By HARKISHAN SINGH SURJEET
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