he had always been a vigorous pamphleteer. He had a flair for writing polemics on all the live contemporary political, social and literary issues. The total number of all these could be as high as 200.

Another unchartered area in the writing field covers his articles on a variety of subjects published in various journals, which emerge in an interrupted stream of printed matter. Add to this the introductions he gave to authors, which enhanced the reputations of the works. Then come the columns he contributed for journals such as Chintha, Desabhimani and People's Democracy, besides Frontline.

The bewildering range and variety of these writings is itself a tribute to the ever-alert, computer-like intellect of the author. But the fastidious among the readers would not be carried away by mere proclivity. They would sniff around for quality. Profusion in creation generally tends to take away quality from artistic and intellectual productivity.

This happened neither in the case of Gandhiji, nor in the case of EMS. It was Edward Thompson, the British poet and critic, who escorted Gandhiji to the Round Table Conference as his private secretary; he confessed that he failed invariably to pick any error in the statements dictated by Gandhiji.

Namboodiripad would not pardon himself for any stylistic shortcomings in his works. For he was a writer with finicky tastes who would not allow himself to deviate from the King's Malayalam. His concern for purity and quality in Malayalam writing was as profoundly genuine as that of any good Malayalam writer. He, in fact, constituted himself as a one-man army to fight for the cause of good Malayalam. His mastery was heard at all the forums of Malayalam writers and journalists.

The countless writings notwithstanding, his style has unfailingly impressed the reader by its care in avoiding the pitfalls of verbosity, looseness in expression, needless exuberance and long-windedness. In his writings, the celebrated aphorism of Buffon - "Style is the man"- came to life.
Namboodiripad the person led a simple life, was austere in his habits and was lofty in his thinking. His style does not take another way. His style may look dry, but it only means that he has avoided unwanted fat and padding. The inartistic verbal tendencies rearing their heads in modern journalism and literary prose, such as inappropriate exaggeration and subjective excesses in imagination and chaotic rumbling, are hard to find in the written and spoken words of EMS. His speech when transcribed could go to print unedited.

To me it seems that EMS was at heart influenced by Gandhiji, though his intellect was dominated by Marx. His style had the qualities of Gandhian simplicity, clarity and lack of artificiality.

EMS wrote as he lived, his writing cannot be separated from his life - an integration few writers could achieve.

Sukumar Azhicode, orator and critic, was the Chairman of the National Book Trust, New Delhi.

A select bibliography of EMS' publications in English :

A Short History of the Peasant Movement in Kerala (1943)
The National Question in Kerala (1952)
The Mahatma and his Ism (1958)
Problems of National Integration (1966)
What really happened in Kerala (1966)
Economics and Politics of India's Socialist Pattern (1966)
Kerala Yesterday Today and Tomorrow (1967)
India under Congress rule (1967)
Conflicts and Crisis (1974)
Indian Planning in Crisis (1974)
Marxism and Literature (1975)
How I became a Communist? (1976)
Crisis into Chaos (1981)
Kerala Society and Politics: A Historical Survey (1984)
A History of the Indian Freedom Struggle (1986)
Reminiscence of an Indian Communist (1987)
Nehru: Ideology and Practice (1988)

EMS as a historian

Namboodiripad's engagement with history was not academic but an inevitable part of his involvement with politics.


HISTORY had a central place among the intellectual and scholarly interests of E.M.S. Namboodiripad. A substantial part of his voluminous writings - books, pamphlets and articles in both English and Malayalam - deal with history. They mainly cover two areas: the history of Kerala and the history of the national liberation movement. To the study of both he brought an analytical mode to bear that was refreshingly original.

As EMS has often stated, his engagement with history was not academic but an inevitable part of his involvement with politics. Concerned with the transformation of society on democratic and egalitarian lines, he could not but be interested in the way the present was historically constituted. But his scholarship did not remain confined to this political purpose; it scaled heights and reached out to areas which became the envy of many a scholar. His works generated intense debate, within both popular and academic circles.

EMS' ability to deal with historical subjects was evident even during the freedom struggle. His dissent note to the Report of the Tenancy Commission is generally reckoned as an expression of his radical commitment, but it was equally a clear indication of his historical insights. However, his first important work on history, Keralam: Malayalikalude Mathrubhumi (Kerala: The Motherland of Malayalis), was published in 1948. A revised version in English, The National Question in Kerala, was published in 1952. A further expanded and revised edition, entitled Kerala Yesterday Today and Tomorrow, was brought out in 1967.

EMS achieved two objectives through these works. First, he outlined the course of social and political transformation from ancient times through feudalism and colonialism towards a united peoples' democratic Kerala. Secondly, he traced the formation of the identity and personality of Kerala as embodied in the democratic struggles of the labouring castes and classes. While doing so, he focussed on the material imperatives which made social transformation possible and the role and intervention of different social classes which either facilitated or retarded this process. Understandably, his analytical mode, informed by Marxist method, aroused criticism and debate, more so among scholars in Kerala. He was dubbed by some as a "feudal socialist" and as a Namboodiri who was not able to overcome his caste prejudices. For a person who, even when young was part of a movement which sought to change "Namboodiris into human beings", the accusation must have been more amusing than hurtful.

EMS attracted criticism principally because of his characterisation of pre-Aryan society and his description of the process of caste formation in Kerala. His critics were of the view that EMS did not give due recognition to the achievements of pre-Aryan culture. They held that his sympathies lay with Aryan culture, because of which he tended to lionise it at the expense of the pre-Aryan. They also attributed this to his upbringing and identity as a Namboodiri.

Responding to this criticism, EMS argued that he did not agree with the view either of pre-Aryan inferiority or Aryan superiority. Both, according to him, were untrue and unscientific. He questioned the wisdom of counterposing Aryan against pre-Aryan and suggested that such attempts were part of the process of legitimation of vested interests:
"This new theory of Dravidian superiority is as unscientific as the theory of Aryan superiority. For, it goes against all the accepted conclusions of historical research, which have conclusively proved the indivisible links between social and family institutions on the one hand and the stage of civilisation on the other."

The second issue related to the process of caste formation in Kerala. In contrast to the then existing view that migration was the main cause of caste differentiation, EMS focussed on social changes internal to society. Migration and invasion, he held, were only catalysts which facilitated and hastened the process of differentiation. He advanced this opinion more in the nature of a hypothesis, rather than as a conclusion. He thereby suggested a line of further enquiry and validation, which still remains influential in historical scholarship.

A major part of the writings of EMS on Kerala deals with the nature of colonial subjection and the character of popular struggles against it. His main interest was to identify the forces which enabled the realisation of a united Kerala. He saw in this political project the expression of the democratic aspirations of the people, which were expressed in a variety of struggles, oriented around both caste and class. His analyses of the Malabar rebellion of 1921 and the reform movement inspired by Sree Narayana Guru are rooted in this perspective.

EMS was the first to highlight the anti-imperialist and anti-feudal character of the Malabar rebellion, and at the same time to point to the dangers inherent in a rebel consciousness circumscribed by religion. He pointed out that the rebellion was both a call for action and a warning. About its alleged communal character, he stated:
"It is far from the truth to say that the rebellion was a communal riot, that the objective of the rebels was the destruction of Hindu religion and that the six months of rebellion were six months of anti-Hindu atrocities... All this, however, does not mean that religious fanaticism was totally absent in the rebellion. The numbers of forced conversions which did take place cannot by any stretch of imagination be explained by any other motive than religious fanaticism... One can and should, however, state explicitly that the main force behind the rebellion was not fanaticism which was simply a by-product..."

AMONG the writings of EMS on the national movement, two works deserve special mention: The Mahatma and his Ism and A History of the Indian Freedom Struggle. The first was initially written as a series of articles in 1955-56 offering a review of D.G. Tendulkar's eight-volume biography of Gandhi. The second, originally written in Malayalam in 1977, is a comprehensive account of the history of the freedom struggle. Jointly, these two works represent EMS's uncanny ability to apply the materialist understanding to historical events and to undertake class analysis without missing the ideological dimensions.

The essays on Gandhi are an attempt to evaluate the character and significance of the Mahatma's ideas and movement. Carefully selecting events from the freedom struggle, EMS located them in the context of the evolving class society under imperialism. Such an approach admitted of a multi-dimensional analysis which enabled him to comprehend the complexities of the Gandhian movement. Gandhi's tactics, he held, were "perfectly suited to the requirements of a class that was daily growing in Indian society and was increasingly asserting itself in its national-political life."

At the same time, EMS did not characterise Gandhi as the representative of a particular class alone. Unlike many of his contemporaries, said EMS, Gandhi "associated himself with the masses, their lives, their problems, sentiments and aspirations." Quite clearly, EMS was sensitive to the contradictions and complexities of the Gandhian movement and was conscious of the need to understand it in a non-mechanical manner:
"Like several other historical personages, Gandhi had a highly complex personality, his teachings, too, are incapable of over-simplified assessments on the lines of his being 'the inspirer of the national movement who roused the masses to anti-imperialist action', 'the counter-revolutionary who did all he could to prevent the development of our national movement on revolutionary lines', etc."

EMS had recently suggested the need to explore the areas of identity between Gandhism and Marxism. This was obviously no flash in the pan. A Gandhian during his younger days, EMS was sensitive to the positive dimensions of Gandhism even when he was critical of some of its elements. His analysis of Gandhi and the national movement reflects a creative Marxist mind, an outstanding one of this generation.

EMS was always open to new ideas. It was only at the last stages of his life that he read the Prison Note Books of the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci. He was fascinated by Gramsci's ideas, which he thought deserved wider dissemination and discussion. The result was a book that he authored in collaboration with P. Govinda Pillai.

Always ready to learn, ever ready to imbibe, EMS was a Marxist par excellence, both as theoretician and practitioner.

K.N. Panikkar is Professor of Modern History at the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
Vol. 15 :: No. 07 :: Apr. 4 - 17, 1998

EMS and Kerala: Life and times

The political-theoretical line formulated by EMS laid the basis for the far-reaching changes brought about by public action in Kerala after its formation in 1956.


TO trace the political and intellectual career of E.M.S. Namboodiripad is to trace, in substantial measure, the history of the social, economic and political development of modern Kerala. No person has played as important a part in the socio-political and cultural life of a region of India for as long a period in the 20th century as has EMS in Kerala.

As is now well known, Kerala's progress in crucial spheres of social and economic development has been substantial, and significantly better than other States of India. Consider some statistics that are often used by social scientists as indicators of social development, and from these, some of the changes that EMS saw in a lifetime. In 1911-20, the years of EMS's childhood, the expectation of life at birth in the areas that make up modern Kerala was 25 years for men and 27 years for women. In 1990-92, men could expect to live 69 years and women 74 years (the corresponding figures for India in 1990-92 were 59 years and 59.4 years). The death rate in Kerala was 37 per 1,000 in 1911-1920 and 6.1 per 1,000 in 1990-92 (the all-India figure in 1990-92 was 9.8). The infant mortality rate in Kerala, 242 per 1,000 live births in 1911-20, was 17 per 1,000 in 1992 (all-India, 1992: 79). The birth rate in Kerala, 40 per 1,000 in 1931-40, was 18.5 per 1,000 in 1990-92 (all-India, 1990-92: 29.5 per 1,000).

The people of 20th-century Kerala have altered radically a system of agrarian relations that was among the most complex, burdensome and exploitative in India, and have won important victories against some of the country's most monstrous forms of caste oppression. Public action in recent decades has narrowed the gap in health and educational facilities and achievements between the districts of the north and the districts of the south, a gap that widened during the period of colonial rule.

The modern State of Kerala has also introduced a series of interesting protective social security measures that attempt to provide pensions and other payments to working people in the so-called "informal" sector, and to destitute and physically handicapped persons. Kerala is the only State in India where there is mass literacy (and near-total literacy among adolescents and youth), and is also the State with the lowest proportion of child workers in India. Nutrition levels have improved in Kerala after the 1970s, and, according to official data, household consumption levels were higher than the Indian average by the late 1980s. The public food distribution system, the best among India's States, gives basic nutritional support to the people of Kerala.
Kerala's accomplishment shows that the well-being of the people can be improved, and social, political and cultural conditions transformed, when there is theoretical clarity and determined public action. In the transformation that has taken place in the State, the most important agency of change since the late 1930s has been the Left movement in the State. The Communist Party, and the organisations of workers, peasants, agricultural labourers, students, teachers, youth and women under its leadership, have been the major organisers and leaders of mass political movements in Kerala since the end of the 1930s, and have been the major agents of the politicisation of the mass of Kerala's people.

Radical Left-minded individuals in Travancore began to make an impact on intellectual life in Kerala from the early part of the century; the Communist movement, however, began in Malabar. There is a stimulating scholarly literature and there are memoirs by leading participants, and novels as well, on the Left movement in Malabar in the 1930s and 1940s, which deal with the events of the time and with the people who lived and died in its cause. The number and quality of the extraordinary mass organisers and leaders for which the Communist movement in Malabar is famous are remarkable. Selfless, enlightened, and acutely sensitive to injustice, the Communist organisers of Malabar faced extraordinary repression by the ruling classes in order to achieve a better future for the people of Kerala and of India.

THE Communist movement in Kerala was led, from its inception, by three extraordinary individuals - P. Krishna Pillai, a genius of organisation; A.K. Gopalan, an unsurpassed mass leader; and E.M.S. Namboodiripad, thinker, theoretician and active revolutionary and politician. The three were recruited by P. Sundarayya in the 1930s to the Communist Party from the radical section of the Congress movement, and their joint contribution has been the foundation of the Left movement in the State. It is clear that the movement in Kerala today still bears their stamp.

EMS himself had been active in the movement for social reform among Namboodiris, particularly in the movement against the oppression and seclusion of women of the caste. He came to the freedom movement through the Congress in Malabar district. In an interview with me in 1992, EMS spoke of the roots struck by the Congress in rural Malabar in the 1930s and of his own entry into the freedom movement:

As far as the freedom movement is concerned, it had reached the villages even in the days of the non-cooperation movement. You remember the Malabar rebellion of 1921. Even before that, the district of Malabar had a series of Congress and Khilafat committees, almost every village would have one Congress Committee and one Khilafat Committee. Although that was suppressed after the rebellion, its roots continued. An organised liberation movement of this sort dates back to the 1920s - in fact, I am a child of that movement.

EMS rose quickly to a position of leadership in the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee, and the forms of organisation of the Congress in rural Malabar initiated by him were unique.

As soon as we started work in the Congress, that is, in the mid-1930s, we started to organise night schools and reading rooms. When I was first elected the organising secretary of the KPCC - that is, in 1937 - our effort was to have, in every village, a village Congress Committee and, attached to it, a reading room and a night school.

THROUGH his writings and practice, EMS guided the Communist movement towards assimilating the most progressive features of diverse local socio-political movements and giving them new philosophical and political direction. These different movements in Kerala included the freedom movement, the radical and anti-caste sections of the social reform movement, the movement against landlordism, the movement against autocracy and monarchy, the movement for the linguistic reorganisation of the region and for the establishment of a unified Kerala, and, of course, the modern movement of workers, peasants and radical intellectuals. Communists were among the early organisers of mass political organisations of women in the State. They played a leading part in the literary movement and in the cultural movement (including the theatre movement) in Kerala. School teachers were key activists and mass organisers of the national movement and the Communist Party; they were the first organisers of the granthashala (library) movement and the movement for literacy in Malabar. In the 1970s and 1980s, activists of the Left movement were the main activists in the popular science movement led by the Kerala Shastra Sahitya Parishad, and in the Total Literacy Campaign of 1989 to 1991.

IT is no exaggeration to say that the political-theoretical line formulated by EMS laid the basis for the far-reaching changes brought about by public action in the State of Kerala after it was formed in 1956. (Indeed, EMS was one of the first to articulate clearly the demand for an Aikya Keralam - united Kerala - based on the linguistic principle and bringing within it the princely states of Travancore and Kochi and the Malabar district of the Madras Presidency.) He was active in the peasant movement in Malabar, he helped to formulate the demands of the peasantry, and was really the architect of India's first land reform. (His Note of Dissent to the Malabar Tenancy Bill in the late 1930s was a landmark document of its time.) He was active in the movement for the public distribution of food and was instrumental in formulating a food policy for post-1957 Kerala. His writings on history, society, culture and literature played no small part in public discussion and activism in these spheres. His understanding of the position to be taken by a Communist Party towards the anti-savarna movements was crucial to the Left's advance in Kerala. T.M. Thomas Isaac, a leading scholar of the Left movement in Kerala, characterises the attitude of the Communists in Kerala towards caste reform movements in this way:

While supporting and actively participating in the social reform movements in various communities, particularly the anti-savarna movements of the oppressed castes, the Communists (also) sought to build class and mass organisations irrespective of caste, and raised caste reform slogans as part of their anti-feudal democratic struggle. The Communists carried forward the radical legacy of the social reform movement and won over a large part of the masses in these movements, while the elites within these castes began to confine themselves to sectarian demands and withdraw into casteist organisational shells.

Elections were held to Kerala's first Legislative Assembly in 1957. Of all the political forces in the State, only the Communists had a coherent vision for Kerala's future; they knew what they were going to do and how they would go about it. In June 1956, the Communist Party in Kerala met in Thrissur to discuss a policy framework for Party activity in Kerala, and the document that emerged from the meeting, "Communist Proposal for Building a Democratic and Prosperous Kerala", provided the basis for the Communist election manifesto of 1957, and, indeed for future public policy in the State.

The first Government of Kerala was a Communist Government, and there was, of course, no doubt about who would lead it. E.M.S. Namboodiripad was sworn in as the first Chief Minister of the State on April 5, 1957. The major features of the agenda of the new Government and of later Communist ministries in the State were, among other things, land reform, health, education and strengthening the system of public distribution of food and other essential commodities. Land reform and the public distribution system are recognised as unmistakably Communist projects; it is noteworthy that the EMS Government's first Ordinance on land reform was promulgated on April 11, just six days after the Ministry was formed. Communist-led governments also worked on policies that helped bridge the gap between regions, they drafted early legislation on local self-government, and the ministry of 1987-1991 provided administrative and institutional support to the Total Literacy Campaign. A major feature of political reality in Kerala today is that the Left has been successful in making many parts of its agenda part of the broad social consensus in the State.

For all this, EMS was far from being complacent, or uncritical of the course that change has taken in Kerala. In his view, reflected sharply in his writings and interviews on Kerala in the 1990s, the concentration on development in the social sectors of Kerala's economy had led it into something of an impasse, characterised above all by the contemporary crisis in the spheres of employment and material production in the State. He had no patience with scholars who attempted to romanticise a "Kerala Model" of development. For him, the very high rates of unemployment in Kerala and the low rate of growth of its economy were politically and socially unviable, and he saw the task of transforming the conditions and levels of production in the State's economy as among the topmost items on the Left agenda.

Those who shall take on the task of building the Kerala of the future that EMS envisaged shall have special historical resources on which to draw, including basic land reform, an educated, skilled and politically conscious working class and unique achievements in the fields of health and education. To the making of all of these, the contribution of E.M.S. Namboodiripad - Communist, freedom fighter, Marxist thinker, political activist, administrator, historian and social theorist - is immeasurable. EMS was, as President K.R. Narayanan said in his condolence message, sui generis.
V. K. RAMCHANDRAN is professor of Indian Statistical Institute, kolkata
Vol. 15 :: No. 07 :: Apr. 4 - 17, 1998

Father, friend, philosopher and guide...

Malathi Damodaran: MY first distinct memory concerning my father goes back to when I was eight years old. One day in January 1947, when I woke up in the morning, I found a number of policemen standing outside my house. I was told that they had come to arrest my father. Meanwhile, someone came and told me that my baby brother had been born the previous night. My father was suffering from chicken-pox at that time. He was arrested and subsequently moved to hospital.

In the next four to five years, I met my father only twice, while he was underground. When I joined Queen Mary's College in Madras, he used to visit me often and take me out to the movies and to have ice-cream. When I joined the Christian Medical College, Vellore in 1957, he was the Chief Minister of Kerala and my fellow students were quite curious to know how a Chief Minister's family lived - in particular, how many servants we had and how many cars we owned. They were surprised to learn that we did not own a car and that my mother had only one person to help her. During his first visit to CMC to see me, he addressed a meeting of staff and students and started his speech by stating that this was his first visit to Vellore as a free man - he had been in Vellore on several occasions, as a detainee in the Central Jail. This shocked those gathered there.

Following the severe colitis that he suffered in 1969, he came under the supervision of doctors for a variety of ailments. He could be called a doctor's delight for his complete faith in them and his complete compliance with their advice. He was on a strict, bland diet since 1969 and followed it faithfully. What he loved to eat was sweet dishes, which he was allowed to eat. All of us made it a point to make something sweet for him whenever possible.

He took great pleasure in spending time with his grandchildren whenever he could, right from playing with them when they were little to taking a great deal of interest in whatever they were doing as they grew up and became adults. He also lived to see his great-granddaughter, who was born last year. He was looking forward a great deal to seeing her again this summer.

Malathi Damodaran is a consultant paediatrician in Thiruvananthapuram.

A.D. Damodaran: I got married to EMS' daughter Malathi in September 1965. Our marriage was conducted without any traditional rituals, something highly unusual in those days.

After our marriage, when we were to leave for my home, EMS gave me a copy of his celebrated book Keralam, Malayaalikalude Maathrubhoomi with an autographed inscription: "Vivaahithayaayi makal thante bharthrugruhathil pokumbol oru pithaavinundaakaavunna vikaaravichaarangal prashastha kaviyaaya Kaalidaasan thante viswotharakrithi Shaakunthalathil savistharam prathipaadichittundu. Aa vikaaravichaarangalku ee aatom yugathilum prasakthiyundennu innu enikku thonnunnu." ("The great poet Kalidasa has, in his Shakuntalam, described the emotions and feelings of a father whose daughter is departing for her husband's home after marriage. I consider that even in this atomic age, these feelings are relevant.")

Those were the days when EMS was under strict police vigil and as one working in the Department of Atomic Energy I also came under scrutiny, in the process going through great mental tension, something I had never experienced before. Subsequently, when we settled down in Bombay (and later moved over to Hyderabad), he used to visit us often and stay with us, even when he was the Chief Minister.

I cannot even begin to recount what a profound influence he has had in shaping my professional and personal life. Having great faith in science and technology, he was quite interested in my research and S&T activities, be it in the Department of Atomic Energy, the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research or the Government of Kerala. He used proudly to recall always his visit to the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre. I can recall his delight in going around the Nuclear Fuel Complex at Hyderabad and appreciate its great strategic-technological significance. He abhorred mediocrity and was very much concerned over the growing "amateurishness" in different walks of life including the ranks and, as was emphasised by one and all, he used his pen as a great weapon.
The three books which have attracted me the most are:
(a) Economics and Politics of India's Socialist Pattern, describing the evolution of the Indian bourgeoisie. (b) Kerala Yesterday Today and Tomorrow with his Jaathi-Janmi-Naaduvazhi formulation of the Kerala feudal system, and (c) A History of the Indian Freedom Struggle, published originally through the columns of Desabhimani daily during the Emergency period.

He considered the completion of his recently published Marx Engels Lenin Vicharaprapancham, Oru Mukhavura as a major accomplishment. We happened to visit him on the day this work was completed and his face glowed when he said this to us.

A.D. Damodaran is a former Director of the Regional Research Laboratory, Thiruvananthapuram, and a former Chairman of the State Committee on Science, Technology and Environment, Kerala.
Vol. 15 :: No. 07 :: Apr. 4 - 17, 1998

A global vision

What is remarkable about the vision of EMS is not only its appeal, which arises because of its essential correctness, but also its quality of being fresh and forward-looking.


LIKE many of his youthful contemporaries, E.M.S. Namboodiripad was drawn towards socialism by the experience of the Great Depression of the 1930s. The fact that even as the capitalist world was reeling under the impact of massive unemployment and unutilised resources, the Soviet Union, untouched by the crisis, was taking gigantic strides towards developing its productive forces, opened his mind to the stark contrast between the two systems. It won him to the socialist cause; it also left him with two of his abiding intellectual interests: planning and social laws.

EMS' interest in planning was enthusiastic in the extreme. He wrote a book Indian Planning in Crisis (Chintha 1974) which was in fact his presentation to a conference of the Indian School of Social Sciences held in Bombay that year. In more recent times when very few people took much notice of the national Plan documents, EMS was a notable exception, and could put one in an embarrassing situation by engaging one in a discussion of the latest essay of the Planning Commission. Linked to this was his interest in social formations and the laws governing them, on which again he wrote extensively. Notable in this connection is his paper presented at another Indian School of Social Sciences seminar on "Lenin and Imperialism" held in Delhi in 1981. The proceedings of the seminar are published as Lenin and Imperialism (edited by this writer, Orient Longman, Delhi, 1986).

The two Marxist ideas, namely that capitalism is a system governed by spontaneous economic laws which are objective and independent of human will, which manifest themselves inter alia in periodic crises, and whose operation can only be somewhat modified through intervention but never nullified without undermining the system's functioning, and that, by contrast, socialism is a system which allows conscious intervention through a plan, must have appealed to him greatly in the midst of the Depression. But the intervention and planning that socialism provides the scope for, do not mean that "anything goes". They have to be "correct", have also got to follow certain laws. In overcoming the spontaneity of capitalism, socialism too has to follow certain rules, or laws, of intervention.

It follows that both capitalism and socialism are law-governed systems, but there is a fundamental difference in the nature of the laws governing the two systems: the laws of capitalism are an ensemble of spontaneous tendencies; the laws of socialism are essentially rules of action.

This basic idea underlay EMS' thinking all his life. It enabled him not only to recognise the fact of social and economic crisis in the socialist countries, but even to explain it, pithily and brilliantly, within his socialist theoretical perspective: the crisis in capitalism is because of the operation of its laws, the crisis in socialism is because of the violation of its laws. When the laws regarding correct relationship between the Party and the State, or regarding inner-Party democracy, are violated, socialism runs into crisis, even though in principle it is crisis-free. The purpose of conscious praxis in a socialist society, of which planning is a part, should be to ensure that these laws are not violated systematically.

An interesting off-shoot of this idea of EMS needs to be noted. Since the Communist parties, even in bourgeois societies, represent in a sense the early embryonic stage of the socialist praxis, they too have to follow certain laws of intervention, not only in their organisation and overall functioning, but also in the kind of planning which they undertake in the regions administered by them within the constraints of a bourgeois society. It is this perception which prompted EMS (at the International Conference on Kerala Studies organised under his leadership) to be somewhat critical of the "Kerala Model" which the whole world was lauding, on the grounds that there was an imbalance underlying it: the development of the productive forces had lagged behind; this had to be rectified.

Capitalism and socialism have their own laws. But what happens when they co-exist? This is the question which EMS is concerned with in his paper at the "Lenin and Imperialism" seminar, after having given, explicitly or implicitly, the perspective on social laws and crises outlined above.

Clearly, the socialist forces have to resist the operation of capitalism's spontaneous tendencies, for the sake of their own survival, by following correct strategy and tactics. The thwarting of such operation disrupts capitalism; the thwarting in some sphere aggravates capitalism's contradiction in some other sphere. It follows then that such resistance can be successful, and that it is simultaneously a part of the process of struggle for the transcendence of capitalism. The specific context in which EMS discussed this issue related to imperialism.

After arguing that the contradictions of the imperialist era highlighted by Lenin have been further intensified since his writing, that inter-imperialist contradictions are no less fierce than they were at his time, and that there is the overarching contradiction between the imperialist world and the socialist world, EMS asks the question whether these contradictions would propel the world towards yet another global war. Lenin had argued that war was inherent in imperialism. Is another global war then inevitable?

"The answer is by no means simple" since there are two contradictory tendencies: on the one hand there is "the powerful military-industrial complex propped up by multinational firms having their grip on the entire capitalist world and seeking to use the armaments industry for making maximum profits", whose operations promote the prospects of war, and on the other hand there is the growing camp of peace, consisting of the socialist countries, the newly-liberated countries of the Third World, and the working class movement, together with the anti-monopoly, anti-war element in other sections of society, in the advanced capitalist countries. A "running battle" between these two trends is the main feature of the political situation and forms the background against which the contradictions noted by Lenin are operating.

Lenin's call "Transform the imperialist war into civil war", cannot be applied in that form in the contemporary context. What is necessary is an integration of the activities of the "forces of proletarian and national revolution" with those of others who are trying to prevent the imperialist war from breaking out. "Though the final and complete elimination of war requires the end of the imperialist system, the outbreak of a new world war is no more inevitable." In fact, the social revolution in particular countries is "inseparably connected with the global struggle against the most aggressive ruling circles of imperialist countries".
Having thus underscored the need for socialist intervention for thwarting the tendency of capitalism to perpetrate war, EMS turns to the question of why socialist praxis may go wrong. Given the complexity of this praxis, two kinds of difficulties may come in the way of correct strategy and tactics: first, unity with the bourgeoisie in the Third World countries against imperialism and its warmongering has to be combined with a struggle against the anti-people policies of this very same bourgeoisie, and an underestimation of either task can lead to distorted praxis. The possibility of such distortion is strengthened by the second difficulty, namely, the fact that the foreign policy interests of the socialist countries have to be combined with the basic commitment to proletarian internationalism.

The incorrect handling of these difficulties can give rise to Right Opportunist or Left Sectarian errors. To underplay the struggle against domestic bourgeois governments because of their opposition to imperialism is the hallmark of Right Opportunism which also derives sustenance from the support of ruling Communist Parties to such bourgeois governments as part of their foreign policy. On the other hand, to run down the anti-imperialist role of the domestic bourgeois governments amounts to underestimating imperialism and the need for a struggle against its warmongering, which constitutes a Left Sectarian error. This error too, in a situation where the fight against Right Opportunism in the world Communist movement has already given rise to the opposite extreme of Left Sectarianism among another section of ruling Communists, derives support from the latter and gets strengthened. EMS refers to the Indian experience and underscores the need for a correct praxis avoiding both types of distortion.

EMS' analysis, covering the entire expanse from Marx's notion of laws to the crisis of socialism, unifying his discussion of Lenin's theory of imperialism with his perception of the divisions in the Indian Communist movement, affirming his basic commitment to the Leninist perspective even while clearly delineating the changes since Lenin's days, is in the best traditions of Communist literature. Today, of course, the specific context is different. One is naturally tempted to ask: if EMS were writing another article of the same breadth today, how would he have brought his analysis up to date? One can only speculate on the basis of some brief offerings he left behind (for example, Frontline, April 3, 1998).

The distortions that led to the overthrow of socialism in Eastern Europe were such that their rectification would have to take the form a "rebirth"; there is no going back to what existed before 1991. Marx, Engels and Lenin had visualised a slow and protracted development of working class state power based on the solid alliance of all exploited and oppressed classes and strata under the leadership of the working class. This dictatorship is to be directed against a small stratum of the former ruling classes. In short, the alliance underlying state power has to be broad-based and inclusive. Correspondingly, the target of this alliance has to be a narrow stratum; it follows that private property, other than monopoly private property, has a place in "reformed Communism". The distortions of erstwhile Communism then consisted in the fact that the dictatorship of the proletariat it sought to establish was too exclusive, too sweeping in its attack on all forms of private property, and too narrowly-based in terms of social support to survive being transformed into a dictatorship of the party which in the course of time turned into the "cult of personality".

Implicit in this conception is the possibility of a multiplicity of forms in which the working people would use state power, that is, a multiplicity of "models". And such a process of "rebirth" of Communism would simultaneously be a process of putting imperialism once again on the defensive.

What is remarkable about this construction of EMS' vision is not only its appeal which arises because of its essential correctness, but above all its quality of being fresh and forward-looking, free both of despondency and of any desire to put the clock back. There can be no greater testimony to the strength of EMS' intellect.

Prabhat Patnaik is Professor of Economics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
Vol. 15 :: No. 07 :: Apr. 4 - 17, 1998

An icon for millions

No other single individual has made as immense a contribution as EMS has in the shaping of the destiny of both Kerala and the Communist movement in this country.


IT is with a very heavy heart that I am writing this piece. I am yet to grasp the meaning of the reality of my Comrade EMS Namboodiripad being no more. I write in grief with no certain idea of how much justice I will be able to do to his memory.

Comrade EMS was to me what he was to millions of others in Kerala and outside, a dear and near one. He was one of my closest friends and colleagues. To millions of ordinary people in Kerala, EMS, as he was popularly known, was an icon. No other single individual has made as immense a contribution as EMS has in the shaping of the destiny of both Kerala and the Communist movement in this country. The millions who rushed to Thiruvanantha-puram on hearing of his death with tear-filled eyes bear testimony to the love and affection they had for Comrade EMS. The serpentine queues that waited for hours to have a last glimpse of the mortal remains of their beloved leader; the virtual stampede in the Durbar hall where the body was placed for public viewing; the lakhs who turned up on both sides of the road that led to the crematorium: all these tell their own tale.

EMS was loved, respected, adored. To the ordinary people of Kerala, a mere sight of their dear leader was a life's desire accomplished. He was an affectionate comrade, caring and enquiring about the well-being of his comrades; he was a leader par excellence who combined theoretical understanding with practical work; he deeply felt for the poor and underprivileged, who in turn cared deeply for him; he was a colleague who respected the views of others even if he had reservations and differences; he was like a saint to many; he was one who lent an ear to anyone who approached him. These are the qualities that set Comrade EMS apart from the broad spectrum of political leadership in the country. He was one of the tallest personalities the 20th century has produced.

Comrade EMS was initiated into politics at a very young age. He began his work by trying to initiate reforms in his own Namboodiri community through the Namboodiri Yogakshema Sabha. Comrade EMS came from a wealthy upper-caste family. Yet he gave up his college education midstream to pursue his goal of being in the service of the people. There was no turning back from this path. In 1931, he was drawn into the Congress movement, and jailed for participating in the Civil Disobedience struggle. Disillusioned with the Congress, he became one of the founders of the Congress Socialist Party in Kerala with a view to linking the struggle for national freedom with the struggle for social revolution.

In this the October Socialist Revolution was a big inspiration. Comrade EMS' everlasting thirst for knowledge led him to study the theory of scientific socialism. In 1938, he along with P. Krishan Pillai, A.K. Gopalan and others formed the illegal Communist Party in Kerala. At that time, Kerala was part of Madras Province, which comprised parts of the present Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, excepting those parts of these States which were under princely rule. All Communists were working together inside the Congress Socialist Party and the Congress at that time. Comrade EMS took the final decision to join the Communist Party after he came in touch with Comrade P. Sundarayya who was tirelessly working for developing the Communist Party in the South. While joining the Party formally in 1938, EMS was discharging his responsibilities as the General Secretary of the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee and the General Secretary of the Congress Socialist Party in Kerala. His organising capabilities and leadership were illustrated when he carried the entire Kerala unit of the Congress Socialist Party to the Communist Party along with him. By now, EMS had won the hearts of thousands in Kerala who, while struggling for freedom, also dreamed of social revolution. After Nehru became Congress president in 1936, the ideas of socialism became widespread in India.

EMS was also one of founders of the All India Kisan Sabha in 1936.

When he was elected to the Madras Provincial Legislature Assembly in 1939, he marked himself out as a legislature of a new genre. He was a revolutionary parliamentarian who linked up the issues and demands of the people, particularly the peasantry, with the freedom struggle.

In the first Congress of the Communist Party of India held in 1943, EMS was elected to the Central Committee of the party. From then, the cause of the party remained foremost in his mind. He gave all he had for the cause of the party. As I noted earlier, EMS belonged to a wealthy landlord family. He had inherited a substantial part from the ancestral property. He donated the entire proceeds of the sale of this property, Rs. 1.8 lakh, an astronomical sum at that time, to the party funds.

He was an untiring worker. I recall that when he used to work from the All India Centre at 14, Ashoka Road in New Delhi, EMS used to reach the office at 8.00 a.m. sharp, well before the others arrived. Before arriving at the office, he would have already glanced through the daily papers at his residence. He would begin his day at the office by dictating letters, notes and articles. By the time all of us reached the office for our daily morning meeting, he would have finished all these tasks. Except for a half-hour nap in the afternoon, he used to remain in the office till the evening. This was the routine until a few months before the Madras Congress of the CPI(M), when he left the Centre owing to ill health. His personal life was spartan, and his requirements were restricted to the bare minimum.

EMS was a prolific writer who wielded a lucid pen. His language was straight and simple. He spoke from the heart. An orator par excellence, EMS had his audience mesmerised. People turned out in large numbers for his meetings, wherever they were held or at whatever time, and heard him with rapt attention. His audience did not consist of party comrades alone. His political opponents, despite their disagreements, would come to hear EMS speak. That was the level of respectability and acceptability he commanded throughout the country.

I still treasure the memory of my first meeting with EMS. It was at the Tripura session of the Congress Party in 1939. Subhash Chandra Bose was elected Congress president at this congress, defeating P. Sitaramaiah, Mahatma Gandhi's candidate. Bose was elected with the support of the Left inside the Congress. A faction meeting of the illegal Communist Party was held at that time. An unassuming man in a white dhoti and shirt was speaking at the meeting. It was EMS. The second occasion I met him was in 1946. This was en route to Nethrakona, which is now in Bangladesh, to attend the All India Kisan Conference. At the station, I observed him lending a helping hand to other delegates to get down from the train; he also helped them board the ferry. Since January 1954, when both of us were elected to the Polit Bureau at the third Congress of the Communist Party, I have had the privilege of working closely with him.

In the history of the Indian Communist movement, the period after the Third Party Congress was one of crisis. Although the Communist Party of the Soviety Union (CPSU) tried to help, the programme and policy statement that was adopted at the special conference in 1951 and endorsed at the Third Party Congress failed to stand the test of time. India, which had been submitting to U.S. imperialism, had started taking a stand against imperialism in support of national liberation movements. The Bandung Conference marked a significant turning point in India-China relations. With this started a debate inside the Communist Party.

This debate, which began in 1954-55, led ultimately to a split in the Communist Party in 1964. As opposed to the three trends that were emerging in the Party, EMS always tried to take a stand which he thought would help unify the party. At Palghat, the line of class collaboration was being advocated. One-third of the delegates, however, opposed this line. Comrade EMS stood with those who wanted to fight the line of class collaboration.

It was during this tense and uncertain period that the relationship between EMS and me grew closer. He frankly exchanged views with me. Till the end of his life, the healthy practice of placing one's views forthrightly was a trait observed in EMS. Whenever he disagreed, he used to note down his views and submit them in writing. Over the last year, EMS stopped attending meetings, owing to the worsening of his arthritis and on the advice of his doctors. But this did not prevent him from sending his notes to the Polit Bureau and Central Committee meetings. When a divergent view was expressed, he was always ready to listen to others and willing to accept the other view and correct his own when he was convinced. He learnt from the criticisms made against him. No streak of ego or the airs that affect other leaders ever touched him.

Para 11.2 of the CPI(M) programme, which envisages participation in government in the States, was an original contribution from EMS. Initially when the programme was drafted, this clause did not find a place. EMS initiated the discussion on this point and it was made part of the programme.

Comrade EMS never hankered after power or position. When we required his services at the party centre and asked him if he was willing to move to Delhi, he readily agreed. Many times EMS expressed his desire to retire from active public life owing to failing health. But we always were able to persuade him to continue to be part of the team that worked together for decades.

He was an internationalist in the true sense of the term. During the India-China war in 1962, braving the chauvinist onslaught, EMS campaigned throughout the country advocating a peaceful settlement of the border dispute. Similarly, during the India-Pakistan war, he advocated a peaceful settlement of the dispute. As a true Communist, he always thought the Indian Communist movement to be a part and parcel of the world revolutionary process. In all solidarity campaigns in support of the national liberation movements, in defence of peace and socialism, he was always in the forefront. He left an imprint on leaders of Communist parties the world over. Whenever I go abroad, enquiries are made about the health of Comrade EMS.

EMS was more than an inspiration. His life and work are a guide for future generations. Simple living, dedication to the cause, spirit of self-sacrifice, always at the service of the people, combining theory and practice - Comrade EMS stood wide apart from the broad spectrum of politicians in the country. He will continue to be adored and loved. There can be no better way of paying homage than pursuing the path followed by him. I am sure thousands of people in Kerala and elsewhere, while mourning his death, will have already resolved to do so.


Vol. 15 :: No. 07 :: Apr. 4 - 17, 1998


Thomas Isaac



Democratic decentralisation constituted an important theme that engaged serious attention from Com. EMS over a long period: "It was not a new found fervour for decentralisation", we had written in an obituary note," EMS always had an abiding interest in democratic decentralisation". (EPW vol.33 #13, 1998).

EMS had a very wide conception of decentralisation, which went far beyond the usual conceptions of it either as simple bureaucratic decentralisation, or as a process where the local bodies confined themselves just to civic functions or even development functions. EMS placed the process of decentralisation squarely within the larger political process - a process by which democratic governance would be extended from central and state level to the local level. The rationale for a Marxist - Leninist in defending and extending democracy is a puzzle to many of the critics of the ongoing experiment in democratic decentralisation in the state of Kerala.

As far as in the functioning of the organisations of the government is concerned CPI(M) is committed to democratic decentralisation and has given more than enough evidence of its commitments in West Bengal as well as Kerala. Which other state in India has a better record in Panchayati Raj than West Bengal?

The conspiracy theorists like Prof. M.G.S. Narayanan, who warn that decentralisation could be misused for tyranny by the party ignore the fact that the democratic decentralisation is not devolution of powers to the local committees of the party but to the elected local bodies. Nearly 40 per cent of the local bodies in Kerala are controlled by the opposition parties. There is perversity in the logic that the CPI(M) is devolving powers to the opposition led local bodies in order to establish party tyranny. Why should CPI(M) and its political allies who hold power at the state level want to share it with the opposition at the local level? Would it not suit the authoritarian reflexes of the party set-up to hold on to its monopoly of authority and power?

There are some on the Left also, who doubt the system of sharing power with the opposition in local bodies. Therefore, it is important to understand why a revolutionary party such as the CPI(M) should be interested in the decentralisation agenda. How does decentralisation help the revolutionary process? Com. EMS has responded to this question in a most lucid manner in his note of dissent to "Ashok Mehta Committee Report on Panchayat Raj Institutions. After explaining how the capitalist path of development is immiserising the mass of working people and how there can be salvation only through their own self conscious organisations and struggle, he states:
"It is from this view point of the organised struggle to end the system of exploitation (pre-capitalist as well as capitalist) that I am looking at the entire problem of defending and extending democracy.

"By democracy here, I mean the system of parliamentary democracy with adult suffrage; periodical elections; the executives' responsibility to the elected legislature; the rule of law, full protection of the citizen's rights and freedoms which are known in our Constitution as the fundamental rights of citizenship, etc. These constitute a set of valuable rights which our working people won after decades of struggle and which can be used by the exploited majority in its struggle against the exploiting minority.

"Our experience of working of this system proves that since the parliamentary democratic system as prevails today provides the exploited majority a powerful weapon with which to fight the exploiting minority, the latter does its utmost to reduce democracy to a mere formality to subvert it whenever and wherever the exploited majority uses it to get anywhere near the seats of power. Defence of parliamentary democracy at the Central and State level (where it exists but is very often threatened by the authoritarian forces) and its extension to the district and lower levels as envisaged in the four-pillar democracy is, therefore, of extreme importance in the advance of Indian society.

"My faith in democratic decentralisation in other words, arises from the fact that it helps the working people in their day-to-day struggles against their oppressors and exploiters" (Note on Report of the Committee on Panchayat Raj Institutions 1978).

Writing soon after the bitter experience of the struggle against Congress authoritarianism during the period of Emergency, the above argument was readily understandable. Even in states where the revolutionary movement is weak, greater autonomy for the local bodies would facilitate better manouvrerability and mobilisation prospects for the radical forces within their localised pockets of influence.

There was an important conclusion that EMS drew on from the above class exposition of the significance of decentralisation. "I cannot, therefore, think of Panchayati Raj Institutions as anything other than the integral part of country's administration with no difference between what are called the "development" and "regulatory" functions." (Note on Report of the Committee on Panchayat Raj Institutions, 1978). Given this broad vision of local self-government, the issue of decentralisation within a state -- to district and sub-district levels -- cannot be isolated from the issue of Centre-state relations, in which EMS took a very keen interest.

Centre State Relations

It was for the above reason that EMS came out strongly against the aborted attempt of Rajiv Gandhi's sixty fourth and sixty fifth Constitutional Amendments. He considered them as attempts in bureaucratic centralisation rather than in democratic decentralisation because the bills did not envisage any restructuring of Centre-state relations. He was strongly opposed to the tendency to divorce Centre-state relationship from the issue of state-panchayat relations.

"I am opposed to this whole approach. The Constitution itself according to me, failed to envisage an integrated administration in which, apart from the Centre and the states, there will be elected bodies which will control the permanent services at the district and lower levels. Democracy at the Central and states levels, but bureaucracy at all lower levels - this is the essence of Indian polity as spelt out in the Constitution. Added to this is the fact, in the actual work of the Constitution, the Centre made increasing encroachments into the rights and powers of the States. This trend reached its high watermark in the 42nd Amendment of the Constitution.

"It was with such a centralised administration as its core that Panchayats were envisaged in the Constitution and the Balvantrai Mehta Report. It is, therefore, not surprising that neither the bureaucrat nor the politician at the states level is prepared to decentralize whatever power has been conferred to the state under the Constitution. The point is to make a radical change in the very concept of democracy and adopt what is called four-pillar democracy." (Note on the Report of the Committee on Panchayati Raj Institution, 1978).

Restructuring of the Centre-state relations was an important theme of his speeches at the National Development Council, as the Chief Minister of Kerala. In the Kale Memorial Lecture he has gone into the historical roots of ideals of autonomous linguistic states as they emerged in our national movement: they were an ideal with firm footing in the traditions of the national movement. However, the ideal of federalism got mixed up with the problem of communal relations.

"The spokesmen of the two major religious communities became the champions of the unitary and federal structures. It was in the course of an attempted agreement between the two communities (the Lucknow Pact of 1916, the All-Party Conference in the years preceding the 1935 constitution and in the discussions before the 1947 transfer of power) that the leaders of the Indian National Congress accepted the federal idea. They had serious reservations on it, considering their acceptance of the federal idea as nothing more than a compromise. They therefore took advantage of the first available opportunity -- the partition of India which removed the Muslim League from the scene -- to bring back as big a part of the unitary concept as they could. This was how, in framing the Constitution, they subscribed to the federal principle in words, but made the federal Centre so powerful that the state structure as a whole is hardly distinguishable from a unitary one." (Republican Constitution in the struggle for Socialism, 1968).

The State structure which was heavily loaded in favour of the Centre in terms of divisions of functions of powers, control of resources, unilateral power of Centre to intervene in the state in the name of coordination and control of civil services, further worsened during the course of Congress rule at the Centre. The response of the Central Government to the growing economic crisis such as, New Agricultural Strategy, also has been largely in terms of greater centralisation strategies and interventions. Centrally Sponsored Schemes have been a major instrument to make inroads into state subjects and the expenditure on such schemes today exceeds the total plan assistance even by Centre to the states.

In a paper on 64th & 65th Constitutional Amendments presented at a seminar organised by the Kerala Panchayat Association (Panchayati Raj Bill and Decentralisation of Powers, 1989) he regretted that as a member of Ashok Mehta Committee, he had agreed for central legislation to ensure regular elections to PRIs. The Prime Minister while introducing the Bills had declared that it followed the recommendations of Ashok Mehta Committee. The Central Government was using the constitutional amendments to bypass the state governments and establishing direct linkage with the PRIs directly by devolving funds from the Centre, directly auditing their accounts and conducting their elections. The District Collectors were to be the links between the central government and to the local bodies.

Rejecting the Ashok Mehta Committee's recommendations for central legislation on the Panchayati Raj, he came out in support of Cooperative Federalism as advocated by the Sarkaria Commission. Inter-State Council of Chief Ministers were to draw up the draft model Panchayati Raj Bill to be adopted by the State Legislatures. Another option was that Centre and states through a dialogue reach a consensus on the draft bill which the states may consent to be legislated by the Central Parliament with the consent of the states. He was opposed to unilateral legislation to be carried out by the Centre.

Panchayati Raj Legislation in Kerala

EMS' interest in Panchayati Raj went much beyond these broad theoretical formulations on the concept of decentralisation; he was also a guiding force behind the progressive legislations enacted over a period of time on PRIs in Kerala. EMS was the Chairman of the Administrative Reforms Committee (1958) that addressed the issues of administrative reorganisation of the newly formed state. An important corner stone of the vision of future administrative edifice of the state was local self government.
The Report argued for a two tier set up -- Panchayats and municipalities at the grass root level and a district council at the district level. The functions and powers of the panchayats included, besides the normal civic functions and developmental duties significant responsibilities in revenue administration and a number of other regulatory functions. In this respect it went much beyond what was recommended by even Balvantrai Mehta Committee which had by and large looked at the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) as merely popular developmental agencies.
With respect to district councils the Administrative Reforms Committee of 1958 was divided into two opposite views, both of which were presented in the text. One position was that the Council need only have advisory powers and therefore, need to be constituted only through indirect elections and ex-officio membership. The opposite argued for elected district councils "that should function as institutions and take charge of all aspects of development work." EMS belonged to the second view point and, therefore, the District Council's Bill introduced in the Assembly in 1958 visualised a comprehensive district council that would coordinate the functions of both the panchayats and municipalities in the districts and also take over the entire development administration in the districts in a phased manner.
The bills couldn't be passed as the Government was dismissed and the legislative assembly was dissolved. Subsequent legislations passed in 1960 and 1961 were only much watered down versions of the draft bills drawn up by the Communist Ministry and, in terms of implementation, a far cry from the declared legislative intentions. The role of panchayats in Kerala came to be in mostly what are known as the civic duties and the district councils were put in the cold storage.

The 1967 Ministry led by EMS introduced Kerala panchayati Raj Bills 1967, once again with a two tier system - panchayat at the lower level and Zilla Parishad at the district level. At the Select Committee stage the draft bill underwent significant modifications to which EMS made significant contribution. The Zilla Parishad which was visualised to be a unit of planning and development was renamed as District Council and its functions redefined as "the administration of a district in respect of matters enumerated in the first schedule shall be vested in the district council." It is in the discussion of this draft bill that EMS coined the term "District Government". This bill was allowed to lapse once the EMS Ministry was brought down.

A Kerala District Administration Bill was introduced in 1971, reintroduced once again in 1978 and finally passed in 1979 while Shri A.K. Antony was the Chief Minister. The act was not implemented during the next decade. Finally, it was only during the Left and Democratic Front ministry of 1987-91 measures were taken for implementation. A Commission was set up to study the 1978 Act to make recommendation for rectifying many of its defects. Certain essential changes were made and elections conducted in February 1990. The district councils were constituted in March 1990. A number of notifications were issued transferring a number of district offices and officers in agriculture, soil conservation, animal husbandry and others. It may be noted that comprehensive changes required of the then existing legislation had not been made and there was a fear that the Government was adopting a ad hoc approach to the whole process.

It was in the above context that EMS took the initiative in starting a public debate on measures to be urgently undertaken to make decentralisation effective, in the pages of the party daily Deshabhimani. He himself set forth a number of proposals in an opening article and invited public debate. Some of his proposals were startling. He called for disbandment of the Local Administration Department as the District Councils were by law the co-ordinating agencies of municipalities and grama panchayats. Arrangements were to be made for a State Development Council with representation of all ministers and certain other key officials and presidents of district councils. He sought to abolish unnecessary and avoidable duplication of work between the government departments in the secretariat and the directorates outside the secretariat through substantial dismantling of departments in the secretariat and combining the directorship and secretaryship in person. Instead of IAS officers, technical and professional persons were to be the heads of the combined department -- directorate set up. A major proportion of the departmental staff were to be re-deployed to the district councils. He argued for greater devolution of powers to the district councils so that they are transformed into genuine district governments. ("For Comprehensive Power and Responsibilities", Deshabhimani, March, 1992). The publication of the above proposals was followed by a discussion in which important leaders of political parties including the opposition parties, administrators and academicians participated. Re-reading these articles today it is very evident that many could not imbibe the spirit of radical reforms that EMS was proposing. The expectations that were aroused by the initiative of EMS came to nothing as in the ensuing elections the Left lost power and a Congress led government was installed in the sympathy wave that followed the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi.

The new Congress government headed by K. Karunakaran set out to undo whatever that had been achieved in the decentralisation front. The very first decision taken by the new government was to amend the District Administration Act as amended in 1991 and restrict the powers of District Councils. The district collector was removed from the ex-officio secretaryship of the Council and a junior official was appointed as secretary to the Council. The amendment also empowered the government to change the powers and functions through notifications without reference to the legislature. Thereafter through a series of notifications the offices and institutions transferred were taken back and most of the powers nullified so that the district councils were left with only few functions and even less resources. They were left with no technical staff and little administrative support. What remained was only a ghost of the grand designs for decentralisation.

EMS undertook a detailed criticism of the provisions of the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments. His contention was that they were a step backward when compared to the legislations that had already been enacted in Kerala (District Administration Act).

"The Panchayati Raj - Nagar Palika legislations which came out of Parliament is thus a complete negation of all the principles upheld by the ruling and Opposition parties in the state for a quarter century. It forced on the state the three-tier set-up which had been consistently opposed by all the political parties in the state. It brought about a complete separation of rural and urban self-government institutions, making the Collector and other bureaucrats at the district level the lords of all they surveyed. The spirit of the present Central legislation, as opposed to the earlier Kerala legislation is that the district level bureaucratic framework will be the overlords of the panchayati raj and nagar palika institutions, rather than making the bureaucrat subordinate to the elected district council. It is this spirit of the Central legislation that is closely followed by the Karunakaran Government in Kerala."

The 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments had come into effect from 23rd April 1993 and all state governments were to pass conformity legislations within a year. Certain provisions of the amendments were mandatory (like three-tier structure). On many others (like the actual powers that should be devolved) the state legislature could frame its own provisions. For several months no action was taken by the Congress government in Kerala. And finally, in March 1994 after all around criticism from intellectuals, opposition parties and public in general the Government in a hurry introduced Kerala Panchayati Raj Bill whose provisions were highly restrictive. EMS led a severe attack on the Bill and sought to mobilise public opinion against it.
"The net effect of the provisions referred to above is the multiplication, at all levels, of the bureaucratic steel frame that exists at Delhi and in the various State capitals. The district, the block and village panchayat will each be dominated and controlled by the bureaucrats at the corresponding and higher levels of the administration. This is no measure of giving "power to the people" but giving more power to the bureaucrats at all levels" (Power to the People, Frontline, May 6, 1994)

As a result of public pressure certain changes in some of the draconian provisions were made at the Select Committee stage and it is this legislation that is in force in Kerala today. Many of the anti-democratic provisions still continue and complementary legislative amendments in the related Acts have not yet been made. It is primarily to make recommendations regarding legal and administrative changes that the LDF government set up, as we have already noted, the Committee headed by late S. B. Sen. EMS felt that even if all the recommendations of the Committee are implemented, still, the overall constitutional constraints in terms of the structure, lack of regulatory functions and compartmentalisation of rural and urban areas, etc. would continue. It was EMS's conviction that yet another round of Constitutional Amendments is required to rectify these and also restructure the Centre-State relations so that the ideal of decentralisation may be fully realised (Struggle to Change Central Law, Mal., Deshabhimani, 12 Oct. 1997).
Barriers to Decentralisation

The conception of PRIs as part of a larger political process also meant, for EMS, that these institutions cannot be imposed from above -- by just legislative processes alone -- but have to be established through popular movements, through mass mobilisation. The Left movement in Kerala has succeeded to a considerable degree in bringing in a number of people's issues -- like land reforms, social sector advances etc. -- on the social agenda through a process of mass mobilisation in favour of these issues; and PRIs could not be an exception to this.

Kerala is widely known inside and outside the country for its social sector achievements in education, health and social security. The role of public action in these achievements is also widely accepted. The scope of widespread grass root level mobilisation of the people was not limited to legislative and protective interventions by the state and social provisioning of basic needs but also extended to self provisioning some of the basic social infrastructures through community efforts. The network of libraries and reading rooms -- there is one for every panchayat ward today -- or even the formal educational institutions represent best examples of this tradition. However, it is a paradox that a region with such a vibrant civil society as exemplified by the above traditions should have remained one of the relatively most backward in the country in terms of development of local self governments.

As we have already seen it was only in 1991 that local self governments were constituted at the district level in the state for the first time. The elections to the grama panchayats have also been irregular and conducted only either while Left governments were in power or under pressure from mass movements from below. As already noted the local bodies were confined to traditional civic functions. Such was the departmental administrative control that almost every expenditure required prior departmental sanction.

Why did Kerala lag behind states of West Bengal or Karnataka, whose experiments in decentralisation have caught national imagination and even other States also like Maharashtra, Punjab, Gujarat and so on? While this question cannot be settled satisfactorily for the time being, viewing PRIs as part of a larger political process should provide some clues to this: Thus, one of the reasons for this is the relative political instability in Kerala and the lack of commitment of the Congress party to the decentralisation process. Our brief survey of the history of decentralisation in Kerala dramatically revealed how the efforts made by the Left governments in 1957, 1967 and 1987 were frustrated by the Congress government that succeeded them to office. As in the rest of India the lack of commitment of Congress to decentralisation, despite their generous lip service to the ideal, was the single most important factor that prevented effective decentralisation in the state. In Karnataka also the decentralisation programme of the Janata Government was reversed by the subsequent Congress government.
Unlike the Left Front in West Bengal, the Left Democratic Front (LDF) in Kerala has not been in power continuously for a long period. Moreover the strength of CPI(M) within the Left Front has also not been as decisive in terms of assembly seats. CPI(M) has had only around half the number of seats in LDF even though CPI(M)'s own share of voter support would be around 80 per cent. A seat sharing arrangement, which was born out of the peculiar historical context of the post emergency period, has got perpetuated. It would not be an exaggeration to conclude that the stabilisation and expansion of LDF have been at the expense of CPI(M). The formal vote share of CPI(M) in the total votes secured by the LDF has exhibited a clear trend of decline over time, even though by all indicators its mass strength has only improved during the last decades and the mass support of some of the LDF partners has severely declined.

The representation of the political parties at the local level being more proportional to their actual strength, a lopsided power sharing arrangement at the assembly and at the ministerial level has serious implications for decentralisation. In such a situation it is only natural that the smaller partners in the Front would be less than enthusiastic about devolution of powers. Thus, for example, the attempt of the 1980 LDF Government headed by E.K. Nayanar for implementation of the District Administration Act of 1978 was largely stalled due to opposition from the Congress faction of A. K. Antony, then a consituent of the LDF. Even during 1987-91 when District Councils were finally formed the necessary legislative amendments in the related Acts and redeployment of personnel proved to be tardy. Even today nearly a decade later, it has not been possible to carry out all the necessary legislative amendments or to undertake the necessary administrative reforms for effective decentralisation. The committee headed by late S B Sen that went into the matter submitted an interim report of recommendations to strengthen the local bodies in a record time of two months. It took more than an year for the cabinet sub committee to clear it and nearly one year before the government started to act upon the recommendations.

Excessive departmentalism and bureaucratic vested interests are the other impediments to decentralisation. Democratic decentralisation requires that officials at every level would be accountable to the elected representative at that level. Such democracy is alien to the departmental hierarchical traditions that the British colonialists handed over to us and which the successive Congress governments tended to reinforce. As EMS himself stated openly in his post 1991 District Council election article in Deshabhimani, "There is no doubt that the enemies of decentralisation .... those who have been enjoying the sweet benefits of centralization in the Government Secretariat would employ every tactic to see that as little as possible is passed down to the Councils." (For Full Powers and Responsibilities, Mal., Deshabhimani, 1 March, 1991)

It is indeed difficult to generate the necessary political will to create preconditions for a successful programme for decentralisation. It is in this context that the importance of mass mobilisation in support of decentralisation reforms becomes important. Only through mobilising the masses for creating a powerful public opinion in favour of decentralisation can the hurdles be overcome. Here also there is an interesting contrast between West Bengal and Kerala.

The introduction and strengthening of the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) was organically linked to the rising tide of peasant movement for land reforms in West Bengal. The panchayats played a formal role in Operation Barga. A large proportion of panchayat members were drawn from the ranks of the leadership of the peasant movement. The role that the panchayats played in the flood relief operations of 1978 and later in the agricultural extension work during the post Operation Barga phase stabilised the relationship. Decentralisation became a part of the agrarian reforms that were being carried out in West Bengal.

In contrast, in the historic context of 1971 when the Land Reforms were finally passed in Kerala, CPI(M) was in opposition and was involved in mobilising the peasant masses for implementation of the land reform law. The state government led by the CPI and the Congress was too enmeshed in repressive and manipulative tactics to stem the tide of mass movements to think of any measures for comprehensive decentralisation, quite apart from the fact that the Congress has always ideologically been lukewarm to decentralisation.

The fears expressed by EMS about the absence of powerful mass mobilisation in support of the 1991 District Councils became a reality when the Congress government wantonly set about dismantling the entire edifice without fear of any serious resistance. The significance for People's Campaign for Ninth Plan, that we shall discuss in the IIIrd Section of the present paper, is that for the first time in Kerala, it mobilised the masses of people in support of PRIs



The linkage between decentralisation and development has been the rationale for advocacy of PRIs in the Five Year Plan and other government documents. It was in pursuance of this advantage that the Balwant Rai Mehta Committee and, later, Ashok Mehta committee were appointed. "Panchayat Raj as a vehicle for development" was their ideal and as we have seen, an ideal which was too restrictive for EMS, and hence provided a point of departure for his note of dissent.

From the point of view of the radical movement the participatory nature of the decentralisation process assumes special significance. Decentralisation facilitates the mass of people and their organisations to directly intervene in the planning and implementation of development. In a centralised system their participation in planning can be only indirect at central or state level. In an era where `Peoples Participation' by governmental and international agencies have come to be synonymous with voluntary organisations it is refreshing to read EMS in his dissent note to the Ashok Mehta Committee:
"...... it is unfortunate that the report does not take into consideration the fact that there are voluntary organisations which have sizeable membership and are active in rural areas, such as Kisan Sabha, Agricultural Labour Organisations, Students and Youth and Women's Organisation etc., which are not and would refuse to be non-political. Many of them are very active and enjoy the confidence of the people. Wherever such organisations exist, they should be given an important role in the scheme of human resources development. I am afraid that this aspect is ignored by my colleague because of their prejudice against political parties and organisations oriented towards them" (Note on the Report of the Committee on Panchayati Raj Institutions, 1978).

With respect to the people's participation in the decentralised planning the official guidelines of the Planning Commission or official reports such as that of Prof. Dantwalla (1978), do not go beyond the involvement of the volunteers of the so called `Non Governmental Organisations' (NGOs). People are a vast reservoir of life experience and local wisdom whose potential must be tapped for the success of the local level planning. But the official documents on the topic, at best, take ordinary people into consideration for identification of the felt needs. Thereafter, their role reappears only at the implementation stage after the `experts' have drawn up the local plan. EMS, as we shall see, thought that this is an extremely narrow minded elitist approach, a hangover from the tradition of bureaucratic planning.


Why are the people so much alienated from the planned development process in our country? EMS attempted to unravel this problem in his pamphlet `Politics of Development' (Mal, 1989): The basic factor responsible is the very class framework of development and class bias of the development policies. The path of capitalist development without land reforms and compromising with imperialism impoverishes the vast majority of the people and condemns them to a life without even bare basic necessities. Any attempt to improve their lot is considered a drag on development -- a drain from the pool of investable funds -- not to tell of struggles that are viewed as disruptive of planned development. There cannot be a more short sighted view.

According to EMS, in the ultimate analysis all investment surplus is created by the people and determined by their willingness to sacrifice themselves in terms of money, material or labour. This being so, the expenditure on welfare of the people is not a leakage from investment funds but a measure to promote people's co-operation and participation in the development process. In contrast to the policies pursued by the Congress, even while operating within the frame work of capitalist path of development, the state governments led by the Left starting from the 1957 Communist ministry, have attempted to formulate alternative development policies that recognized the rights of the people and ensured their due share in the fruits of development.
EMS considered that without reorientation of economic policies at the centre and involvement of the people at large in the development process it is not possible to face the challenge before the country to resist the possible onslaught of imperialism. He pointed to the campaign for Bakreshwar project in W.Bengal and the Development Army for voluntary labour that was announced by the DYFI in Kerala as two events that pointed to the untapped potential mass participatory development (Politics of Development, Mal., 1989).

Adoption of such a participatory approach as described above is all the more relevant in a state like Kerala given the severity of the regional developmental problems and strength of the mass organisation in the state:
"Our greatest assets are our mass oganisations and the democratic consciousness of our people. The combined strength of all mass organisation in the state is about ten million. Besides, there is a vast network of co-operative organisations and movements, such as the organisations of the library and literacy movements. I am aware that there are some people who consider all these to be the bane of Kerala society. I have devoted my life to mobilising the people for the radical transformation of our society, and I cannot but disagree with such perceptions. I feel that one big question that we face is whether the organised strength and political consciousness of our people can be used to increase production and productivity. I want to answer in the affirmative. But there is a precondition : the government and the ruling classes must change their attitude to the organisations of the people and their demands. Instead of suppressing people's struggles and adopting negative attitudes, amicable solutions should be found through collective bargaining and discussions. Further, institutions and social mechanism have to be developed to ensure that the toilers get their due share from increased production. I must emphasis the importance of democratic decentralisation in this context." [Presidential Address, International Congress on Kerala Studies, 1994].

Even if the above pre-condition is met, as during the periodic left led governments, the political fragmentation of the mass movements and their bi-polar compartmentalisation into two opposing fronts would have hindered united actions. Starting with the unprincipled anti-communist front forged by the Congress against the communist ministry in 1957, the politics in the state has revolved around the opposition between the two antagonistic fronts, one led by the Congress and the other by the Communists. Despite more than three decades of constant warfare neither front has been able to achieve a decisive breakthrough in the relative mass support. Their electoral support have remained more or less stable at around 45% each, the electoral fortunes swinging in favour of one front to the other depending upon chance factors like Rajiv Gandhi's assassination in 1991 or realignment of some of the minor parties. This finely balanced political stalemate has created a situation of constant political maneouvering,and intense rivalry. As the compartmentalisation of masses became more and more water tight the sectarian attitudes also got reinforced and assumed the form of a vicious circle. The constant jockeying for power and spread of sectarian strife to every social sphere created a hostile environment to united mass action.

EMS felt that such an environment as above was mutually destructive and argued for a new political culture in the state that would facilitate the cooperation of the constituents of the two fronts in areas of common interest such as development of the state without any compromise to their independent political platforms.

In the 1989, Pamphlet, `Politics of Development' and his paper presented before the association of Panchayat Presidents, both of which we have occasion to refer to it earlier, EMS was very outspoken with regards to the above political reality in the state. He even frankly admitted the non-likelihood of any basic change in the co-relation of political forces in the state in the immediate future. Therefore it was of paramount importance that both the ruling and opposition parties cooperate in order to face the development challenges in the state. Such co-operation was all the more important in the case of functioning of local bodies. With the control of the local bodies more evenly distributed between the two fronts the ruling party in one locality would be the opposition party in another locality. In such a situation co-operation between the panchayats under different political parties and between parties within a panchayat for carrying out development programmes became a necessity. Addressing the conference of grama panchayat presidents, he appealed for such a cooperation.

"The office bearers of the thousand and more panchayats are the representatives of the constituents of the two fronts that fought with each other in the 1987 March elections to the Assembly and 1988 January elections to the panchayats. It is almost certain that this struggle between the two fronts would continue into the immediate Lok Sabha elections and the legislative elections that is to take place three years lagter. But in the meanwhile cannot the panchayats and the panchayat members belonging to the two fronts work in cooperation? I am of the opinion that not only is it posible but also inevitable...despite the contradictory political perspectives they can work together in solving the daily life problems of the people. Let there be a healthy competition between the panchayats and within the panchayat as to which front is ahead in serving the people. I hope that an appeal for adoption of such a new approach will be issued by this Conference" [Panchayati Raj Bill and Decentralisation, Mal., 1989].

He also appealed to the panchayat members to put aside their political differences to resist any attempt of the central or state governments to interfere with their autonomy.

EMS returned to the same themes even more forcibly after the 1991 District Council elections. There was an urgent need for the opposition political parties to self-critically reveiw their positions and start a dialogue on cooperation for a programme for comprehensive development of the state [Political Kerala After the District Council Elections, Mal., Deshabhimani, 17 Feb 1992].

If anybody thought that the new line he advocated was merely a tactical ploy in the context of a left government in power, they were in for a surprise. He reiterated his position in his "Mathai Manjooran Memorial Lecture" (Politics and Kerala's Economic Planning, Mal., 1992). A Congress government headed by K.Karunakaran was in office then, but he offered cooperation of the left to the government in the implementation of the development programmes if the government was willing to reciprocate the gesture by adopting a more positive policy towards the mass movements and the left led district councils.

The Mathai Manjooran Memorial lecture initiated a major debate on Kerala's development problems in which Congress leaders, important trade union functionaries and academics participated. One of the key issues that figured in the debate was the empirical finding by Prof.K.N.Raj and Prof.T.N.Krishnan that the rate of growth of wages was higher than the rate of growth of productivity in the state. This mismatch was resulting in reduction in employment and production, so they argued. The empirical results as well as some of its possible anti-labour implications were hotly contested by the trade union leaders. Summing up the debate EMS accepted that it was true wages and standard of living had improved as a result of mass struggles. He was proud of these achievements. But he refused to comment on the veracity of the wage productivity relationship in the state. It was up to the professionals to settle the issue through refining their methods and calculations. Whatever be the outcome he was resolutely opposed to any attempt to restrict the wages or benefits to the people. The solution lay not in reducing the wages but improving the productivity. He offered the cooperation of the left and its organisations in any planned effort to improve production and productivity.

He also self-critically admitted:
"I do not claim that the approach of the workers and peasant organisations and political parties leading them are above fault. While they struggle for their rights and demands they have to realise the importance of improving production and productivity in agriculture and industry. Mass organistions of workers and peasants and other sections of people and political parties giving leadership to them have to come forward to increase production in the public and private sectors and help to mobilise capital for social investment. I want to publicly state our commitment to rectify mistakes if any, in this respect from our side (Summing up the debate, Development Problems of Kerala, Mal., Chinta, Thiruvananthapuram, 1991)."

The opportunity was missed because the Congress government spurned aside the hand held in cooperation and instead persisted in its repressive policies and in a most irresponsible manner began to scuttle the duly elected district councils almost all of which were controlled by the left.

Despite the above setback the development debate within the left continued. Of particular significance was the round table discussion organised by Marxist Samvadam (Development Dialogue), the newly launched theoretical journal of the party with EMS as the editor. Selected leaders of the left political parties and academics participated in the discussion. The basis document for discussion was prepared by Thomas Isaac and E.M.Sreedharan and published in the inaugural issue of the journal. The text of the round table deliberations was published in the next issue. The discussion paper had attempted to sum up some of the key propositions that had emerged from the development dialogue so far:

1. Kerala model of development with its social sectors achievements was the starting point of the paper. The mass pressure from below had succeeded in fashioning a set of re-distributive policies which resulted in social provisioning of education and health, land reforms, public distribution systems and a number of social security measures. As a result it has been possible to provide for the basic needs for majority of the citizens in the state even though Kerala was one of the relatively more backward states. The experience of Kerala shows that the people of India do not have to wait indefinitely for the trickle down effect of the economic growth for fulfilling their basic needs.

2. At the same time the social sector achievements did not have a complementary positive impact on economic growth in the state. Despite land reforms there was no remarkable improvement in agricultural productivity. Despite educational expansion, industrial modernisation and diversification remained retarded. As a result unemployment was three times the national average. The quality of social infrastructure was also deteriorating. The fiscal crisis of the state was rendering it incapable of intervening in the crisis. It had become evident that in the absence of economic growth it would not be possible to sustain the redistributional policies or welfare gains of the past.

3. The reasons for the above crisis lay in the historic specificities of the capitalist path of development of the region and national and global crisis of capitalism. But given the uneven development of the left movement in the country, in regions such as Kerala where the movement is relatively more advanced, it is important to attempt to find partial solutions to some of the most pressing problems in a democratic and pro-people manner. Possibilities of such autonomous development path are also increasingly foreclosed by the new economic reforms. But given the specific situation in Kerala a conscious intervention for a redirection of the development policy became imperative.

4. Given the class structure of the region characterised by pre-dominantly petty production units, but with high incidence of wage labour the issue of improvement in productivity has become a pre-condition for ensuring the unity of petty producers and wage labourers. In this manner improvement in productivity assumes special importance in ensuring class unity and for further advance of class struggle. The defence of the public social infrastructure in education, health and other sectors is no more possible without guaranteeing an improvement in the quality of their services. All these necessitate a reorientation of the mass movements towards direct intervention in the development process in order to improve productivity or improve the quality of services.

5. Decentralisation for reasons which have already been explained, is necessary to provide the organisational framework for the participatory development process in the petty production sectors and the social service sectors. It was also important to have an overhaul of the institutional arrangements for land and water management, provision of social services and the cooperatives.

EMS endorsed the basic propositions put forward, but he expressed serious reservation with the concept of the Kerala model of development, particularly its Western variants that tended to imply that the quality of life of the people could be improved without economic growth not to speak of basic changes in the social sysem or need for social revolution. It distracted attention from the urgent task of accelerating the growth in the productive sectors:
"Kerala faces today an intense economic crisis in production, agricultural and industrial. In fact, I am inclined to believe that while we have spend much time and attention on "social-sector" issues of welfare and improvement of the living standards of the people, we have not paid enough attention or shown adequate concern for pressing problems of economic growth and material production. I make a request: let not the praise that scholars shower on Kerala for its achievements divert attention from the intense economic crisis that we face. We are behind other states of India in respect of economic growth, and a solution to this crisis brooks no delay. We can ignore our backwardness in respect of employment and production only at our own peril." [Presidential Address, International Congress on Kerala Studies, 1994)

He also steered clear of the two possible deviations namely the right deviation which created an illusion that "every thing can be done" and the left deviation that "nothing can be done." In an environment where decentralisation was being held out as the panacea for all the problems, he always took pains to explain the severe constraints to local level development action imposed by the bourgeois landlord system and lopsided federal set up in India. The contemporary trends towards globalisation and the new economic reforms would only sharpen the crisis. Further, local level planning was not a substitute for national and state level planning. There are many subjects like foreign trade, key infrastructural development and industrialisation that can be handled only at the national and state level. What was required was a system of multi-level planning.

But he categorically rejected the view that nothing can be done... until the national policies are reversed. In this context he referred to the efforts and achievements of people and the left government of West Bengal which he illustrated with the example of acceleration of agricultural growth after the land reforms and strengthening of the Panchayati Raj in that state. Similarly, Kerala has also got to find solutions for its pressing problems:
The above was the rationale behind the International Congress on Kerala Studies organised in August, 1994 by AKG Centre for Research and Studies of which EMS was the director.


The response to the initiative of EMS to bring together scholars in the broad area of Kerala Studies and socio-political activists in an International Congress was overwhelming. Perhaps such an initiative had been long overdue. Around 1600 persons (nearly 700 being academic scholars from more than 2 dozen disciplines) attended the Congress. There were participants from 23 countries other than India and nearly all the major states in India.

The Congress was organised in five broad subject divisions: History, Economy, Science and Technology, Society and Politics and Culture. In each subject group there were 10-12 technical sessions and a symposium on different themes. In 60 technical sessions and 6 symposia over 600 papers were presented and discussed. Altogether 170 hours of discussion took place in 17 parallel venues of the Congress. The abstracts of the papers presented at the Congress were compiled in five volumes and distributed to the participants.

What did the Congress achieve? As EMS himself took pains to explain,
"This is not a seminar that is expected to come to precise conclusions on how the various problems of Kerala are to be solved. That is the task that political parties and social organisations in Kerala shall have to undertake on the basis of their experience, including the experience gained at this Congress...I want to assure you that we will do our level best to continue the dialogue between scholars and activists..." [Ibid].

Even though no formal conclusions were drawn up at the end of the Congress certain broad perspectives did emerge. For each and every one was in agreement that Kerala was in grave crisis. This was not limited to the economic sphere but was all pervasive, in the sense, it encompassed social and political and cultural spheres. Differences persisted with regards to the solutions but there was a definite gravitation of the dialogue towards the broad development perspective that we have already discussed. Reorientation of the focus of plan towards strengthening of materials production and improvement in the quality of services required a thorough overhaul of the sectoral policies that were being followed. While industrialisation and infrastructural development required determined state level intervention, a decentralised development strategy was more suited for the petty production sectors and basic services. The International Congress on Kerala Studies was an important landmark in the move towards a broad social consensus on the development of the state.

For various reasons, but for a number of thematic state level seminars the programme could not be carried out. But by the end of 1996 every panchayat and municipality was organising their own development seminar as the basis of printed local area development reports. But the occasion was different. These seminars were a part of the Campaign for Decentralised Planing that was launched by the LDF government. In a sense, the vision of the International Congress on Kerala Studies was being realised in a more dramatic manner than was even dreamt by the participants of the Congress.



One of the first important decisions of the LDF Government that came to power in 1996 was to earmark 35-40 per cent of the outlay of the state's Ninth Five Year Plan to the local bodies. The so-called 'district schemes', as traditionally defined, formulated in the past by line departments accounted for around 30 per cent of the State Plan. By deciding to devolve 35-40 per cent of the plan funds to the local bodies the state government ensured that almost every development activity that could be planned locally would, if transferred to local bodies, be possible for them to continue according to their own plan priorities.

It was evident that normal preconditions for such a radical financial devolution like redeployment of staff, formulation of procedures and rules, training of personnel and other administrative reforms would take a fairly long period to be satisfied. "Common sense" called for restraint, gradualist approach and postponement of the decentralised planning agenda to the Tenth Five Year Plan. Instead, the Government of Kerala decided to launch a campaign to rally behind the elected local bodies the officials, experts and masses of people so that the handicaps can be overcome and local plans be prepared from below keeping the schedule for the Ninth Plan.

Apart from the above primary objective, the People's Campaign has also certain wider socio-political objectives. It seeks to bring about certain basic attitudinal changes towards the development process among all the key players involved -- the elected representatives, officials, experts, and the people at large. A radical transformation of the development culture of the state is a necessary pre-requisite for successful participatory decentralisation.

The bureaucratic departmental approach has to give way to an integrated, democratic vision. As we have discussed, democratic decentralisation requires that officials at every level work under the elected people's representatives. Similarly, the approach of the academic and professional community also has to be transformed. Although one of the important social developments during the post-Independence period has been the emergence of a specialised academic and technical community related to the universities, research institutes, laboratories and firms in the state, unlike the organic intelligentsia of the national movement period or immediate post-Independence period, this intelligentsia has increasingly divorced itself from the social environment. But if local bodies are to be provided with expert support, particularly in the transitional phase when the bureaucracy is in the process of readjusting itself to the changed situation, the ivory tower attitude and deeply ingrained cynicism prevalent among the technical elite will have to be transformed.

The bureaucratic development process today is totally alienated from the people. The ordinary citizen is scarcely interested in the government programmes except from the point of narrow self-interest. What can one get for oneself from the programmes? People view themselves as mere beneficiary objects of the development process rather than participants in social process of community improvement. The strong traditions of popular grassroot level development action have eroded over time. We have discussed in detail how the people's movements themselves have got to reorient their agenda to include popular development action.

Above all, there has to be a transformation of the elected representatives themselves. The barriers to decentralisation are not merely at the Centre but at every level below. The demand for decentralisation is only for up to that level. Even a gram panchayat member develops cold feet when it comes to making the gram sabha effective. On the other hand, the ultimate aim of decentralisation has to be to give opportunity for as much direct participation of people in daily governance as possible. The people's representatives at national or state level cannot be the role models for local bodies. The development administration at the grassroot level demands day-to-day involvement of the elected representatives. At the same time, the officials, experts and voluntary activists at the local level also have their own roles. The elected representative, as the co-ordinator of the local development activities, should recognise the legitimate role of others, particularly the officials, and develop a partnership based on mutual respect. In short, the objective of the People's Campaign for Decentralised Planning was not somehow to draw up a plan from below.

There is, however, a crucial question: How does one ensure that the new values and spirit generated do not die away with the tide of the movement, but are sustained? In the long run, the sustainability of the new development culture depends upon the success in institutionalising it in the legal system, new developmental institutions and traditions. Changes in laws and statutes or legalisation of new institutions would not occur automatically. There has to be sustained pressure from below, i.e., of the masses mobilised in the movement for decentralisation, to secure the necessary structural changes.

To sum up, the campaign had three objectives. The first was to draw up the state's Ninth Five Year Plan from below. Along side, the objective also was a) to bring about attitudinal changes among the key actors in the planning process and b) to institutionalise these changes by amending the existing laws and creating new institutions and traditions.


From the preceding discussion, it is clear that the process of planning is as important as the final product -- the local plans. We shall outline in brief the broad phases of the planning exercise spread over the past one year. Our discussion is more a conceptual analysis than an empirical review of the exercise. The first step in drawing up a local development plan is to identify the felt needs of the people. But a plan cannot be drawn up based on the subjective needs alone. It is particularly so in the case of a comprehensive area plan as was envisaged under the People's Campaign. It was necessary for this purpose to make an objective assessment of the resources-not merely financial resources but more importantly the local natural and human resources too. Then only could a perspective of local development that would make optimal use of the resources in tune with the aspirations of the people be developed. Thus, the People's Campaign attempted a judicious blend of need based and resource based planning methodologies.

The local development problems were identified by the people of every locality in their gram sabhas and ward sabhas. Gram sabha, it may be noted, is the assembly of all the voters in an electoral ward. Every effort was made through various means of appeal and publicity to ensure maximum participation in these meetings. It is estimated that nearly three million persons participated in these meetings to discuss local developmental problems. At least one representative from around 1/4th to 1/3rd of the households in Kerala must have participated in these meetings. People were encouraged not to limit themselves to listing of the problems but search for the causes and remedies drawing from their life experience. The convening of the gram sabhas (August-October 1996) constituted the first phase of the campaign.

The task of the second phase (October-December 1996) was to make an objective assessment of the resource potential and development problems in each sector. For this purpose, secondary data were collected from government offices, geographical studies undertaken through transect walks, local history written, ongoing schemes reviewed and gram sabha reports consolidated. Findings of these studies and discussions were summed up in a comprehensive Area Development Report which was printed and circulated. Each of these reports averaged 75-100 pages and formed the basic document for the discussion at the Development Seminars that were organised in every panchayat and municipality.

It is estimated that more than 3 lakh delegates -- elected members of local bodies, representative of grama sabhas, departmental officials and local experts -- attended these seminars. The seminars drew up a list of recommendations and constituted a task force for each of the development sector to prepare projects. Nearly a lakh persons served in these task forces.

Preparation of projects by the task forces constituted the third phase (December-March 1997). A simple and transparent format was suggested to be uniformly followed in preparation of the projects.

At the end of the third phase, every grama panchayat and municipality had a shelf of projects corresponding to the development problems identified by the people. By then the grant-in-aid for each local body from the state government was also made known. This set the stage for the fourth phase of the campaign (March-June 1997). Each local body was to make an assessment of the financial resources available for its annual plan -- not only from the state and central government but also what it could raise from its own resources, voluntary labour or donations from the people, financial institutions and from beneficiaries themselves. They were then to prioritise and select projects to be included in the plan. A detailed document describing the logic of final selection of the projects along with its statistical and other annexes constitute the Plan Document of the local body. The Special Component Plan for Scheduled Castes and Tribal Sub Plan had to be separately shown in the Plan document. It was also recommended that 10 per cent of the outlay be earmarked for special, women targeted programmes. In order to ensure that the local plans are sensitive to the state level priorities, certain broad guidelines on sectoral allocations of plan funds were also indicated.

The next phase in the campaign was to integrate the grama panchayats plans at block and district levels and prepare the plans of block and district panchayats.

Elaborate preparation had to be made to ensure that the task of each phase was successfully completed. The most important among them was the three-tier training programme that preceded every phase. Around 600 Key Resource Persons were trained at these state level programmes who in turn trained about 15,000 District Resource Persons. At the local level nearly one lakh Resource Persons were trained. The training materials came to around 3000 printed pages. Video programmes of nearly 15 hours' duration were prepared. Despite these efforts, as we have already noted in connection with sixth phase, there were many lapses and weaknesses. But what is important is that despite these weaknesses, a plan did emerge from below.

It was only inevitable that numerous problems cropped up during the implementation stage. They were inevitable given the fact that devolution of resources and powers had taken place before the preconditions for successful devolution were met. The expectation was that the mass of people mobilised in the Planning Campaign would generate pressures from below and create a political will to clear the obstacles.


If there is any single person who can claim credit on the ongoing Campaign for Decentralised Planning in Kerala, one of the most thorough going and boldest experiments in decentalisation in our country, it is EMS. It was he who mooted the idea that decentralisation should be placed highest in the order of priority in the agenda of the new LDF state government. Details of the proposal were worked out at the State Planning Board but it was the political authority that EMS commanded that facilitated the smooth launching of the Campaign. There were serious doubts regarding the practical wisdom of plan devolution of 35-40 per cent of the outlay to the local bodies. It may be noted that during the Eigth Five Year Plan the share of panchayats in the annual plan varied between Rs.20 to 30 crores only. In its place during in the first year of the Ninth Plan itself nearly Rs.750 crores was to be given as grant-in-aid apart from around 200 crores of schemes and additional resources from Centrally Sponsored Schemes. It was EMS's intervention that put to rest the numerous reservations that were expressed. Once the decision of earmarking 35-40 per cent of the plan outlay was declared by the state government there was no going back.

It was EMS himself who explained the significance of the government decision and the role of party and class and mass organisation in making the Campaign a success in the party state committee. Despite his illhealth he personally presented the reports in the party regional conventions convened to explain the Campaign to the senior functionaries. He attempted to situate the Campaign in the broader political context and draw attention to its significance in finding partial solutions to the pressing problems of the people and also in breaking down the political compartmentalisation of the masses.

The first two months of the Campaign witnessed an exhibition of the traditional bipolar front reflex reaction from the opposition parties. Without even waiting for the details of the programme Congress started a virulent slander campaign. It was alleged that the Campaign for Decentralised Planning was an attempt to replace elected bodies by `people's committees' and siphon off public funds by CPI(M) cadres. References to West Bengal where allegedly CPI(M) captured the rural areas through Panchayati Raj was a constant refrain in the plethora of statements issued by Congress leaders. EMS, Chairman of the High Level Guidance Council took initiative to clarify some of the genuine doubts expressed even by the left front partners and expose the hollowness of the criticisms of Congress leaders. (People's Planning Myth and Reality, Mal., Deshabhimani, 12 May 1997, ).

A new component was added to the conceptual structure of decentralisation of EMS with the Campaign for Decentralised Planning, viz the Grama Sabhas. The grama sabhas were introduced in Kerala for the first time in the conformity legislations that followed 73rd and 74th ammendments. With no tradition of grama sabhas, its unwieldy size of around 2000 numbers on an average and the dispersed settlement pattern of the state the general belief was that grama sabhas as an institution of direct democracy were impractical in the state. EMS was keen to personally understand how they performed in the Campaign. He spent a whole day in a panchayat in Trivandrum where grama sabhas in all the wards were simultaneously being convened. He even attended some of the group discussions. He was enthused by the potential of the grama sabha. He saw in them yet another forum for not only people at large but also the different mass organisations for example, peasants associations and agriculture workers unions to collectively sort out the conflicts such as paddy land reclamation for garden crops (The Vital Role of the Grama Sabhas, Mal., Deshabhimani, 8 October, 1997). He expressed his conviction that the furture system of governnance and development would have to take the grama sabhas as their basic unit.

During the 2nd phase of the Campaign criticisms were voiced that the printed reports and the seminars were a financial waste. EMS pointed out the details of the procedures that were being adopted for the preparation of the reports and how the whole exercise was a non formal mass education on a vast scale. He even reviewed a sample of the development reports that he had received and his assessment was that `the material collected and the conclusions drawn are such that one would wonder whether the work was done by postgraduates or research scholars' (People's Plan, Frontline, 13 December, 1996).

The presentation of the budget for 1997-98 with more than 36 per cent of the plan outlay earmarked for the local bodies had an unexpected fall out. The village roads, minor irrigation works, small drinking water schemes and so on which were normally an important component of the budget document were conspicuous by their abesence. All this were to be decided later on the basis of priorities drawn up by the local bodies. This meant abolishing of a major source of political patronage for the MLAs. Their disappointment soon erupted into virulent attack on decentralisation and demand for an MLA area development fund on the pattern of area development funds for Members of Parliament. EMS openly came out in severest terms to nip the above demand in its bud itself. He characterised the demand for a special development fund for MLA as negation of the decentralisation process and an affront to plan development. MLAs should not be allowed to arbitrarily meddle with subject areas that have been devolved to the local bodies. It was his firm position that facilitated the People's Campaign to weather, perhaps the most serious political challenge that it faced (On People's Planning, Mal., Deshabhimani, 21st April 1997).

When the plans were being finalised by the local bodies, and criticisms were raised that the plans to the local bodies were nothing but modified departmental schemes and subsidy distribution programmes and so on EMS made a much publicised visit to one of the grama panchayats in Trivandrum district. He personally quizzed the panchayat office bearers in a public meeting regarding the details of the plan. He expressed his satisfaction at the serious attempt made for additional local resource mobilisation and the participatory nature of plan implementation that was being envisaged. Not satisfied with the grama sabhas the panchayat had taken initiative to organise neighbourhood groups. The entire dialogue was televised and contributed to settling the disquiet that was being spread by the critics.

Perhaps the most decisive intervention by EMS after the Campaign was launched came during the implementation stage. As we have already noted the progress of complementary administrative reforms or amendments to statutes or laws were proving to be very slow and was creating difficulties for smooth implementation. In his presidential address at the 3rd meeting of the High Level Guidance Council, EMS openly criticised the hesitation of the government and demanded immediate adoption of Interim Report of the Sen Committee and better coordination of rural development and panchayat departments. His criticism had immediate impact. He followed it up with a series of articles where he attempted to set an agenda for the Administrative Reforms Committee that had been appointed by the goverment. According to him the recommendations of Sen Committee on decentralisation, if implemented, would require a thorough restructuring of the entire administrative edifice of the state government. Decentralisation and grama sabhas were central to any attempt to democraticise the administrative set up (Sen Committee Report and Adminstrative Reforms, Mal., Deshabhimani, 7 to 11 October 1997).

EMS passed away before the issues could be clinched and the agenda for decentralisation fully carried out. But there is no doubt whatsoever that the People's Campaign for Ninth Plan is decisively transforming the administrative landscape of Kerala. More importantly it has initiated a political process of dialogue and united action cutting across narrow sectarian divisions that would contribute significantly in breaking down the two front compartmentalisation of state politics and, along with other factors, also contribute to the further strengthning of the democratic forces in the state. One is aware, that a lot needs to be done to institutionalise this whole process of democratic decentralisation in the state. And that would be a fitting tribute to the man who was instrumental in setting the progressive socio-economic agenda in the state for the last three generations.
The Marxist
Volume: 14, No. 01-02
Jan-June 1998