Wednesday, December 10, 2008

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

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